Danger is endemic in baseball. Every play begins with a hard ball hurtling toward a batter, catcher and umpire. But just as the sport embraced helmets for batters and masks and pads for catchers and umpires, it's time for Major League Baseball to outlaw the maple bat.
On Wednesday, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price narrowly missed being struck in the upper body or head by the heavy end of a maple bat that splintered when Boston Red Sox batter Adrian Beltre hit a ball toward third base. Only lightning-quick reflexes enabled Price to fall to the mound, escaping with a scraped right hand.
Others haven't been so lucky. In 2008, a fan's jaw was broken at a Los Angeles Dodgers game when part of a maple bat flew into the stands. Ten days later, a Pittsburgh Pirates coach sitting in the dugout was struck in the face by a piece of a shattered bat, suffering permanent nerve damage. That prompted Major League Baseball to begin studying why the lighter lumber appears to be more prone to splintering into multiple pieces.
So far fans of the bats — by some estimates that's most MLB players — have barred changes, believing maple bats have helped power hitters hit more homers.
But the major leagues should follow the lead of Minor League Baseball, which earlier this month banned players who have never played for MLB from using maple bats. Rays manager Joe Maddon agrees: "If we're going to wait for somebody to actually get killed or impaled, we're going to wait way too long."