It's Interview Week at AZ SnakePit! Still transcribing the one with Daron and Mark - we have another off-day Monday, so that seems a good point for it - but as a follow up to our previous piece on the Bat Glove, we spoke to Steve Rauso of The Bat Glove, Inc. He is one of the men behind developing a method of taping the handle of the bat which sharply reduces the risk of a bat shattering into multiple dangerous pieces. Thanks to him for taking the time to tell us about the development process, the somewhat tortuous process of MLB approval, and where he hopes the Bat Glove goes from here.
The interview can be found after the jump.
For those who haven't heard of it, what is the Bat Glove, and what is its purpose?
The Bat Glove is a potential solution to the broken bat problem that burdens MLB, and any level of baseball that use bats made of one piece of solid wood. It has been designed to help contain flying debris when a wood bat breaks. The Bat Glove keeps the barrel attached to the handle.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea first came to me while listening to XM Radio broadcast while commuting from my job in California to my home in Arizona. There was a broken bat incident during the game and the broadcaster was very insistent about the fact that it was just a matter of time before someone would be killed. The material I thought of, was a product I sold to clients on a day to day basis. I drew my idea on a piece of paper while driving through the desert and forgot about it until the next day. I saw the paper on my passenger seat the next day and went out and purchased a baseball bat.
How long did it take for the Bat Glove to go from conception, to something you could present to MLB? Any road-bumps along the way?
From concept to a product that could be presented to MLB took us about one month. The original design was sent to Howard Smith at the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball: along with a bat, there was a letter that explained we were in the development stages of this idea and would like to continue to work with them concerning this problem. We were told to sell it to high schools and little leagues. We continued to work with some players in the Arizona Fall League for feedback and suggestions. The end result was the product we are using today. One of my associates met Roy Krasik during the GM meetings in southern California last fall. He was able to obtain the protocol for testing on our product. We wanted to test maple as that's where the main problem seems to be, but the testing facility @ Lowell/UMASS said we had to use ash, since that what was on the protocol.
Does the Bat Glove impact performance or 'feel' of the bat in any way?
Based on the study conducted by Dr. Sherwood and Patrick Drain of the MLB Research Center @ Lowell/UMASS, it showed that, other than a very slight increase in durability, there was no other changes in the ball exit speed, vibration, or feel of the bat or the ball after it struck the bat.
Was it a difficult process to get approval from MLB?
Yes - and very expensive. We are required to hold a 10 million dollar insurance policy which cost us about $38,000 per year. The administrative cost to MLB to have our brand and logo on the field is another $10,000. But wait.... It is against the rules to write anything on the bat below the 18" mark. So we are paying $10,000 for something we are not allowed to do, put our logo on the bat.
The testing was conducted late December 2008. We were to have the results in about 30 days, but were not able to get formal approval until May 11th 2009. We were told that the Heath and Safety Committee, as well as the Playing Rules Committee, needed to review and vote on our products for use in the Rookie Leagues and Lower Level areas of the Minor Leagues.(where most teams use ash). We were also categorized as a Composite Bat Manufacturer, which we are definitely not! After being approved for use, we were told that our product would not be a requirement, and it was up to us to sell the product to the teams. We were then given the contact information for the equipment managers for all 30 teams and their affiliates - not the decision makers. Because all inventory was already stocked for the season, it would be impossible to get it on the bats for all teams that were approved for use.
In confidence, we were told that our product would be used in the Arizona Fall League 2009. There was a little bump in the road there as well. We were notified that it was the recommendation of the U.S. Forest Service Laboratory that additional testing needed to be done on maple bats before that could take place. So what did we pay $9,100 for last year?
What would you say were the Bat Glove's advantages over other suggested methods of reducing the risk
The advantages of our product over other suggested methods of reducing risks are:
a) our method contains bats from separation when they break. Other methods try to reduce the amount of bats that break into multiple pieces.
b) with such a safety device in place, insurance premiums should go down, like having a airbag in your car. After the mandate was put in place, insurance policies doubled from 5 million to 10 million dollars.
c) the administrative fee was increased from 5,000 to 10,000 per year due to inspectors and experts hired to advise on what needs to be done. Our product would eliminate the need for this.
|The photo left shows a bat being tested at the Lowell UMASS testing facilities without the Bat
Safety System (BSS) applied. Right shows the same test performed on the identical bat with the
BSS applied. The bat with the BSS still broke but the fragments stayed contained eliminating injury.
What do you think of the changes imposed by MLB at the start of the year on bat manufactures? Is it a step in the right direction or not really a significant help?
The changes imposed by MLB at the start of the year were in the best interest of baseball. It was a valid attempt to decrease the amount of bats that break. However, it does not promote the word "safety" at any point in the mandate. For example, in a 10 week period during the 2008 season there were over 2,000 bats broken with over 700 broken into more than one piece. I have read recent reports stating that bat breakage is down 30% from last year. However, according to the numbers published there are still over 1,400 bats breaking with over 600 of them still flying onto the field and up into the stands.
Our thoughts are that bat manufacturers should be able to make a safer bat that will be less costly to everyone involved. Recent trips to bat manufacturers lead us to believe that the amount of waste involved with the mandate is what upsets the people who have been in this business for as many as 125 years. There is a safer more effective way to make a bat, while staying green in the process.
How did you go about approaching the Diamondbacks, and what was their reaction?
We made contact with Roland Hemond during the same meetings we met Roy Krasik last fall. We contacted Roland and he introduced us to Peter Woodfork. Peter has been very helpful with getting us into the Lower Level ranks of the Diamondbacks farm system. We then met Derrick Hall. The reaction was as positive as it could possibly be. Why wouldn't we want to keep our players and more important the fans as safe as we possibly can. "If it is a solution to keeping everyone safe, why wouldn't we use it?" Derrick Hall said something pretty close to that in the Fox Sports Arizona interview. Mark Grace has been awesome in every aspect of the Bat Glove. Once he was aware of what we were doing, he has become an ambassador for us. Almost every time we see a bat break, he talks about how there is a solution out there that can help.
The Bat Glove has been in use in the lower-reaches of the Diamondbacks farm system for the second-half of the year. What feedback have you received?
Missoula Osprey feedback has been mainly positive. A couple of guys seemed to think it was a problem - though they were hitting about 200, so go figure! Most of the comments have been that it is a non-factor. It does not change anything.
What's the next step from here?
We were told by David Kretschmann from the U.S. Forest Service Laboratory that he was going to send us another protocol for maple bats, and a series of tests that would better help him to determine the Bat Glove's ability to contain fractures. He said that he would recommend the Bat Glove, if the testing came back satisfactory. However, he could not guarantee that the product would be adopted by MLB. By the way, Dave and MLB have informed me that because of the economic downturn, it would be my responsibility to pay for the additional testing that needs to be done on this product.
Any final thoughts?
The process is unique, which it what makes it patent worthy. This product does not break any rules currently associated with the game today. We developed this product around rule 1.10(c). Why are we having to be approved by committees and tested by labs when all we are doing is putting a certain type of tape on a bat a certain kind of way? It seems to be a simple fix to a really big problem.
[For more information, please visit the Bat Glove website at http://www.batglove.com]