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December 9, 2008
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome you to the Safety and Health Advisory Committee press conference.
I'd like to introduce the dais. On my left, Sandy Alderson, the chief executive officer of San Diego Padres; Dave Kretschmann, research general engineer of the USDA Forest Service; Don Fehr, the executive director of the Players Association; Ron Manfred, executive VP of labor relations for Major League Baseball; Dan Halem, senior VP, labor relations for Major League Baseball; and Bob Lenaghan, assistant general counsel for the Players Association.
Sandy Alderson is the spokesman for the committee.
SANDY ALDERSON: Thank you, Rich. In July of 2008, the Safety and Health Advisory Committee, which is charged with considering issues of player and fan safety, performed an interdisciplinary team of experts to investigate bats broken in Major League games.
A primary concern was bats breaking into two or more pieces. The team of experts comprised experts from four areas: wood science, industrial wood product certification, risk and statistical analysis and laboratory and field testing of baseball bats.
The objectives for the team were to develop a set of recommendations that could be considered by the Safety and Health Advisory Committee to reduce the frequency of multi-piece broken bats in 2009 and to propose additional research priorities to further reduce the frequency of broken bats in subsequent seasons.
Between July and September 2008, over 2,200 broken bats were collected from Major League games and later submitted to these experts for analysis. These bats included cracked bats that stayed in one piece and bats that broke into multiple pieces.
The team of experts also made on-site visits to bat manufacturers, and during these visits they had technical discussions with company officials and workers, observed manufacturing and quality control processes, shared basic techniques for grading wood quality and examined representative samples of both ash and maple.
The team of experts also reviewed videos supplied by majorleaguebaseball.com of 325 multi-piece bat failures and reviewed information obtained from surveys of players, equipment managers, and all MLB-approved bat suppliers.
Finally, the team conducted extensive laboratory testing, as well.
After all this extensive work, the experts have made nine recommendations to reduce the number of multi-piece bat breakages and failures in 2009. The Safety and Health Advisory Committee has accepted these recommendations, and they will be adopted for the 2009 season.
As you will see, the experts have not made any recommendation to eliminate the use of maple in baseball bats, although many of the recommendations you will hear do address issues related to the use of maple in bats. Nor have the experts made any recommendations to date regarding specific bat design or geometry. There is more research to be done in both of these areas, which the experts will continue to pursue vigorously in the coming months.
To give details about the experts' research, conclusions and recommendations, I would like to introduce David Kretschmann, research general engineer at the USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. David?
DAVID KRETSCHMANN: Thank you, Sandy. I would like to first introduce the rest of the team that was involved in conducting this work, who worked so hard the past four months to come up with recommendations for the 2009 season.
First I'd like to introduce Dr. Karl Morrison; Alex Ahmed from the statistical department of the University of Harvard; also Dr. Jim Sherwood and Patrick Drane from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the bat research center; Steve Winistorfer and Scott Drake from TECO, and Roland Hernandez who worked as a research engineer at the Forest Products Laboratory for 17 years and was affiliated with TECO during this project.
Among the 2,200 bats that were broken during the collection period of two months, 750 of them broke into multiple pieces. Two primary modes of failure for these multiple-piece failures were slope of grain failures and rupture failures. Slope of grain is a term that is used in the wood industry to qualify what type of grain you have in a piece of wood, and whether it's in the radial face or the tangential face of the pieces of wood.
Now, the study by the Safety and Health Advisory Committee concluded that among the 250 multiple-piece broken bats, maple bats were found to be three times more likely than the ash bats to break into more or two pieces. The failed bats also showed that the maple bats were four times more likely to have broken due to poor quality slope of grain than the ash bats failing in the same manner.
Maple as a material should have failed at a rate closer to that of ash. So one of the main things our group was doing was try to figure out why there's such a difference between the maple failure rate and the ash fail our rate. One of the primary reasons for the difference is in the multiple piece failure rate for maple is the greater difficult in sorting them and moving poor quality slope of grain material from maple billets.
What I'd like to do now is give you a brief description of what slope of grain is, and I have a PowerPoint presentation to help along with this discussion so you can see what is meant by slope of grain because not everyone here is a wood expert.
When you cut a baseball bat billet out of a log that has that naturally occurring spiral grain in it, you can end up with a billet that has straight grain that follows the annual rings. But on the tangential slope, the face grain, so we have edge grain on the right and face grain on the left, the left slope of grain is due to the spiral grain itself in the wood and the log.
This is what's causing the majority of the multiple-piece failures. Here are two examples of slope of grain failures in wooden bats, and we also have more bats up here that illustrate this point. These are substantial slope of grains in these bats, and as a result of that they have catastrophic failures and fail into multiple pieces.
The other type of failure that's very common when you have broken bats is a rupture-type failure, which is a standing bend break here. Again, you'll see that there is a failure point here and then sheer failures that run in a T fashion, and this type of failure is a better type of failure to occur in a bat because it's more likely to hold together in one piece.
The recommendations that the group has agreed upon and that I'll go through here in a minute deal mainly with the slope of grain failures that are occurring both in ash and maple and yellow birch.
A team of experts believes that the implementation of the following nine recommendations will have an immediate impact on the 2009 season on reducing the number of bats breaking in multiple pieces, and these recommendations have been adopted by the safety and health committee.
The first of these representations -- the first four of these recommendations deal with changing the wood bat baseball bat specification requirements. Most wood products have a minimum level of quality associated with wood that's going to be put into service. Ladders have it, ax handles have it, and what is being incorporated in the 2009 wood baseball bat specifications are restrictions on the minimum quality level for wood and handles of bats.
Again, first recommendation is that all bats must conform to the newly adopted slope of grain wood grading requirements which apply to two thirds of the length of the billet that constitutes the handle and the taper regions of the bat. All manufacturers must identify and grade the handle end of a ballot that they're going to be using to put into the bat itself and assure that that slope of grain requirement that's being placed in the wood bat specification is being met.
The second recommendation deals with tracking slope of grain and making it easier for manufacturers to determine the slope of grain in maple and yellow birch, and it requires placing an ink dot on the tangential face of a handle of sugar and yellow birch, sugar maple and yellow birch bats.
Now, placing this dot enables the person to easily view the slope of grain on the wood, which is an enlarged view of a dot on the handle of a bat. What I've traced out here in the slope of grain I'm talking about in the handle of this bat.
Here's another very good example of the result of that type of slope of grain. Envision that this is the handle of the bat and the red line is the grain angle. That's using a weak plane in the wood itself which is prone to failure.
The third recommendation is that the orientation of the hitting surface on sugar maple and yellow birch bats should be rotated 90 degrees. Now, these bats are currently labeled on the edge grain, and for yellow birch and sugar maple they will now be labeled on the face grain, and that's because the face grain is stronger impact surface than the edge grain.
The fourth recommendation is that the handles of the sugar maple and yellow birch bats must be natural or clear finished in the 18-inch region of the handles.
Now, these justifications are based on historic information, clear wood dowel testing as well as dynamic bat tests. Those bat tests demonstrated that the strength and durability increased as slope of grain decreases, so if you have a more severe slope of grain like in this bat handle, you have a weaker bat and more likely to have a multiple-piece failure.
Also, the testing, the dynamic bat testing, also demonstrates that the loading on the face grain is about 6 to 8 percent higher than on edge grain.
The last five recommendations are meant to assist in compliance with the new wood baseball bat specifications. Recommendation No. 5 is that manufacturers must implement a method of tracking each bat they supply so that each will be linked back to the manufacturer's records. This is, again, a tool for the manufacturers to be able to work back up their supply chain in case there's any material that is causing too high of a rate of falldown, which is the number of billets you have to discard because of slope of grain issues, as well as recommendation No. 6, which is that representatives for these manufacturing companies will attend an MLB-sponsored workshop on the engineering properties and grading practices of wood as they relate to the manufacture of solid-wood baseball bats.
The 7th recommendation, again, is another recommendation dealing with compliance of the new wood baseball bat specification, and manufacturers should be visited on a regular basis by MLB or its designated representatives to audit each company's manufacturing processes and record keeping with respect to bat traceability.
The eighth recommendation is that the audits should be randomly conducted of bats in the ballparks. Again, making sure players are getting bats with the correct slope of grains into their hands.
And the final recommendation is that the third-party bat certification and quality control program should be established to certify new suppliers and approve new species of wood and provide training and education to bat manufacturers and address issues of noncompliance of the existing manufacturers.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, David. Don?
DON FEHR: Thank you, Rich. I'll be brief. I want to first thank Sandy and the rest of the members of the Safety and Health Committee who worked on this project for the management side, the members of the association staff but in particular the two players, John Buck and Aaron Heilmann, and the two former players, Phil Bradley and Steve Rogers, that were involved.
I think it's sufficient at this stage to state as follows: When you have a matter which is susceptible to the kind of sophisticated and detailed analysis and recommendations which this group was able to make, that can tell you what the issues are and give you recommendations as to how to deal with it in the least disruptive way possible, that's what you should do. And it seems to me that we've done that here, and I'm not only pleased but I'm actually proud of the work that has been done.
Obviously every time or any time you have a matter like this, you continue to monitor it, and we think this is going to go a long way towards solving this issue if it doesn't solve it completely, which is my hope and expectations. So thanks, everybody.
THE MODERATOR: Sandy has a few more words and then we'll take questions.
SANDY ALDERSON: In addition to thanking David and Don, I'd like to introduce Dean Taylor from the Kansas City Royals, who was another member of the committee who was in attendance today, and acknowledge the participation of Paul Dolan, Cleveland Indians; Walt Jocketty of the Cincinnati Reds; Gerry Hunsicker from the Tampa Bay Rays; and members of the Commissioner's office, Howard Smith and Dan Halem, who did most of the yeoman's work in getting this project off the ground.
We know tremendously more about wood and bat construction today than we did just a few months ago, and I believe that there is more to be learned. But the recommendations adopted for 2009 are one step in the process. The research and analysis by our team of experts will continue during the off-season and through the 2009 regular season to include the collection of bats during the season and review of additional data, which could lead to future changes.
In addition to the recommendations that have been made by our team of experts and adopted by the committee, the Office of the Commissioner has increased the annual administrative fee from $5,000 to $10,000 per supplier and has also raised insurance requirements for umbrella liability insurance for these suppliers.
Obviously the issue of bat and bat construction is far more complicated than any of us initially realized, or in some respects even bat manufacturers themselves realized. But what we've accomplished in a few months, I think, is created -- will create a safer situation for players and fans, and I'm happy to have been part of a very collaborative process among members of the Commissioner's Office, Major League Baseball Players Association, club representatives and players, as well.
With that, we're happy to take questions.
Q. Can you name who the official suppliers of bats are for Major League Baseball? How many of them, and how did they react to complying with these new rules?
RON MANFRED: There are 32 official suppliers. I couldn't begin to list them for you.
Q. So what was the general reaction among the bat suppliers?
DAN HALEM: We met with the bat suppliers yesterday that are in Las Vegas, and they are in general receptive to the recommendations. Obviously they want to make their product as safe as possible and make durable bats. Obviously there's going to be an education component as part of that. We plan to have our experts visit the bat manufacturers and explain slope of grain, grade requirements to them, and make sure that they get to a place where this becomes second-nature.
Whenever you change anything, obviously there's going to be a lot of questions and a lot of uncertainty, but it's in their interest to solve this problem, and they recognize that these steps are going to go a long way to solve it.
DON FEHR: Let me just add to that. The work that was done produced a lot of information and analysis which basically was not available before, and I'll be astonished if the bat manufacturers don't realize that this is an advantage to them that they're going to utilize.
Q. So when we get to spring training, will we see these ink spots on the bats already and serial numbers? This is a go this spring?
SANDY ALDERSON: I think absolutely. The intention is that this program is effective essentially from today with respect to bat product that is used in 2009. You may see some slip package in the transition, given existing supply and so forth, but the way most clubs order bats, that existing supply should disappear quickly and we should see in full force and effect of these recommendations very early in spring training.
Q. Two questions: One, what are the implications for the Minor Leagues? They typically do not get the same quality of wood that the Major League players do. And, secondly, what is this going to do for your costs on a per-bat basis?
SANDY ALDERSON: Well, I think first of all, with respect to costs, as the new administrative fee would suggest, the cost of this program is significant. I believe that approximately a half million dollars has been spent to date on the research that we've obtained to date. It is possible that the cost of bats will go up in certain instances as a result of expenses being passed through, perhaps because of the greater selectivity of wood quality and so forth. But that will be something that we will see how the market reacts.
With respect to the Minor Leagues, I think the intent ultimately is that these same regulations apply to the Minor Leagues as they do to the Major Leagues. That may be affected to some extent initially by supply and existing inventory, but otherwise I think that's the intent.
RON MANFRED: The intention is that the rules will apply in the Minor Leagues, again, subject to working through existing supply.
Q. I guess this would be for Rob or Sandy. Of the 32 bat manufacturers that were sanctioned for last year, did any have such a high percentage of broken bats that they will not be allowed to continue to make bats? Was anyone such a violator of this that they will no longer be sanctioned?
SANDY ALDERSON: Think the short answer to that is no.
Q. And then a follow-up. A couple times you guys have mentioned we're not wood experts, but presumably someone who makes bats for Major League players would be wood experts. Should these manufacturers have known that these slope of grain issues existed?
DAVE KRETSCHMANN: One of the things that's difficult with looking -- this gets into kind of the technical side of wood itself. Ash is a rainforest wood, and maple is a diffuse forest wood, which has a much finer grain pattern and it's much more difficult to pick up the grain in a maple bat on the face grain. The reason the ink dot is being introduced is to assist the manufacturers in identifying what the grain pattern is on the face grain and amplify the effect.
We have some demonstrations. I can show you this if you want to hang around. I can show you why it's important to have the ink to amplify the grain. If you look at the handle itself, and you're right, that -- my understanding with our visits is that people are trying to do a good job of grading the bats themselves, but it's a difficult process with fine-grain wood to pick up slope of grain on the actual face. So we're giving them a tool to make that easier.
SANDY ALDERSON: Think just to add to that, for those bat manufacturers that operate out of a garage, it doesn't take expertise in wood properties to make a bat that can be used by a Major League player.
On the other hand, there's a certain amount of expertise that presumably is developed over a period of time. Actually there are a lot of aspects of the manufacturing process that still need to be reviewed, for example, the drying process, the degree of moisture content. There are a host of things that will be part of the ongoing research.
You're right to point out that some of that knowledge may have existed before, but certainly on a general level, it didn't exist. I was involved in some bat research several years ago and probably jumped to some conclusions with respect to maple that have not been borne out by scientific research.
So as a result we're all better off, and I think we have a better solution as a result of the research, and we will continue to refine the recommendations as that research continues.
DON FEHR: If I could just add to that briefly, it's an interesting academic question as to who should have known what when, whatever the research budgets were and the experience they had with bats. What's vastly more important is that the new information and analysis, techniques and all of rest of it be incorporated now and be followed going forward.
Q. Sandy, could you please just explain how the administrative fees apply, and how do they multiply?
SANDY ALDERSON: Well, you may recall several years ago administrative fees were first imposed on bat manufacturers, and that really related back to potential liability issues. There were also some insurance considerations and a desire to defray part of the administrative cost of certifying bats for dozens of different manufacturers.
The reason for the administrative fee going up is simply that this whole system for tracking bats, researching breakage and making recommendations is going to be very costly. It has been and will continue to be. And while these fees won't offset the total cost, they are recognition that some of these costs inherent in this business have to be borne by the manufacturer.
Q. So basically each of the 32 manufacturers pay $10,000 to Major League Baseball? Is that the way it works?
SANDY ALDERSON: Correct.
Q. And then Major League Baseball will use it to fund --
SANDY ALDERSON: In part, use it to fund the research as well as the ongoing administration of bat certification.
You can tell from these recommendations we're going to have a far more disciplined approach to tracking bats and so forth. So the costs are going to go up significantly.
Q. So my understanding is that you're going to have people in ballparks who are going to be certifying bats before they're put into players' hands now?
SANDY ALDERSON: Well, we can maybe leave that to someone else, but I wouldn't expect that there are going to be people in ballparks who are going to be there routinely certifying bats. My guess is that that certification process would take place closer to the manufacturer.
RON MANFRED: It's not a ballpark-based process. It's a process that will take place at the level of the manufacturer and then the certification numbers will allow you to follow what happens with particular bats and trace back, again, to the manufacturer so that you have a greater degree of quality control overall.
DAVE KRETSCHMANN: The visits to the ballparks are meant to be in the audit feature.
SANDY ALDERSON: One other comment I would make with respect to oversight at the park level, there's been speculation about the alteration of bats by individual players so that notwithstanding any specifications, the bats may not comply. According to our experts, there were very, very few instances of altered bats that they were able to observe as part of this collection of 2,200 bats. In that sense, that may have been a red herring, but it's something that has been an issue.
Q. Sandy, is there a level of reduction in shattered bats that you have in mind that would make this process successful for next year?
SANDY ALDERSON: I don't think any of us have looked at an absolute figure. I think we expect that there will be a significant reduction. But regardless of the reduction, whether it's 50 percent, 75 percent or 90 percent, the charge of this committee is to continue to do research to improve that number.
My understanding is that some of this needs to be done sequentially so that we can isolate factors in breakage. What we've done is we've isolated what we think are significant elements of that. That's not to say that other things won't be important like some aspects of bat design and so forth. But we expect a significant reduction, but whatever we get in 2009, I think we're looking for improved reduction offer an extended period.
DAVE KRETSCHMANN: The information we looked at again primarily focused on multiple piece failures because that's the things that are going out into the field. Of those multiple piece failures, the majority of those, slightly over 50 percent, were due to slope of grain. So that gives you a sense of the magnitude. It was the most obvious thing that we could deal with in 2009, to help reduce the multi-piece failures.
Q. Sandy, the issue of maple bats versus ash and other kind of bats, it seems the study is now saying there's no in-grain difference, no inherent difference between those. Do you have enough information to say going forward that that will remain the same, that maple bats will be judged the same? Or will you continue to collect evidence that could cause the committee's opinion to change?
SANDY ALDERSON: Well, I don't think anything is ever closed to further research. So that issue I think will remain outstanding as we continue going forward with the additional research.
On the other hand, I think we're confident. I should let the experts speak to that. Whatever molecular or structural differences exist between maple and ash, they are not as significant as this issue of slope of grain and the difficulty of identifying the slope in maple versus ash. And with improvement in the quality of the wood based on slope of grain as well as the orientation of the bat from edge to face grain, it should make a difference.
So the fundamental differences between maple and ash I don't think exist to the extent that a lot of us may have hypothesized a long time ago, but David can speak to that.
DAVE KRETSCHMANN: Again, during the period that we collected the bats, it's obvious that maple bats were breaking at a much higher rate than ash. But there's nothing about maple itself that would justify such a difference between ash and maple. They should be much closer, the failure rates should be much closer together than they are, and what the reasons are for that are multifaceted. One, it stands out again, slope of grain, half the bats we looked at had slope of grain issues in them and failed in multiple pieces.
There's other components that are going to be looked at during the next year, and that is bat geometry and its influence as well as drying methods on the maple bats themselves to see if that's an added component to why there are more maple bats breaking than ash bats. They should be closer together in failure rates than they are.
Q. You just answered my question a little bit, but another one popped up into my head a minute ago. I know the use of different kind of bats is a player preference, but through the course of these studies did anything emerge that would tell you that one is more effective than the other from a player's standpoint?
DAVE KRETSCHMANN: No, actually most of the test results -- actually all of the test results suggest there isn't a substantial difference between ash and maple in performance. If they're straight gained wood they perform similarly.
Again, what we're trying to do as the technical adviser to the group is establish what are some of the reasons for the differences that are occurring on the field and what can we do about it immediately for 2009. There's a short window to do something about it, four months. What can we get technically solid information on in four months to make a change to the bat regulations. There's more things to be done, and we already explained two of those things.
So this is an ongoing process. There's potential to have another round of changes for 2010 as a result of what happens in 2009.
Q. Sandy, you said that the umbrella insurance was raised. Is that a million, and what was it raised to?
SANDY ALDERSON: It was raised to 5 million and 10 million for each occurrence and general aggregate?
Q. And then David, for those of us who failed geometry, you said you may look at bat geometry. In layman's terms what does that mean in terms of the bat?
DAVE KRETSCHMANN: One of the issues that's out there right now that's talked about a great deal is barrel size and hand size. There are a lot of large-barrel bats and small-handled bats that are being used. But they're not failing at the same rates. So there's more to the story than just barrel size and handle size. There's also the geometry and the shape of that bat that's causing differences in failure rates, and that's what we're going to be looking into during this next year.
So what I'm talking about is looking at a bat, barrel, and then how it tapers into the handle. There's differences for different models, and that has an influence in the failure rates.
Q. So the bats that the players already possess, can they be used or do you have to be reinspected or do they just get discarded?
SANDY ALDERSON: Think our view right now, and this isn't something we've decided, but I think that the view is that the transition from uncertified bats to the new inventory will be short and that we will allow those bats to be used until the inventory is depleted.
Q. Before the regular season, during spring training?
SANDY ALDERSON: Well, yeah, there will be a limited period of time. I don't know that we've talked about a demarcation date after which nobody can use uncertified bats. That may be necessary, but that may be a function of how much inventory turns out to be there.
DAN HALEM: I'll just elaborate a little. For the regular season we expect all bats to conform to the regulations, and we're working with the bat manufacturers and we see no problem in obtaining that goal.
With respect to bats that are left over from last year, we'll get a handle on how many there are. There shouldn't be that many. We're going to check those bats using the method that they've described with the ink drop to make sure they satisfy the regulations before they're allowed in a Major League game. We will have a plan in place to make sure that all bats that are used in regular season games next season meet these requirements.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
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