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July 27, 2001

6-4-3

Weaponry

by Gary Huckabay

During my first stint living in the Bay Area, I spent a lot of time watching A's broadcasts on local TV. There was usually one broadcast on a weekday night, and one broadcast on the weekend--usually on Sunday, preceded by Mel Allen on "This Week in Baseball." I remember back to when I was at Ralston Intermediate School some 22 years ago, and it's surprising to me how many of the things we hear during baseball broadcasts today are exactly the same as what we heard then. Gems like:

  • "Today's players don't spend enough time in the minors."

  • "There's not enough quality pitching."

  • "Now pitching..."Jesse Orosco."

Two of the three of these are pretty well discredited among informed fans at this point. But there's one theme that permeated the local broadcasts I saw back then that is most definitely not repeated today:

  • "Bats today aren't as good as they used to be, because the quality ash trees have all been depleted."

If anything, the reverse is true. Major-league players have a larger range of niche sources for their bats than ever before, and some players, most notably Ryan Klesko, are actively proselytizing for bat makers Carolina Clubs. Technology and process improvement have transformed society over the past quarter century, and bat production has moved forward right along with it, at least to the extent possible given the limitations in the rules.

Virtually all bats in MLB are made using ash. There are other choices, like hickory, but these have largely fallen out of favor. Shoeless Joe Jackson's hickory bat is up for sale at auction right now--a bat he used for years. We spoke with Tom at Carolina Clubs about the different characteristics of woods, and what's important when creating a baseball bat with pop.

Gary Huckabay: What kinds of wood are you using in your production of bats?

Carolina Clubs: A lot of different types of wood. Different maples, ashes, we even have some hickory, and people send us different woods for us to make custom or trophy bats.

GH: But for MLB players, it's pretty much white ash? Why?

CC: Yes. It's primarily a question of weight. Ballplayers today, some of them want a 34-inch-long, 31-ounce bat with a big hitting area. You just can't do that in hickory. Years ago, players swung much heavier bats, which is why they could use heavier woods. Also, for the MLB player, they believe they get more flex out of ash.

GH: What about the grain of the wood? The few players that I've heard talk about wood at all seem to want a wide grain.

CC: They do want a wide grain. There's a traditional saying that the wider the grain, the stronger the wood.

GH: Is that true?

CC: No. The grain doesn't really matter.

GH: How about the finish on the bat?

CC: You can do a triple dip on a bat, but it doesn't really matter. The wood is what makes the difference.

GH: At local camps, instructors are trying to get wooden bats into kids' hands earlier. Are you seeing a lot of demand from places other than MLB?

CC: We make all kinds of bats for clients everywhere. But in terms of youth demand, there's a very large number of places where kids aren't allowed to use wood. The local baseball authorities think it's dangerous. What's more dangerous than the chance of a kid getting hit with a splinter of bat is the speed at which the ball comes off a modern aluminum bat.

GH: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

The technological advances that have taken place with bats are primarily in design, and in better understanding of how to optimize bat weight and sweet spot/handle ratio. (Or, put more succinctly, players now understand that it's better to swing a light bat with a big sweet spot than a heavy one with a handle like Jose Canseco's neck.) Ash and maple haven't really changed much, but skilled craftsmen like those at Carolina Clubs are making bats that are more comfortable and lighter than those used in the past.

If you're a young ballplayer or the parent of one, get yourself a Carolina Clubs wooden bat. Working with wood will make you a better hitter overall.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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