USDA Works to Bench Baseball's Unsplendid Splinters

The grains of a baseball bat can splinter during an at-bat. The grains of a baseball bat can splinter during an at-bat. David Lee/Shutterstock.com

Final passage of a farm bill may be up in the air. But with Major League Baseball set to hold its All-Star game Tuesday, the U.S. Agriculture Department wants a little fan love for solving a big problem: the broken baseball bat epidemic.

The more-scientific name is "multiple-piece failure," which the USDA says can pose a danger on the field and in the stands at baseball games. On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the results of what is described as innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service, funded by MLB, to cut down on the dangers from splintering bats.

"The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory has once again demonstrated that we can improve uses for wood products across our nation in practical ways—making advancements that can improve quality of life and grow our economy," Vilsack said in a statement.

The Agriculture Department reports that Forest Service researchers at the laboratory developed changes in manufacturing that have decreased the rate of shattered maple bats by more than 50 percent since 2008. That was the year the Safety and Health Advisory Committee of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association began seeing a rise in the number of shattered bats during their games.

Enter the Forest Products Laboratory, which formed a "wood grain trust" that has since made recommendations for new bat-making processes. As part of the research, wood experts at the lab examined every bat that was broken in games from July to September during the 2008 season, department officials said. They determined that a main cause of broken bats was the inconsistency of wood quality, primarily the manufacturing detail called "slope of grain," which refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. Straighter grain lengthwise means less likelihood for breakage.

Recommendations made by the Forest Service have included manufacturing changes to bat geometry dimensions, wood density restrictions, and wood-drying procedures. The recommendations have all contributed to decreases in multiple-piece failures.

And this work is not over. The Forest Service research team has been watching video and recording details of every broken-bat event since 2009. And the team will continue monitoring video and studying broken bats collected during a couple of two-week periods this season.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a statement Friday that this work has "made the game safer for players as well as for fans."

(Image via David Lee/Shutterstock.com)

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