Did Bad Bats Deprive the Diamond Dogs of an N.C.A.A. Title?

During the open comment thread for the final game of the College World Series, Hunker Down Dawg asked:

What is with only warning track power?

We need to use their bats.

Hunker Down Dawg’s conclusion may have been more right than he knew. The question was being raised at least as far back as April and now FisheriesDawg has called our attention to John Kaltefleiter’s recent piece in the Athens Banner-Herald arguing that Georgia, Miami (Florida), and North Carolina all are at a disadvantage because their contracts with Nike require them to use baseball bats manufactured by the shoe company rather than the superior bats produced by Easton, the Diamond Dogs’ former baseball equipment supplier.

Kaltefleiter contends that the Red and Black’s "warning track power" only in Omaha quite literally was due to a need to use the same bats Fresno State was using: Easton introduced a new composite bat in April, which combines metal and carbon fiber. During Georgia’s struggles down the stretch---when the Bulldogs’ bats seemingly went silent and the Classic City Canines’ previously unhittable bullpen began blowing leads---a number of Georgia’s losses came against the likes of Alabama, Florida, Fresno State, and Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide, the Gators, the West Coast Bulldogs, and the Rebels all use equipment supplied by Easton. (The other S.E.C. squads on that list also have contracts with Nike, but they cover only basketball and football, so baseball is not affected.)

These are just excuses, though, right? We Georgia fans are looking for any explanation that lets the Diamond Dogs off the hook, so we’re blaming the bats without any legitimate basis, aren’t we? According to Daniel A. Russell of the Kettering University Science and Mathematics Department, who examined this very question in 2005, no, we’re not. Writes Dr. Russell:

The graphite and glass fiber materials used to manufacture composite bats are much lighter than aluminum. In fact, most composite bats have metal rods inserted in the handles in order to bring the weight up to normal values. The lightest bats currently available are composites. As such, it is much easier to shift mass around from barrel end to handle (or the other way around for end-loaded bats) to control the location of the balance point and thus the swing weight. . . .

Composite materials have a distinct advantage over aluminum in that they are anisotropic, which means that the elastic properties of a composite material are not the same in all directions. By changing the angle of the weave in the composite material fabric, the stiffnesses in the longitudinal (along the length of the bat) and circumferential (around the barrel of the bat) directions can be modified pretty much independently of each other, and without changing the distribution of mass along the length of the bat. This means that you can make the barrel of a composite bat soft while still maintaining the stiffness in the handle. Or you could make the handle softer while keeping the barrel stiff. Composite materials provide a manufacturer with a very wide range of possibilities to design a bat to a targeted performance and/or feel. There are composite bats which perform about the same as a lesser quality single-wall aluminum bat. There are composite bats which match the performance of the best double-wall aluminum bats available. And then there are composite bats which outperform any metal bat ever made (including the legendary titanium bats). By adjusting the stiffness of the barrel a manufacturer is able to "tune" the trampoline effect of a bat to increase or decrease performance pretty much as desired.

It sounds like Kaltefleiter is right on target. Damon Evans did the right thing by sweetening David Perno’s contract. The next step, though, is to begin providing the Georgia baseball program with the upgrades it needs to remain competitive at the highest level. This includes not only the need for facilities improvements, but also, apparently, the need for better equipment.

As such S.E.C. schools as Alabama and Florida have proven, it is possible to have one’s cake and eat it, too, by signing lucrative deals with Nike in such major revenue sports as basketball and football while retaining the autonomy to buy the best bats from other manufacturers for the baseball team.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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