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Judge rules in favor of NYC metal bat ban

9/14/2007

NEW YORK -- A judge on Tuesday upheld New York's ban on
metal bats in high school baseball games, saying it was not his
place to overturn a law that was approved by a local government
with the public's safety in mind.

U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl said there is no clear
evidence that metal bats cause more serious injuries than wooden
bats but added the City Council is entitled to make the judgment
that the risk is too great.

"The protection of the health and safety of high school-age
students is entitled to great weight," the judge said. "While the
record does not include clear empirical evidence showing that more
serious injuries would occur without the ordinance, it is the
city's legislative assessment that the risk is too great."

The judge added: "In short, the judgment that high school
baseball players' safety is more important than higher batting
averages and more offense is a classic legislative judgment that
the City Council could constitutionally make."

The law is set to take effect Sept. 1.

The ban had been challenged by an organization representing
national high school baseball coaches, several companies that make
metal bats, and coaches and parents of New York City high school
baseball players.

The law resulted from claims that today's metal bats cause balls
to go farther and faster, heightening the risk of injuries.

In April, the City Council overrode a veto of the legislation by
Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The lawsuit was then filed.

During hearings, former Mets pitcher John Franco testified that
when he throws batting practice for some high school teams that use
non-wood bats, the ball seems to come back at him as soon as it
leaves his hand.

"I don't even see it coming at me. It's dangerous. It's very,
very dangerous. ... I'm speaking from someone who is standing on
the mound for 22 years, and I can see the difference," he
testified.

David A. Ettinger, a lawyer for the challengers, said
legislators needed to provide some scientific evidence that the
metal bats are unsafe. Manufacturers then could adjust the makeup
of metal bats to make them safer than some wooden bats, he said.

Ettinger said Tuesday he had just received the ruling and could
not comment yet.

The lawsuit was filed by USA Baseball, a Durham, N.C.-based
national governing body for several baseball associations; the
National High School Baseball Coaches Association, based in Tempe,
Ariz.; Easton Sports Inc.; Wilson Sporting Goods Co.; Rawlings
Sporting Goods Co.; Hillerich & Bradsby Co.; and several fathers of
ballplayers.

The president of Little League Baseball and Softball, Stephen D.
Keener, said in a statement the group was "disappointed" with the
decision.

"We enthusiastically support the government's obligation to
protect its citizens, but in this case the judge has said that the
New York City Council made its decision without any factual basis,
and we agree," he said.

Paul Seiler, executive director of USA Baseball, said
in a statement that his group fears the ruling "will take a lot of
fun out of the game for most high school players."

"Except for the rare, great ballplayer, it's harder to hit with
wood," he said.

Councilman James Oddo, the original sponsor of the bill, said he
hopes city and state governments throughout the country see the
ruling as a "green light to return the game to its roots, to give
kids back a better, purer and safer brand of baseball."

"Today the big winners, the really big winners, are the kids of
the city of New York," he said.

Mount St. Michael high school varsity baseball coach Wally
Stampfel, chairman of the Catholic High School Athletics
Association in New York, said schools must now grapple with the
question of how the law will be enforced.

"The court struck out on this one," he said, "but city
players are the big losers because they won't get to use the bat of
their choice."