Chopping down metal the right thing to do   

Updated: April 26, 2007, 2:46 PM ET

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How often are we given the chance to save a life? Some of us live for decades without getting that chance. And some of us don't even see the chance when it's right in front of us.

Bill Rowe

AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Do we really need aluminum bats anyway?

The New York City Council might have saved a life -- or several -- on Tuesday when it overrode a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on a bill that would ban metal bats in the nation's largest school system. The ban is scheduled to go into effect in September.

So will the law save a life? Ask Debbie Patch, who watched her son get hit with a line drive off a metal bat in an American Legion game in Montana in 2003. She heard the "Ping!" of the metal bat, then the thud of rawhide against flesh and bone. Brandon did not make it through the night. He was 18 years old.

Maybe Brandon would have died anyway? Maybe a wood bat would have hit his pitch just as hard? Maybe.

But is "maybe" enough? "Maybe" doesn't help Debbie Patch sleep at night. Maybe her son would be alive if there were no metal bats. Maybe he wouldn't. Maybe metal bats are more dangerous than wood bats. Maybe not. But why do we have "maybe" when we could have "definitely?" Is "maybe" enough for our nation's children?

Here are what metal-bat supporters will argue:

They will argue that there is no specific evidence that wooden bats are safer than metal bats. This argument fails on two fronts. First, how many home runs would Barry Bonds have if he was allowed to use a metal bat? Raise your hand if you think he'd have the same, or fewer. Now go see your therapist, because you're crazy.

Second, let's see the scientific evidence that metal bats are safer than wood bats. The NCAA has legislated that metal bats are supposed to adhere to "wood-like" performance. Well, what's more wood-like than wood itself? Can metal bats perform like wood? Maybe. Can wood bats perform like wood? Definitely.

Metal bat proponents will argue that baseball is already a very safe sport. True. Does that mean it's as safe as it can be? We've all heard that flying is safer than driving. So should we stop trying to make flying safer?

Then there are the legions of coaches and baseball lovers who support the use of metal bats. Each and every one of these people need to be asked if they are being paid by the metal bat industry. Easton spent $134,000 lobbying the New York City Council, according to the New York Sun. With metal bat prices at more than $300 per, Easton and Louisville Slugger have plenty more money to line the pockets of college coaches and other ostensibly objective parties. Are coaches under the influence of money? Maybe. Would their opinions more likely be taken seriously if we all knew money wasn't involved? Definitely.

Let's now move on to those who say we are hurting our children's chances of scholarships, because stats will be lower with wood bats than with metal bats. First of all, doesn't this argument prove that metal bats hit the ball harder and farther? How can metal bats create better stats without being more dangerous? Second, recruiters follow youth baseball very closely. Surely they will know that a player from New York is using wood bats, and might not have the same stats as a player who uses a metal bat. Coaches are not stupid. They can see the wood bat on film. They are not blind. They can hear a crack instead of a ping. They are not deaf. And, by the way, wouldn't a major-league scout rather see a hitter using the same instrument he would use in the big leagues? Anyone can drop a bloop single with a metal bat, but how many can bang out a base hit with a wood bat?

And finally, there is the cost argument. Metal bat backers say some teams will not be able to afford all the wood bats necessary for season after season. Nice try, but a wood bat is up to seven times cheaper than a metal bat -- which is why there is so much money behind the fight against the ban -- and a team would have to break a lot of bats to go bankrupt. Also, many of the best major leaguers in history grew up playing stickball, either in the streets of New York City or on the sandlots of the Dominican Republic or in other poor areas. Baseball is the national pastime; if kids have found a way to buy cleats and batting gloves and hats and mitts for the last century -- even through the Great Depression -- they will find a way to afford bats.

And what is money for, if not to ensure the safety of our children? We buy alarm systems even though our homes are probably safe. We take self-defense courses even though most of our streets our safe. We fasten our seatbelts even though most of us will never get in a car accident. We do a lot of things in life even though we are generally safe. Perhaps our youth leagues will go on using metal bats forever, and not a single child will die from a batted ball. But if even one does die, why make his/her parents ask themselves if a wood bat would have made a difference? Why put a family through that torture just to save money?

We pay a lot to change "maybe" into "definitely." So why wouldn't communities around the nation pay to follow New York City's lead and maybe save a life? Isn't a little bit of cash worth a lot of peace of mind?


Eric Adelson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.


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