April 2010: Publisher’s Comments

Sometime this spring or early this summer, it appears likely that bat testing machines will be put into use at some of the USSSA softball complexes in Greater Cincinnati.

It is not clear to what extent they will be utilized.  Perhaps for a small fee, owners will be able to test their bats to ensure they are still legal.  And league and tournament operators could also make the equipment available to check bats if a protest is filed.  It is believed that area parks are considering a protest fee of $50, and if the bat is found to be illegal, the player would be called “out” at a very minimum.

The question is: should there be an additional penalty?

When bats were tested during the ASA Cincinnati Metro Tournament last year, the penalty was ejection for that game and the next game.  The bat was then sent away for further testing.  If the bat was found to be altered, a hearing would be held and a suspension of up to five years could be issued.

USSSA’s National Office, however, does not want to be in the bat testing business.  They want to put the responsibility  on the bat user to make sure his or her bat is legal.  And if league and tournament operators wish to, they can purchase testing equipment to help enforce bat standards during league and/or tournament play.

So with no way of ultimately knowing whether bats have become illegal through normal use or through tampering, what should be the penalty be if a bat is protested and fails?

Brian Wegman, owner of Mid-America Ballyard and a player in the Men’s Major Program, believes the simple penalty of calling the player out is sufficient.

“To eject somebody from a game, you’re saying ‘you’re guilty of using an altered bat,’” maintains Wegman.  “That’s too harsh for somebody whose bat might have broken in naturally and become too hot.  An out is enough if you don’t know for sure that a bat has been illegally tampered with.

“Being able to check these bats is a step in the right direction and will eliminate some of this,” continues Wegman.  “If players don’t give a squat about their team, and if they come to bat with the bases loaded in the 7th inning and need four runs knowing they’re going to get protested, then they’re not looking out for the best interests of their team.  And people will be embarrassed to be called out like that.

“Guys have a pretty good idea of when a bat is broken in naturally, so they need to get it tested,” adds Wegman.  “If they don’t, and they swing it, it needs to be an out because they had the opportunity to check it beforehand.”

Dave Steinmetz, manager of 2009 ASA Level II Metro Champion Cronin Ford/Miken, disagrees.

“I think if a bat is protested and fails, an out should be called, and the player should be ejected from the game,” contends Steinmetz.  “A player might think twice if they know they may be ejected from the game and not just be called out.”

David Maury, manager of Mid-America Ballyard, agrees.

“I realize that some people (whose bats are illegal) are not deliberately trying to cheat, but if there’s no real significant penalty, they’ll just keep on doing it,” says Maury.  “If they have the option to check their bats before the game, they should take advantage of that.   And I know bats can break down during a game, and some people may get penalized when they’re not doing anything wrong.  And I know there’s no way to know if bats have been shaved, or altered or whatever.  But if you don’t put something (stronger than an out) into effect, why bother?”

Tom Richmond, manager of Queen City Accoustical, advocates a penalty somewhere in the middle.

“They may want to consider an inning-ending out and any runs scored in that at bat be taken away,” suggests Richmond.  “I know that would affect the whole team, but it may get the team as a whole to police themselves.”

Ben Cosgrove of PRI calls bat testing without any investigation to determine whether bats have failed because they have been altered “pointless.

“I think we all agree that bat testing at the local parks is a major step in the right direction. Regardless of cost or penalties, bat testing is long overdue, so I commend the local park managers and U-Trip directors for bringing to fruition this initiative,” says Cosgrove.

“I think (ASA Commissioner) Danney Saylor set a great precedent with what he did in last year’s Metro, but as we all saw there, finding faulty equipment isn’t the issue,” states Cosgrove.  “It’s what you do following. As is the case with all composite technology, time and use will break down this equipment and naturally create ‘hot’ bats. With that being said, I think that some form of investigation has to be performed post-failure, be it USSSA or the manufacturers themselves. The penalty of an out, in my opinion, is not enough.

“While the bat tester alone will provide some cleanliness to the game, using a doctored bat and only losing an out is not fitting punishment for the crime,” he continues.  “On the flip side, penalizing someone in a game for using ‘broken in’ technology would be like handing out a death penalty for jay-walking.  So, hence the necessity of additional testing post-failure.

“In any case, at the time of failure, the failed equipment is immediately removed from game play.  Losing and labeling a ‘broken in’ bat is plenty penalty. From there it is the sanctioning body’s responsibility to provide the safest atmosphere to it’s participants.  So if USSSA or ASA or NSA, etc. does not provide some form of compression testing beyond the pass-fail test, then there is no need for testing at all,” says Cosgrove.

“Regardless of cost to the sanctioning body, safety should be the priority,” he insists.  “Once a standard for post-fail testing is established, proper penalties can then be determined, i. e. extended suspensions, lifetime bans, tournament and point forfeiture, etc.

“So to finalize,” says Cosgrove, “I again commend everyone for the initial leap of faith in testing.  My hope is that the goal of cleaning up the game will be realized.  If sanctioning bodies do not provide post-fail investigation though, then the leap of faith is nothing more than just that, and ultimately pointless.”

So opinions on this issue fall into three categories: simply call the player out, invoke a stiffer penalty like an ejection or inning-ending out and loss of any runs scored in the inning, or don’t test at all unless it can subsequently be determined whether the bat was doctored.

As is often the case, taking the middle ground would appear to be the best option here.

The problem with just calling an out is that it is little – if any – deterrent.  Only if a player has already been caught with an illegal bat once, and there is a more extreme penalty for second-time offenders, would many players think twice about not using illegal bats, whether doctored or not.  In fact, it is doubtful whether anyone would bother to have them tested.  If it’s breaking down, why not just milk the increased liveliness of the bat as long as you can until another team forks over $50 to test it.  In the meantime, your batting average is improving, you’re getting more extra base hits, you’re driving in more runs, you’re hitting more home runs, and you’re helping your team to win more games.  And when you come up to bat with the game on the line, use another bat that you know is legal so no one will protest.

And let’s be realistic.  As Brian Wegman has stated, players do have some idea when their bat is starting to break down.  But there’s no point in testing it if you’re going to avoid using it in a situation where someone might file a protest, i. e., when the game is on the line.

Additionally, teams are pretty good at smelling out doctored bats.  People know who uses them because they get ratted out and because there are few secrets.  And people can generally tell from the behavior of players when a doctored bat is being used in a game.  And people can oftentimes tell when a doctored bat has been used from its exceptional performance.

I don’t think many “innocent” players are going to get protested.  I think it’s going to be the guys who either know their bat has gotten too hot, or guys who have used a doctored bat and everybody knows it.  Besides, I fail to see the innocence of someone who knowingly uses a broken down bat when its performance is going to be obvious to both himself or the other team.  While the ax may fall once in a great while on a relatively innocent person, I believe that most players would be happy to put themselves at such a small risk to help clean the game up.

On the other extreme is no testing at all.  To me, that just sends a message that every man, woman or child playing softball will absolutely have to have their bats altered in order to compete.  Why not open up a bat doctoring station at every ball park so that we can get all the bats done and provide a level playing field for every-one?

In last year’s Metro there were only two protests in some 700 games, and both bats were found to be illegal.  So odds are having testing equipment available isn’t going to open up the floodgates for out of control bat testing.  Teams are going to pick their spots and pick their players and pick their bats before protesting.

Maybe this first year, until the parks and teams can get comfortable with bat testing, and get some experience with bat testing, simply calling a player out is the way to go.

But if our softball community is serious about helping to clean this mess up, simply calling a player out when he or she is using an illegal bat is not enough.


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Posted by on Apr 26 2010.
Filed under Mark Linnemann.
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