CIF adopts new bat safety standards

Teams from the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern section play ball. File photo.
Teams from the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern section play ball. File photo.

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The governing body for California high school sports has adopted tougher standards for metal and composite bats.

The move by the California Interscholastic Federation is aimed at preventing player injuries from hard-hit balls. It also halts legislation that would have required high school baseball and softball teams to return to wooden bats.

The standards adopted by the CIF's executive council take effect next spring, when high school baseball and softball will be in full swing. The new CIF standards govern the way a ball reacts when struck full force by a metal or a composite bat. Balls are supposed to travel no further or faster than they would if struck by a wooden bat. Each metal or composite bat will carry a label that verifies that performance.

The standards match those developed by the National Federation of State High School Associations. The NFHS scheduled the new standards to take effect in 2012, but moved that up to 2011 after several incidents last spring in which pitchers were injured by batted balls.

One of those incidents happened last March when a line drive off a metal bat hit Marin Catholic High School pitcher Gunnar Sandberg above his right ear and fractured his skull. The injury caused bleeding under Sandberg's brain, requiring doctors to perform emergency surgery to relieve pressure on the high school junior's brain.

After the injury, Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) proposed legislation to require a two-year moratorium on metal and composite bats in high school baseball and softball. Huffman has agreed to suspend his bill now that the CIF has adopted new safety standards.

Metal bats first showed up on diamonds more than 30 years ago, primarily as a way that prep teams could save money since the metal bats were sturdier. Fans immediately noticed the unnerving "ping" every time a metal bat struck a pitch, but hitters noticed that grounders, liners and fly balls traveled further and faster.

Composite bats — lighter, stronger with a bigger “sweet spot” — help hitters whack the ball even better. A top-of-the-line composite bat costs $350 or more.

The new standards define a bat's BBCOR, or Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution. The BBCOR for a metal or composite bat should be the same as a wooden bat's, or close to it. The bat must also carry a label that says its BBCOR meets CIF standards.

The CIF also announced it will ask the NFHS Baseball and Softball Rules Committees to develop
standards for protective headgear for baseball and softball infielders and base coaches
in 2012.

The CIF also says it encourages California high schools to require infielders in both sports to wear protective headgear. Many softball pitchers and corner infielders already wear light masks in the field.