Baseball to start testing maple bats following safety concerns

NEW YORK -- Baseball will start testing bats following Tuesday's meeting of a player-management safety committee, but the sport made no decision on the contentious issue of banning maple models.

Along with conducting field and laboratory tests, the panel will consult with manufacturers and experts, and also survey what protective devices are in place for fans and players at the 30 big league ballparks.

"We really didn't come to any conclusions," said New York Mets reliever Aaron Heilman, a member of the committee. "It's an issue that affects a lot of people, and it'd be a shame to kind of rush into things and make a decision based on not all the facts."

The sides didn't put a timetable on issuing recommendations other than to say "as quickly as is possible."

"I don't know if there's an immediate short-term solution to this because even the data that we do have, it's tough to quantify it," Heilman said.

Only hours after the meeting, plate umpire Brian O'Nora was hit in the head by a shattered piece of Miguel Olivo's broken maple bat, sending blood streaming down his face and forcing him out of Tuesday night's game between Colorado and Kansas City.

"They are very, very dangerous. I'm surprised that this is the first incident we've seen," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "It could have been worse, a lot worse. It looked a lot worse than it was. There was a lot of blood. My understanding is that he is OK."

Olivo's bat snapped on a groundout to shortstop in the bottom of the second inning. With blood pouring down his face, O'Nora rushed to Kansas City's dugout, where Jose Guillen quickly covered the umpire's head with a towel.

O'Nora came out of the game and was treated by Kansas City trainer Nick Swartz. The Royals later announced that the umpire had a small cut on his forehead and was taken to St. Luke's Hospital for further evaluation.

After Kansas City's 7-3 victory, Olivo, the Royals' designated hitter, said he switched from a maple bat to ash following O'Nora's injury.

Commissioner Bud Selig said last month that shattering maple bats are "a source of concern for me" but wouldn't say whether the sport would consider a ban or regulating the thickness of handles. A joint statement didn't make any distinctions between ash and maple bats, which some say splinter with greater force.

"I don't think there is a disproportionate amount of breakage," Heilman said. "You can't deny the fact that the way in which they break is different."

Selig can't ban maple bats unilaterally because their use is a term and condition of employment and subject to collective bargaining.

"Sometimes they shatter even when guys square up on the barrel," Hillman said. "Sometimes they shatter, more often than not, when they are jammed."

Kansas City infielder Mike Aviles also said he switched from maple to ash for the rest of the game after O'Nora was hurt Tuesday night.

"I go back and forth," Aviles said. "Honestly, I don't want them to get rid of it because I like using maple. I like the option of having both if I want to use it."

Universal Medical Systems Inc. says it plans to introduce portable, battery-operated CT scanners for bats on June 27 at the Society For American Baseball Research conference in Cleveland. UMS president David Zavagno said Tuesday the scanners would cost about $225,000 each for major league teams.

"We would recommend running bats after production, from a quality-control standpoint," he said in a telephone interview.

After that, he said a bat should be tested after it's made contact with a ball 10 times.

"No matter what you do to modify production of a bat, you can't see inside it," he said. "We need to introduce science to solve the bat explosion problem."

UMS said in its promotional materials that while maple bats are more dense, ash bats can absorb energy without crack growth, preventing violent breaks.

The committee, which will meet again this week to start collecting data, also includes Kansas City catcher John Buck, former players Steve Rogers and Phil Bradley, San Diego chief executive officer Sandy Alderson, Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty and Tampa Bay executive Gerry Hunsicker.