Monday, November 2, 2009

The Importance of Being Earnest (in your Pre-Game Equipment Checks)

Many leagues require umpires to conduct pre-game equipment checks. Umpires that disregard this mandate do so at their own peril. A recent verdict from a Montana jury has significantly changed the playing field, and we are sure to see rules directing increased vigilance in the near future:

A Montana jury has found the maker of Louisville Slugger bats failed to adequately warn about the dangers its product can pose.

Hillerich and Bradsby has been ordered to pay $850,000 to the family of 18-year-old Brandon Patch. The teenager was killed during a 2003 baseball game after being struck in the head by a batted ball off an aluminum bat while pitching during an American Legion game in Helena, MT.
The jury found H&B liable, and the bat was legal! Now consider what would have happened if the bat was illegal? My guess is that the umpires would have been defendants in the litigation. Therefore, it is very important to conduct those pre-game checks.

Here are a few things to remember when inspecting bats:

First, know the standards. Each rule book describes a legal and an illegal bat. For instance, the NFHS has adopted a new rule for 2010 that all non-wood bats must meet the Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) performance standard, which is also the standard used by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Non-wood bats must also be labeled with a rectangular certification mark “a minimum of a half-inch on each side and located on the barrel of the bat in any contrasting color.”

Second, look for signs of tampering. Three methods are the most popular: rolling, shaving and end-loading. Bats rolled through a rolling machine compress the composites and stretch the fibers in the bat to improve the bat's trampoline effect when the ball hits it. Bat shaving involves removing the end cap and thinning out the inner walls of the bat. This also enhances the trampoline effect. Endloading is adding additional weight to the end cap providing increased power and distance.

The ASA has published a guide on doctored bats. Some things to look for include:
  • tooling marks from the lathe jaws;
  • screwdriver marks around the endcap;
  • poor endcap fit;
  • excessive adhesive around the endcap; and
  • hole in the knob
Third, look for things out of the ordinary in the dugout. Bat warmers have become very popular in recent years. The NFHS has stated that heating a bat changes the structure of the bat and, pursuant to Rule 1-3-5, a heated bat is considered to be an altered (and illegal) bat.

If you see signs of tampering, remove the bat from the game! As umpire, you are the final arbiter of illegal equipment. No number of home runs, scholarships, or championships is worth one serious injury, so when in doubt, throw it out!

For more information about Brandon Patch, the lawsuit, and a tragedy that we all hope is never repeated, go to

No comments: