Safety in Lumber? N.Y. Bill Says Yes

(Istock Photo)
By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 16, 2007

James Oddo has spent six years championing a cause he says is not that important. Yet, if the New York City councilman is able to turn his cause into legislation, it could set into motion a sweeping change in the way baseball is played at all youth levels nationwide.

Oddo wants to ban the use of all non-wooden bats from game action in New York City high schools, both public and private. It is a public safety issue, he said, and one that the scholastic and sport's governing bodies have not addressed.

"I will not step back and say that this is not an issue for government," Oddo said. "I'm a conservative Republican, but this is an example where the government is the only entity out there. My hope is now this is a green light for other organizations and leagues of all ages to follow suit."

Oddo's bill, which would take effect next school year, passed the City Council by a 40-6 margin. Although Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) vetoed the measure on April 4, the council will seek to override the veto with a two-thirds majority next month, and appears to have the votes to do so.

The outcome is being watched by high school administrators across the country. New York wouldn't be the first jurisdiction to pass such legislation -- North Dakota switched to wood bats this school year -- but it would be the biggest.

Tom Dolan, Virginia High School League assistant director and its liaison to its Sports Medicine Committee, said it would be very difficult getting each of the state's regions to adopt the rule, and it would not be fair to allow some regions to use metal, while others would be restricted to wood.

"It's also going to be an expensive undertaking," Dolan said.

Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, is aware of the situation in New York. Sparks was on the National High School Federation board of directors in 2000 when it passed regulations aimed at reducing the velocity with which baseballs come off aluminum bats.

The NFHS regulations also require umpires to check the bats before each game. This, Sparks said, alleviates any concerns he might have.

"Who are we, Maryland, to say we're smarter than [the NFHS]? We don't have testing laboratories. We rely on the national federation to set a standard and we follow that standard. I was in on all that discussion when it was going on. We don't have any greater knowledge."

Oddo believes he doesn't need scientific evidence. Not after hearing testimony from parents whose children have either been killed or severely injured by balls launched off aluminum bats.

"I don't want to hear about statistics, because I don't think there is a comprehensive list out there," said Oddo, who first became interested in the cause when he learned of a 14-year-old lacrosse player who died from commotio cordis after absorbing a ball in his chest in 2000.

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