BatGlove might have prevented Colvin’s injury

By Phil Rogers
Updated: September 21, 2010

BatGlove logo

BatGlove logo

CHICAGO — Could Tyler Colvin’s nearly tragic injury have been prevented? Maybe so, but not in the way you probably think. Welington Castillo, Colvin’s teammate with the Cubs, was using a maple bat when he drove a 91-mph slider from Marlins reliever Brett Sinkbeil down the left-field line for a ground-rule double Sunday. The barrel of the bat separated from the handle at contact, flying end over end on almost the same path as the ball. Colvin, who was leading off third base, was struck in the chest with the jagged missile as he shifted his glance from the flight of the ball toward home plate. He was hospitalized with a puncture wound that has ended his rookie season, but anyone who witnessed the incident knows it could have caused more damage, possibly even becoming life-threatening. Shouldn’t Major League Baseball outlaw maple bats? Apparently it couldn’t even if had the blessing of its players’ union, which it doesn’t. “People say ban maple bats,” said Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations. “We couldn’t play if we banned maple bats.

There’s not enough ash available. If you banned maple, you’d find there’s not enough high-quality ash available.” “We’re dealing with an ash blight in the United States.” Manfred says there are fewer shattered bats in games this season than in 2008, when MLB and the players’ union launched a joint study of the issue because of safety concerns. They have since implemented quality-control guidelines and made minor changes to bat designs, demanding slightly thicker handles and thinner barrels. But is that enough? Not if you believe in a product called the BatGlove, which advocates say could make baseball a drastically safer game without impacting the performance of the bat. It is a thin, clear plastic wrap that can be applied to the handle of a $100-$150 wood bat for about $5. “The application does not change the performance of the ball on the bat,” said Jason Rosenberg, a New York-based baseball fan who devotes his Web site — — to the issue of shattered bats.

“It just keeps the bat together when it does break. You don’t have parts of the bat flying around, like the one that hit Tyler Colvin.” Manfred says the MLB/union effort on the issue has resulted in reductions on “multiple-piece fractures” of 30 percent from 2008 to ’09 and about an additional 15 percent this year. He estimates about half of the players use maple. “We think the things we’re doing at the major league level have had a big effect (in reducing the number of shattered bats),” Manfred said. “I want to take more steps for 2011.” Changes to equipment require approval from the Major League Baseball Players Association, and while some such as the Cubs’ Jeff Baker are outspoken critics of maple bats, many major league players are opposed to any significant changes. Like Manfred, MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner is concerned about the safety question. “We wish Tyler a speedy recovery,” Weiner told the Tribune. “The bargaining parties have made meaningful progress on bat safety. We look forward to continued discussions with the commissioner’s office this offseason on practical solutions to enhancing safety in the ballpark.” MLB has implemented stricter requirements at the minor league level than those in the major leagues, but they do not apply to players on the 40-man roster and players who have played in the major leagues.

Meanwhile, the league and the union are studying the BatGlove. “It’s something we will give consideration to,” Manfred said. “There are issues about the performance of the glove we have not researched into the ground. We want to make sure the glove does what people say it will.” Manfred said the BatGlove is in the testing stage at MLB’s performance lab in Lowell, Mass., but the company’s Web site carries test results done at that facility in December indicating it performed almost exactly as advertised. Why has it remained a relative secret? Steve Rauso, who designed the BatGlove along with his brother Phil, says one of the leading bat manufacturers has led interference against the product, questioning whether an issue with “tethering” would turn broken bats into nunchucks that could endanger the batter, catcher and umpire. He said the testing at the UMass-Lowell laboratory proved that would not be the case. “This is 100 percent proven at MLB’s testing center,” Rauso said. “It is the best solution we have now. If something better comes along, then use it. But we have this now. Use it, save a kid’s life, save a player’s life.” Manfred sounded skeptical about whether the BatGlove could have a major impact. “If we thought there was a miracle solution to this problem, we’d probably be there already,” he said. “You have to test it. You have to make sure what you have.” However, he said it’s possible experiments could be run in the Arizona Fall League, which begins next month. “We may get to that point,” he said. Rosenberg believes MLB should count its blessings that Colvin’s injury wasn’t worse and work harder to prevent a tragedy that many say is a question of when, not if. Colvin remained in stable condition on Monday at a Miami hospital, where he is expected to stay for a few more days. The bat punctured the upper left side of his chest. He was being treated with a chest tube to prevent a collapsed lung. “I want to thank Cubs fans for their support all season, especially right now, and let everyone know that I’m doing OK,” Colvin said in a statement. “I also want to thank everyone who has helped take care of me here in Miami — the Cubs and Marlins training and medical staffs, the EMTs at the ballpark and everyone here at the hospital.”