Every high stake sport has competitors trying to give themselves some unfair and illegal advantage. The tour de France, the MBA all have doping scandals in spades. The funny thing is that softball has its own form of scandal. For such a seemingly wholesome and innocuous sport, softball has “hot” bats!
A hot bat is a softball bat that has been altered in some way to enhance performance and give the batsman an unfair advantage over their competitors. Hot bats generally employ a technique called ‘shaving’ that increases the softball’s exit velocity.
Because the shaving is not visible to the naked eye and the weight difference is only marginal between a shaved and unshaved bat, it is not always easy to tell if a player has altered his bat.
The good news is that you do have ways to tell if your kid’s arch-nemesis is using unfair advantage and shaving his/her bat, (no way your kid could lose otherwise, right?) Before we go into how you can tell if a softball bat is shaved, let’s figure out just what softball bat shaving is.
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How do you shave a softball bat?
The most common way to shave a softball bat is to remove the end cap from the bat. Softball bats all have a hollow core, and a bat ‘doctor’ penetrates this core with a cylindrical style lathe, and they shave out a section of the bat’s inner lining.
This thinning of the bat’s inner wall has two main effects:
- The bat becomes lighter and easier to swing
- When the softball hits the bat, the ball will compress the bat and boomerang the ball back out in a ‘trampoline effect.’
The main result of these two enhancements in play is that the hot bat hits the ball further and at a far higher velocity.
As the bat is shaved, the fibers of the composite material become weaker, so the bat will have more ‘give’ and send the ball further.
Because shaving occurs within the bat, there are very few to none external clues to let the umpire know that foul play is afoot.
The effects are sometimes plain to see, however, with hitters sometimes getting 50 extra feet on a well-placed hit.
What happens if you get caught with a hot bat?
The National Federation of High Schools states in Article 2a/3 states clearly that any alterations to a bat to improve performance are illegal.
Little league follows a similar stand in their written statement: “No bat, in any level of Little League Baseball or Softball play, is permitted to be altered. This is of particular concern when it is clearly done to enhance performance and violate bat standards.”
Professional umpires are trained to look out for shaved bats at every level of softball competition. If you do get caught ‘hot-handed,’ there can be some pretty severe consequences for you and your team.
The player/owner of the bat, parents (if a minor), and the coach may be suspended from the game for an extensive amount of time, even for life. In some instances, not only does the governing body suspend players but bench the entire team indefinitely.
Further than that, not many people are aware that it is considered a federal crime to alter a certified softball bat because it is a violation of the manufacturer’s patent and copyright.
The ASA claims to have won two $100,000 judgments in lawsuits filed against individuals who altered certified bats, and they have more on the way.
Does bat shaving really work?
Extensive studies conducted at Penn State University have proven that shaved softball bats achieve gains from anywhere from30 to 60 feet and even higher. Bat shaving definitely gives the owner of the bat a considerable advantage over their competitors.
Can you use a shaved bat legally?
There are a few competitions where shaved bats are not considered illegal in play. These include home run derbies and tournaments where there are no restrictions on the bats that players are allowed to use.
Can you tell if a softball bat is shaved?
The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” If you have the correct equipment.
Compression tests are an obvious way to measure if a bat is altered because the trampoline effect of shaving increases the elasticity of the bat barrel. Compression tests measure the amount of pressure needed to compress the barrel of a bat.
A high compression result is usually stated in pounds per area and means that the bat’s walls are more rigid. A low compression result can reveal the elasticity of a shaved bat.
1. Measure by weight
Shaved bats tend to weigh less than unaltered softball bats. A simple digital kitchen scale can fulfill this role as it is easy to come by and relatively inexpensive.
2. Measure by swing weight
Many bats measure more than their stated weight by adding grips and end caps and such add ons. If a bat feels light in the swing, there is a good chance it is shaved.
There is portable equipment that can measure the swing weight, but if you are familiar with softball bats, you may feel that the bat has a lighter swing by using it yourself.
3. Sound checks
Many people swear to be able to tell the sound of a shaved bat with ease. Because the bat is shaved and therefore thinner, the sound of impact has a higher-pitched and more hollow sound. Measuring by sound is obviously not a reliable or conclusive test, but be a signal to look more closely at the player’s bat.
4. Look down the end of the bat
If you are stuck and have no equipment to prove that a softball bat has been shaved reliably, you have an option to open it up and have a look. By taking off the endcap, the lathe marks and texture will reveal if the bat is hot.
Easy endcap separation is also a sign of tampering. Look to see if the edging is flush.
Why softball bat shaving is harming the sport?
While bat shaving used to be prevalent in men, women, and co-ed softball leagues, now it seems to be rife in the high school system. The number of home runs per year is increasing exponentially, and it seems hot bats may have become mainstream.
Not only is it unsporting and illegal to shave a softball bat, but it is potentially dangerous. The increased velocity increases the likelihood of injury in play.
The rules of the American softball Association and a host of other governing bodies, a bat may not have an exit velocity of more than 98 Miles per hour. Shaved bats have tested in at 105 to 108 miles an hour. That is cheating, whatever excuses hot batters may put forward.
Satisfaction for a true sportsperson is not the win by the knowledge that they put all their heart into the game. How can a player take pride in a win where the playing ground was not level? In their heart of hearts, they know they really lost, even hiding a trophy.
There are plans afoot for new technologies by manufacturers such as a fixed end cap or composites that cannot be shaved or rolled. Until then, we know a few tricks to spot the cheaters while we keep our game honest.