Catskill sugar maple trees are likely being used to make many of the baseball bats you will see in a Major League Baseball game.
With another baseball season set to begin, I thought it was a good time to reassert the importance of the Catskills in every professional baseball game. There are many articles online detailing the evolution of baseball bats in Major League Baseball (MLB), so I thought I’d try to focus more on the Catskills’ specific influence. Throughout the history of baseball, the vast majority of bats have been made from white ash. Most of this ash has come from the Adirondacks, Pennsylvania, and the Catskills. In the mid-1990s, the bat developer Sam Holman began experimenting with the use of sugar maple bats.
Sugar maple tree
Big-Leaguer Joe Carter was the first to use it in an MLB game. It gradually increased in popularity until Barry Bonds began hitting home runs at historic rates in the 2000s. This convinced many others to take advantage of the harder wood. There is a problem with this increased rigidity however; brittleness. If you follow baseball, you’ll remember there was a period around 2010 where maple bats were shattering when they broke. Ash tends to break far less explosively. The shards of the maple bats are, of course, a danger to everyone on the field, and even spectators. This led to MLB considering a ban of maple bats, but they instead found new ways to test the strength of a maple bat. By looking at the grain slope (0-3% is acceptable. Maybe you know what that means, but I don’t) and performing some sort of ink test, they are able to determine if a bat is acceptable for game use. Because of that, use of maple bats doesn’t seem to be as controversial in recent years. About 75% of MLB players use maple bats now, with 20% and 5% of players using ash and yellow birch, respectively. Bat companies don’t share the source of the bat wood, but Holman’s company, Sam Bat, is known to have sourced its wood from the Catskills in the past. And, while sugar maple grows throughout the Northeast, there is a good chance a significant percentage of maple bats come from the Catskills today.
So when your favorite player pops up to end the game, if you’ve done a timber sale on your property recently, that bat could’ve come from one of your trees. Take pride that you may have contributed to that loss.
A Sam Bat sugar maple bat