As metal baseball and softball bats made their way onto the sporting scene beginning in the late 1960s, it soon became apparent that they were a cost-effective alternative to easily-broken wooden bats. Most college baseball programs were continually scratching for funds, and the cost savings in going to the virtually indestructible metal was very attractive.
In 1974, the NCAA gave metal bats the go-ahead and the transition was more like a stampede. No coach was going be caught at an offensive disadvantage for sticking with wood. Within the year, virtually every school had made the transition, and metal bats are used almost exclusively to this day. America’s college baseball teams are not required to use metal bats, incidentally. NCAA rules merely permit their use.
Today, with metal bats costing ten times or more the price of a wood bat and having finite lives, the economics of the situation is again being questioned, but the bat companies offer sufficient incentives and keep the cost of bats relatively cheap, which still matters in the budgetary constraints of the college game.
The chief complaint against metal bats is that they augment offense tremendously, as the ball comes off a metal bat much harder than is true of wood. This was especially so in the early days of metal bats, when offense (runs scored) jumped thirty percent between 1974 and 1985. In 1998, perhaps motivated by the football-like 21-14 score in the finale of the 1998 College World Series, the NCAA considerably tightened metal bat performance standards, and offenses have returned to more traditional levels.
With the encouragement of major league baseball and the NCAA, a number of “wood bat” summer baseball leagues for college players have sprung up around the country, patterned after the well-established Cape Cod League in Massachusetts. It’s an opportunity for good college players to step up in competition, and it allows major league scouts a chance to see how prospective players (pitchers and hitters both) react to the “wood game”, as there are no metal bats allowed anywhere in professional baseball. Beginning in the summer of 2007, just such a team, the Corvallis Knights will play in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League, calling Goss Stadium at Coleman Field home.
Paul Andresen: 2/13/2007