Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Time to put down the aluminum bat
By Jim Caple Page 2
OK. I hereby challenge everyone who complains about baseball players using steroids and HGH to swear off using the biggest performance enhancer of all: metal alloy softball bats.
I know, I know. These lightweight bats are very appealing, capable of adding 30-50 feet to your fly balls because of increased bat speed and trampoline effects. I've used them, like everyone else. Heck, when I was a kid, I was the first on my block and the second in my league to get an aluminum bat. I had one before I could even pronounce "aluminum."
Those were much different bats, though. If anything, they were heavier than the wood bats they replaced. They were designed as a budget saver -- because they wouldn't crack or break, even when you slammed them repeatedly against the dugout wall after popping out -- again! -- with the bases loaded.
But metal bats have gotten lighter and lighter, with more elaborate designs that add distance. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a bat so light I had to tie a string to it to keep it from floating away.
As wonderful as these bats are to swing, they are as dishonest as steroids -- because they improve performance without demanding any additional work or practice. You might as well have the pitcher toss up balls made of flubber for all the talent it takes to homer with these beasts.
Steroid users might be risking their long-term health, but at least it's their health they endanger. Players using metal bats put the pitcher and third baseman at risk because the ball jumps off the barrel with such speed. A friend of mine recently stopped pitching because he was afraid of taking a line drive in the face (or worse, somewhere lower). Several states have banned metal bats from school baseball leagues because of fears of serious injury. The mounds already have been backed up several feet to give pitchers a fighting chance, but line drives are still undressing them like Charlie Brown.
Plus, at least steroid users tacitly admit the weakness of their body by seeking unnatural means to compensate. Softball players who use metal bats think they actually are becoming better hitters. They strut around as if they suddenly have the swing and power of Ryan Howard. They don't, though. They're just Jason Tyner with an expensive bat and a beer gut.
Besides, if everyone is using these bats and increasing distance, nobody is really gaining anything other than a lot more fly balls. And where's the fun in that? Everyone knows the best part of softball is playing defense, but these bats limit your ability to do that. No one enjoys turning around and watching a ball sail over the outfielders' heads. If Crash played softball, he would tell Nuke that home runs aren't democratic.
What's the point, anyway? It's not as though you're going to get a $50 million contract because you took a balding computer programmer deep. Not even the Mariners would be impressed by that. At best, people will offer to buy you a beer after the game, then conveniently stick you with the entire bill when they slink away while you're boasting about how you can hit a home run over them mountains.
Sure, chicks might dig the long ball, but let's face it. You have never picked up a girl at a softball game, and you never will. This is mostly because the only women who attend your games not only are dating or married to one of your teammates but also have been around you long enough to know you are a lurkball. The same applies to the women on your co-rec team. They are not turned on when you get drunk and brag about your $349 Easton bat with carbon nanotube technology -- even if it does have the largest sweet spot on the market.
So I challenge you. Have some pride in your own ability and go natural this season. Play the game honestly. Ditch the metal and grab some lumber. Wood-burn "Wonderboy" or "The Dues Collector" or "The Widowmaker" into the barrel. Then hit home runs the old fashioned-way: with your own power.
If you're going to hit like that, you better make some plays in the field, right Andruw?
BOXSCORE LINE OF THE WEEK
Nice game for Andruw Jones on Sunday. He went 0-for-5 and never put the ball in play, giving him this ugly line:
5 AB, 0 R, 0 H, 0 RBI, 5 K
At last glance, Jones had 51 strikeouts -- more than Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Dontrelle Willis or Carlos Zambrano.
TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP
• Ever the visionary, Bud Selig has come up with the solution to baseball's postseason schedule: starting the World Series later to take advantage of global warming. In an effort to improve ratings, baseball is starting the World Series this year in midweek, when TV viewership is high, to avoid playing it on two weekends, when viewership is down. Now, baseball gets criticized a lot for pandering to TV, but increasing the number of fans watching the World Series is a good thing. The problem is, MLB is going about this by stretching out the postseason so long that Game 7 of the World Series would be played on Nov. 1, its latest scheduled start (the 2001 World Series stretched into November because of the 9/11 postponements). Worse, there is the real possibility of a seven-day gap between the end of both league championship series and the beginning of the World Series -- which is longer than there has been for some Super Bowls. This changes the dynamics of the postseason -- you'll need less pitching with extra off days, allowing inferior teams to win it all. True, the weather won't be marginally worse on Nov. 1 than it is on Oct. 28, but the longer you extend a postseason, the more chance there is of cold rain (or snow). We're also an impatient society with a short attention span, so the longer the playoffs drag out, the less the public will remain interested (hello, NBA and NHL) -- which means baseball might lose as many viewers as it gains.
• Speaking of changing the dynamics of the postseason and allowing inferior teams to get on a roll -- the Cardinals' regular-season record since the last week of July 2006 is 42-61. Yet somehow, in the middle of all that, they played well enough to win the World Series. And then there's Jeff Weaver. He's 5-10 with a 7.09 ERA since last year's All-Star break, but he somehow pitched well enough in the postseason to win the clinching game of the World Series.
• Two weeks ago, it appeared Barry Bonds would pass Hank Aaron by the end of June, if not earlier. But he hasn't hit a home run since, amid speculation about the health of his right knee and hamstring. He told reporters Tuesday night that "My legs are fine. I'm healthy. I'm just exhausted.'' But if he's exhausted after playing 41 games (plus 10 days off, including rainouts and off days), how tired is he going to feel in August?
• Last Tuesday's gas boycott was the silliest exercise in mass protest since Baltimore fans walked out of Camden Yards en masse after paying for their tickets. Yeah, buying your gas on Wednesday instead of Tuesday will teach those gas companies. If you really want to get your point across, drive less. Walk or bike to the store for those little errands. The next time you buy a car, get a car with good mileage instead of one of those unnecessary, gas-guzzling SUVs that often have worse safety statistics than smaller cars. Sure, not everyone can cut back on driving, but most of us can -- and should.
• If you thought there'd never be a thicker, heavier book than the Baseball Encyclopedia, you were wrong. Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Charles Manson case, just released "Reclaiming History," a 1,632-page, 5-pound tome on the JFK assassination. And that doesn't even include the endnotes, which are included on a separate CD.
This weekend, Larry King rented Dodger Stadium for his son's birthday. When asked why, he said, "It's not every day that your son turns 65."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans" is on sale now.