The crack of a baseball bat hitting a baseball is one of the most distinct sounds in all major league sports. That crack is like music to a baseball fan’s ears and could be considered the signature sound of professional baseball. But what causes that sound? To find out, let’s take a look at what MLB bats are made of.
History of the MLB Baseball Bat
In the 1800’s baseball players traditionally made their own bats. Players could make bats however they wanted. This means that bats were often made of whatever scrap wood was lying around. Bats were often made from wagon tongues and included unique designs and materials specific to that player’s style.
In the mid-1800s players began seeking out the help of professional woodworkers to help them design and shape baseball bats. The first standard baseball bat was not mass-produced until 1884. Several different kinds of wood were tested including hickory, ash, and maple. Since then, rules and regulations have been put in place to limit the size, weight, and material of the bats used in MLB.
Type of Wood in MLB Bats
The wooden baseball bats of modern Major League Baseball are made from several different types of woods. These are the most common types of wood in MLB bats and the advantages of each:
Ash Wood Baseball Bats
Ash was one of the initial species of wood that was first used in standard baseball bats. Many MLB players still use Ash bats because they offer more flexibility which increases bat speed. The downside of Ash baseball bats is that they are ring-porous and tend to dry out over time leading to breakage.
Maple Wood Baseball Bats
Maple bats are stiff and offer little flexibility when a ball is struck with them. Maple wood is hard and thick which allows for additional force behind the hit. It should come as no surprise that sluggers often choose to use maple bats. Because of the density of maple wood, bats made of maple are less likely to crack or break. The downside of maple bats is that they can retain moisture over time which adds weight to the bat and decreases swing speed.
Birch Wood Baseball Bats
Birch is another common wood that is used to make bats. Birch is soft but also naturally durable, it is the middle road between ash and maple. Birch bats often combine the durability of maple bats with the flexibility of ash bats. The downside of birch is its softness. Hitting often leaves dents on the shaft of the bat.
Other types of Bat Materials
At the high school or college level of baseball, bats made of materials other than wood can be used if they are Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) compliant. BBCOR compliant bats are easy to spot because they will always have a BBCOR certification stamp. When playing below a high school level, United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) and USA are the standard bat certifications. BBCOR, USSSA, and USA bats can all be made of materials other than solid wood. Some of the materials allowed are:
Bamboo Baseball Bats
Bamboo bats were first introduced in Asia where bamboo is plentiful. Bamboo may be considered wood, but bamboo bats are not currently permitted in MLB. Bats made from bamboo are durable and lighter than other wood bats. Bamboo is also better at shock absorption when compared to other woods.
Wood Composite Baseball Bats
Composite wood bats are not allowed in Major League Baseball because they are not made of true wood. Composite wood bats may have an advantage over traditional wood because it can be engineered for certain features. Composite wood bats are often lighter than other bats, so they are often used by younger players to gain a competitive advantage.
Aluminum/Metal Alloy Baseball Bats
Aluminum bats are produced from aluminum. Metal alloy bats or aluminum alloy bats are created from a blend of aluminum and other elements to create a metal alloy. Aluminum is a lightweight metal that is easier to swing than wood bats. Aluminum bats are commonly used in little league, high school, and college. Because of their lightness, aluminum bats allow younger players to compensate for their lack of strength with increased swing speed.
Composite Baseball Bats
Composite bats are made from a blend of different materials. They are designed to be light and easy to swing. Composite bats are especially suitable for young players that are still developing their strength and swing mechanics. Their light weight means that they can have a longer barrel length. This provides the bats with a larger “sweet spot”.
Hybrid Baseball Bats
Hybrid bats are designed to combine the strengths of aluminum and composite baseball bats. Hybrid bats have all the strengths of both materials while eliminating most of the drawbacks.
Baseball Bat Material Comparison and Consideration
All bat materials have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Buying sports equipment is an investment and the decision should be handled with care and consideration. Quality baseball equipment should be durable and last for a long time to make the purchase worth it. Consider consulting a coach to determine the best type of bat material for your own play style. What works for one batter, may not be the best solution for you.