November 24, 2014

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No metal bats for high schoolers, N.Y. judge rules

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge on Tuesday upheld New York’s ban on metal bats in high school baseball games, saying it was not his place to overturn a law that was approved by a local government with the public’s safety in mind.

U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl said there is no clear evidence that metal bats cause more serious injuries than wooden bats but added the City Council is entitled to make the judgment that the risk is too great.

“The protection of the health and safety of high school-age students is entitled to great weight,” the judge said. “While the record does not include clear empirical evidence showing that more serious injuries would occur without the ordinance, it is the city’s legislative assessment that the risk is too great.”

The judge added: “In short, the judgment that high school baseball players’ safety is more important than higher batting averages and more offense is a classic legislative judgment that the City Council could constitutionally make.”

The law is set to take effect Sept. 1.

The ban had been challenged by an organization representing national high school baseball coaches, several companies that make metal bats, and coaches and parents of New York City high school baseball players.

The law resulted from claims that today’s metal bats cause balls to go farther and faster, heightening the risk of injuries.

In April, the City Council overrode a veto of the legislation by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The lawsuit was then filed.

During hearings, former Mets pitcher John Franco testified that when he throws batting practice for some high school teams that use non-wood bats, the ball seems to come back at him as soon as it leaves his hand.

“I don’t even see it coming at me. It’s dangerous. It’s very, very dangerous. … I’m speaking from someone who is standing on the mound for 22 years, and I can see the difference,” he testified.

David A. Ettinger, a lawyer for the challengers, said legislators needed to provide some scientific evidence that the metal bats are unsafe. Manufacturers then could adjust the makeup of metal bats to make them safer than some wooden bats, he said.

Ettinger said Tuesday he had just received the ruling and could not comment yet.

The lawsuit was filed by USA Baseball, a Durham, N.C.-based national governing body for several baseball associations; the National High School Baseball Coaches Association, based in Tempe, Ariz.; Easton Sports Inc.; Wilson Sporting Goods Co.; Rawlings Sporting Goods Co.; Hillerich & Bradsby Co.; and several fathers of ballplayers.

The president of Little League Baseball and Softball, Stephen D. Keener, said in a statement the group was “disappointed” with the decision.

“We enthusiastically support the government’s obligation to protect its citizens, but in this case the judge has said that the New York City Council made its decision without any factual basis, and we agree,” he said.

Paul Seiler, executive director of USA Baseball, a Durham, said in a statement that his group fears the ruling “will take a lot of fun out of the game for most high school players.”

“Except for the rare, great ballplayer, it’s harder to hit with wood,” he said.

Councilman James Oddo, the original sponsor of the bill, said he hopes city and state governments throughout the country see the ruling as a “green light to return the game to its roots, to give kids back a better, purer and safer brand of baseball.”

“Today the big winners, the really big winners, are the kids of the city of New York,” he said.

Mount St. Michael high school varsity baseball coach Wally Stampfel, chairman of the Catholic High School Athletics Association in New York, said schools must now grapple with the question of how the law will be enforced.

“The court struck out on this one,” he said, “but city players are the big losers because they won’t get to use the bat of their choice.”