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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Baseball Bats - What's the Best Wood?

Baseball Bats - What's the Best Wood?

By David Biddle

Over the past decade, maple baseball bats have become very popular with pros and amateurs alike -- especially after Barry Bonds set all his records using now famous Sam Bats composed exclusively of maple. The theory is that maple is harder than ash and it doesn't flex and bend as much during the energy transfer to the ball the way ash does. In fact, discerning fans can hear the difference between balls hit with ash and maple. Maple has more of a dull popping sound. Ash has that classic CRACK sound that old-school fans revere.

But is maple better? It depends on whom you ask. According to officials with Louisville Slugger, the bats they make for Derek Jeter are all ash, while the bats they make for Alex Rodriguez are maple. Louisville Slugger says that the breakdown between the two woods in Major League Baseball is actually about 50:50.

For those who believe in maple, the idea is that it's stronger and will therefore flex less and last longer. Ash proponents indicate that they think the flex and bend property of ash is actually beneficial to the hitter (this is also why strong hands are so important for hitters).

Maple is typically more expensive than ash. Some of this has to do with supply and demand, but some also simply has to do with the need to subject maple to more stringent drying processes so as to reduce moisture content. Raw maple lumber for bat makers will usually cost about 15-25% more than ash. Obviously, these costs are passed on to the customer.

Bats are also made out of other hard woods. Birch is gaining some popularity, as are hickory and oak now that drying kilns have become more advanced. Bamboo bats are also popular -- especially in Southeast Asia. These bats are actually laminated strips of bamboo held together by a sophisticated adhesive technique. Many baseball junkies believe that birch and bamboo are actually a sort of middle ground between maple and ash. And some people swear by hickory (which is the wood Babe Ruth's bats were made of).

Hybrid bats combining wood with metal, plastic, or bamboo are now being used by amateur players to help them make the switch from metal to wood.

In the end, it's probably fair to say that each player is going to have to decide what type of bat he or she wants to use. Some young players will buy the exact same model bat from a bat maker in both maple and ash, then experiment. Others say they like to use ash in the summer and maple during colder months. Whatever the choice, maybe one of the more fun things about wood bats is that they keep hitters thinking and tinkering with the main tool of their trade.

David Biddle has coached youth baseball for more than 15 years. Of the 33 teams he has skippered, eight have won league championships (from 9U to 14U). He also brought two teams to Philadelphia's city championships (sadly, never to win). Mr. Biddle has taught hitting to more than six hundred young players since 1992. He writes the blog "Hitting with Wood," and published an essay called "Pondering Baseball's Purity" in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2007.

Read more about the wood bat trend in amateur baseball at

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Hello Baseball Friend,
I welcome any comments or suggestions. If you have a question or a topic that you would like to read about, please leave a comment and I will try to address that topic as soon as I can. Good luck in the coming season!
Have a great day, Nick