The corked bat debate lives on

July 16 2:55pm

By Antonio D’Arcangelis

Last night at the bar, I knocked back a couple of drinks pre-gaming for the midnight showing of the final Harry Potter installment at a local theater. It’s called the “Community Theatre,” and it looks a lot like my high school auditorium. So, it’s safe to say, I’m a pretty big dork. That said, I truly pride myself on knowing the science of baseball, especially when it comes to subverting old wives tales and long-held beliefs that just don’t hold water. Well, while we were waiting for 11:00 p.m. to roll around, I got started on the steroid discussion with a couple buddies.  The next thing I knew, a former minor league baseball player – one who I’ve known since he was a teenager (we’ll call him B.P., and he took one of my older sisters to the prom in 1985) came over and joined the discussion. We talked about how rampant steroids were in the late 1980s, how he had the opportunity to use them but didn’t, and how in general, we felt that players who used shouldn’t be vilified. It was nice to hear a lot of my longstanding ideas about the controversial topic confirmed by an inside guy.

After we agreed that the general public is not really that informed about steroids, and I added that along with increased power, steroids provided confidence at the plate, I segued into the topic of corked bats, and how they don’t really make the ball go any farther, but the confidence one gains from them often results in more hits (see Norm Cash). That’s when the argument started. B.P. said he knew for a fact that corked bats worked, because former major leaguer Jose Cardenal (then a coach in the Reds system) handed him a corked bat and told him to “hit with this mother****er.” B.P. said the balls came off hotter and flew longer, that the 35-ounce bat, once diminished to 33 ounces but still 34 inches of (mostly) solid ash, came around more quickly. He regurgitated all the ideas that old school baseball guys have been putting out for years, including the trampoline effect – because of the elasticity of the cork. Despite my insistence that this particular myth had been sufficiently busted, he refused to concur. I said that while I’m no scientist, there have been myriad studies in the past 10 years, a couple of which resulted from the 2003 Sammy Sosa ejection and Pete Rose bat X-Ray. What I thought was the seminal investigation on the topic was done at Washington State University. The study sought to answer questions about corked bats, lively baseballs and the efficacy of humidors in limiting flight. The conclusion to their main question was that “there is no measurable trampoline effect with a corked bat and that it is unlikely that a batter can hit a baseball harder by using a corked bat.”

But while studies have shown there is no trampoline effect, and that the ball doesn’t travel any farther with a corked bat (probably less, in fact), it’s entirely true that a player gets around on a ball further with a bat that’s equally long and a couple of ounces lighter. So a player with excellent timing could, in fact, benefit from a corked bat, especially if he hits ‘em “where they ain’t.” I really wanted to win this one, because as a baseball dweeb and sabermetric-reliant fantasy owner, I want to be smarter than the Dusty Bakers of the world. I still think some of these results would surprise B.P. but there’s enough doubt in the studies when it comes to the trade-off between bat speed and mass that it’s a hard argument to settle. Maybe we should get Jose Cardenal down here with one of those “mother****ers” he handed to B.P. in the late 80s – just to see what he could do with one of them.

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