Today, playing baseball no longer means you will experience the wonderful “crack of the bat” sound that brings back countless memories. In fact, wood bats are rare at most levels other than the pros. Below is an overview of the different baseball bat materials available today:
The majority of wood baseball bats today are made from northern white ash harvested from Pennsylvania or New York. White ash is used because of it’s hardness, durability, strength, weight and “feel”. Trees that provide the lumber for baseball bats are often 50 years old, and of all the lumber harvested – the top 10% is saved for pro bats.
Maple baseball bats have recently become popular largely as a result of Barry Bond’s amazing 73 home runs hit using maple bats in 2001. For years, maple was too heavy to make an effective bat. Recent technology in drying wood has created bats with lower moisture content, which are light enough to make effective baseball bats. Rock or Sugar Maple bats are preferred. Maple bats cost more than white ash, but they often last longer as a result of their high strength.
The introduction of aluminum baseball bats in the 1970’s forever changed the game of baseball at every level but the pros. Aluminum bats are lighter, stronger and can hit a baseball significantly further than wooden bats. This is a result of not only lighter bats, but also the “trampoline effect” that occurs when a ball hits an aluminum bat. As time has progressed, so has the technology put into aluminum bats. Aluminum in bats today is “aircraft grade” and as scientists have developed stronger alloys, they have used them to make bats both stronger and lighter. Budget aluminum bats can be purchased for $30 or so, but are made of aluminum that is significantly “weaker” than the high end bats. According to the manufacturers claims, the top of the line bats ($250+) use aluminum alloys that are 40%-100% stronger than entry level, inexpensive aluminum bats. In recent years, bat makers have introduced innovations such as the double-wall bats (containing a wall within a wall), carbon fiber bats, and bats that use a “cryogenic” manufacturing process. Some of the super high end bats are so thin that they only last a few games before they are literally dented out of shape! Graphite and Titanium lined aluminum bats are another recent addition to the industry. Graphite and titanium are both lightweight and strong – allowing for increased swing speed and larger sweet spots on the bats.
In the early days of baseball, hickory bats were very common in the game of baseball. Hickory is an extremely hard and strong piece of wood, although with the strength comes a lot of weight. Hickory baseball bats simply weigh too much for many ball players – in fact, Babe Ruth used 47 ounce hickory bats in his day!
Several companies have recently introduced bamboo baseball bats. Since bamboo chutes are hollow, unlike a standard tree that a wood bat is made of, bamboo bats are made by pressing bamboo “strips” into billets, and then turning these billets into bats. Bamboo is an extremely strong wood, with a tensile strength greater than that of steel.