FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — An untold number of Connecticut and Fairfield County high school baseball players could be using illegal bats — and there's no way of knowing.
The mandatory use of a new composite bat was implemented nationwide in college baseball in 2011 and in all high school baseball games this season. The Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution, or BBCOR, bats were supposed to be the next evolutionary step in making metal bats perform more like wood bats.
But players seeking a competitive edge could break the rules and doctor these new bats by processes known as “heating” and “rolling.” The doctored bats are then just as explosive as the old aluminum bats. What’s more, there's no physical way to detect whether someone has tampered with a bat.
Ray Faustich, rules interpreter for the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and a former member of the National Federation of Baseball Rules, was instrumental in ushering in the new bats across the country. He confirmed that it's not possible to tell whether a bat has been altered. He said he hopes a way to detect doctored bats will be developed by 2015.
Meanwhile, the league must rely on the sportsmanship of its coaches and players.
“One of the coaches came to us with a document that he was going to make his players and their parents sign to not tamper with the bats. He wanted them to know they weren’t going to be a part of this,” Faustich said. “But the [Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference] has not put out any documentation that parents, players and coaches must sign.”
The new bat was born of necessity after a dramatic spike in injuries from explosive line drives off aluminum bats. The new bat has a “sweet spot” that makes it act more like a wood bat, thus creating a “more level playing field,” as Faustich says.
Before the season started, many coaches were worried that run production would plummet. So far, this hasn't happened, but not everyone in the league is convinced that all teams are following the rules.
“In today’s society, everybody’s trying to get an edge,” Wilton manager Tim Eagen said. “We were told at the umpires meeting that there are 700 bats that are doctored in the state. I’ve seen No. 9 hitters get up there and, ‘Bang!’ and say, 'Whoa, where did that come from?' But there's no way to tell.”
No, there have been no complaints or reports of doctored bats, but Faustich admitted he “wouldn’t know what a doctored bat would look like unless it broke in half.”
Greenwich High School has benefited from the offensive decline, riding a stellar pitching staff to an undefeated record so far. Cardinals manager Mike Mora said he believes the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to the new bats.
“They’ve taken all the steps they have to and we’re following the rules,” Mora said. “We’ve had zero out-of-the-park home runs this season. I don’t think anybody in our league would [doctor the bats], and I think it’s going all right.”
So, with all the potential issues of doctoring bats, Faustich asked a question. “We go through all of this and I wonder why we don’t go back to wooden bats,” he said. “But it’s a matter of economics. Not every kid can afford to break four or five wood bats.”
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