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Major League Baseball's batty loophole
There's a problem when the same piece of wood is legal in one player's hands and illegal in another's.
Houston Astros catcher Martin Maldonado was caught using an illegal bat in Game 1 of the World Series.
On first glance, it might appear to be the latest example of Houston's loose interpretation of the rules.
But this situation isn't so simple. And in this case, it's the result of a batty loophole.
The piece of lumber was a gift from the Cardinals' Albert Pujols — a maple bat like the ones Pujols has been swinging for the bulk of his career. These types of bats were outlawed for new players after the 2011 season due to their splinter risk.
According to the collective bargaining agreement reached between the MLB and players union, “The parties agreed to phase out low-density maple bats. No new player will be permitted to use a low density maple bat during the term of the agreement.”
But Pujols was among the players grandfathered into the program, meaning he's been allowed to swing outlawed bats for about half of his career.
Per MLB standards, the bat was fine as long as Pujols swung it. But pass it to another player, and it becomes illegal.
The issue with low-density maple bats isn't performance, it's safety. The bats have been known to shatter when they break.
Such bats have been largely phased out to avoid situations like the one Tyler Colvin experienced.
Colvin was in his first full season for the Cubs in 2010. He was having a pretty good year, too, hitting 20 home runs. He was leading off third base during a September game against the Marlins. The batter, Welington Castillo, hit a broken-bat, ground-rule double to left field. But as Colvin crossed home plate, he grabbed his chest. Something wasn't right.
A piece of Castillo's bat had punctured a hole in Colvin's left lung.
Colvin eventually recovered from his injury and even played 57 games for the world champion Giants in 2014. He's now married with three children and runs a gifts and engraving company.
He was circumspect in 2014 when asked about the broken bat.
"Not everyone's path is just right there, an easy path," Colvin told SFGate. "I think everyone has ups and downs. It's how you deal with them. I've definitely had some ups and downs. I've had some unfortunate things happen. But you learn from it all."
A series of scary injuries involving players, coaches and fans brought the problem into focus in the years before Colvin was impaled. And despite all of that, Pujols and other players were allowed to continue using problematic bats for all of these years?
It's unclear how many times shattered bats from Pujols and other grandfathered players put others in harm's way, but two incidents I found stand out. In 2012, Texas catcher Yorvit Torrealba was struck by Pujols' broken bat and left the game with a head contusion.
Chris Coghlan also could have been impaled by a piece of Pujols' shattered bat in 2017.
Hitting coach and bat expert Jeff Leach wrote about the situation on Twitter, offering context and clearing up some of the misperceptions.
There aren't many active players left who qualify to use lower-density maple bats. But there's a problem when the same piece of wood is legal in one player's hands and illegal in another's.
Especially when the “illegal” bat has been swung by one of baseball’s all-time greats.
And to think, Major League Baseball's batty loophole was brought to the forefront because of a simple act of goodwill.