April 25, 2002

All of Albert Belle's bats were corked,: says Omar Vizquel in his newly released autobiography. OK, so the truth is out, and there's no big surprise, but I've got to ask... just why does Omar Vizquel have an autobiography? Aren't these books usually written by extremely popular/controversial retired players?

posted by Bernreuther to baseball at 12:16 PM - 6 comments

I mean, I think he's a great shortstop and good hitter, but what has he really done to warrant an entire book at this point?

posted by Bernreuther at 12:17 PM on April 25, 2002

Two things: 1) Albert Belle was one of the greatest hitters of the 1990's, and but for that hip injury (and his fiery personality) he would be in the last few years of a celebrated if unlikable hall of fame career. I still think he's a borderline HOFer who doesn't quite make the cut, but even if he'd played a few more years he still might not have made it because sportswriters are morons- for example, Rick Reilly of SI who has let his petty personal grudge against the greatest player of the last several decades infect his writing. 2) The corked bat thing may be true, but if so it was likely giving little if any advantage to Belle. Robert K. Adair's MLB-commissioned "The Physics of Baseball" (1990) spends a chapter discussing corked and other altered bats, and concludes that a corked bat offers a slight increase in bat speed (because 1.5-2 ounces lost come at the end of hte bat) but results in lost power because the cork or rubber that is used in the hole cuts down on the stored energy that is normally given back to the ball in the ball-bat collision. To a monster hitter like Belle, the feet lost off the homerun swing are possibly worth it for that slight increase in ability to time the pitch with a lighter bat, but interestingly offers no advantage over the hitter simply choking up on the bat or reducing the bat's barrel size from 2.5 to 2.4 inches in diameter. As a sidenote, Adair effectively predicted this new wave of maple bats, noting that a lighter (and more breakable) wood than the ash used for many years would emulate the lighter weight of a corked bat within the rules of baseball without losing as much of the elasticity as is lost when corking the bat. Here's a thought: why don't the hitters of today start switching back to hickory bats, or at least larger and thicker handled ash bats? See, the trend towards lighter bats occured because the pitchers got faster and craftier, so the batspeed increase with a lighter bat was needed to hold back on the ball a little longer- and the hitters got stronger, so they can still put it out of the yard with a good swing. But the properties of hickory bats, or larger and thicker handled bats, allow for a greater hitting area (much like an aluminum bat) since the mis-hit ball is the rule not the exception. With some players today resembling linebackers, swinging a 38oz bat shouldn't slow them down- they're strong enough that the only factor in total bat speed is how fast they can move their hands anyway. Thus they could maintain their power but add 20, 30 points to their batting average.

posted by hincandenza at 12:57 PM on April 25, 2002

You're not calling Belle "the greatest player of the last several decades," are you?

posted by rcade at 03:57 PM on April 25, 2002

actually the maple bats are a lot less breakable than the ash. They did a segment on Sportscenter last week about it. They last a lot longer than Ash... but when they do break, they tend to explode, which is a bit more dangerous... Rob Neyer had a good article about Albert's hall chances, and when he was healthy, he was great, but basically the conclusion was what you said, he wasn't great for long enough, because of the injury. Which sucks, because he _could_ have had a hall-worthy career. Now, if he was of the Kirby Puckett mold, maybe he'd get some sympathy and some votes, but with his personality I doubt he'll get much support.

posted by Bernreuther at 04:27 PM on April 25, 2002

You're not calling Belle "the greatest player of the last several decades," are you? Don't be silly! Belle was one of the very best hitters of the 1990's, as I said. Later in the paragraph when I said "greatest player" I was referring then of course Barry Bonds, who's only real competition for that title might come from Alex Rodriguez. From what I heard, Rick Reilly was apparently stood up for an interview by Bonds back in the very early 90's, and neither Reilly nor SI have let him forget it, being continuously harsh on him through his career. It's a lowlight in sports journalism, the way writer and magazine have let their personal dislikes influence their coverage so strongly (while at the same time giving a generally free pass to the similarly egotistical and standoffish Jeff Kent). actually the maple bats are a lot less breakable than the ash Hm, should have clarified my statement. I was paraphrasing Adair's statement, since he didn't predict maple in particular but just new wood types that would have a lighter, cork-weighted-feel. I've heard that maple is explosive when it breaks, so Adair wasn't 100% correct. The real breakability in bats these days is in their thin handles, which I've always found odd: it's a scientific fact that a thicker handled bat has a greater "good" hitting area than a thinner handled one, yet by putting that weight in the handle results in very little impact to hitting speed.

posted by hincandenza at 08:12 PM on April 25, 2002

Yeah. Reilly's column is usually entertaining, but this one clanked so bad I remembered it as soon I saw this post. Back when ESPN.com was still cool (and I still browsed on Lynx), Bill Nye the Science Guy came to the same conclusion as Adair, only without the fancy college degrees.

posted by yerfatma at 09:31 PM on April 25, 2002

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