Every year at Spring Training, equipment manufacturers show up and set up displays outside locker rooms to try to sell players on their gear. I stopped at a table full of bats that looked cool.
The company works mostly in maple, and I got into a conversation with the representative about MLB’s new restrictions on maple bats, most of which are detailed here. The guy (who obviously has a horse in the race) seemed reasonably perturbed by the league’s decision to contract out its research to a company — TECO — that tests building timber but has no experience with sports equipment.
Among the more noticeable new maple-bat policies: All maple bats will have an ink dot on the handle to measure the slope of the grain on the wood. The grain should be as even as possible to prevent shattering, so if the ink bleeds too far diagonally, the bat cannot be used.
Also: Apparently every maple bat sold for the pro level must be tracked with an individual serial number so, if necessary, it can be traced back to its source sampling. The bat-company guy couldn’t figure out why that information might be useful, but it will be available. I guess for research purposes?
The guy said he thinks a big reason so many bats — maple and otherwise — break these days is that players grow up playing with thin-handled metal bats and expect the same in their lumber. He showed me how much more balanced a bat with more evenly distributed weight (and thus a thicker handle) feels, but said it’s a struggle to convince baseball players to commit to anything besides what they’re accustomed to.