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The Biggest Threat to Bat Safety: A Bug

Yes, that's right, an actual insect may be the single biggest threat to having the entire major leagues adjust to safer bats. While there aren't any notable threats to the maple trees used to make the now nearly defunct maple bats, the white ash arbors that Louisville Slugger uses to make their bats are under serious threat from a beetle that's approximately the size of a paper clip.

The pest in question is the emerald ash borer, an Asian import that is clearing out entire forests across the Midwest and as far East as nearby Maryland. Men's Journal reports that Louisville Slugger harvests its trees to make bats from an uninfected forest in Pennsylvania, but the ash borers are now within 100 miles of the bat maker's target site.

So, what will Louisville Slugger -- and baseball players -- do? Quite frankly, they really have no idea. In large part, that has to do with the fact that no one seems to know just how aggressive the ash borers are, and whether the trees could build up any resistance. There's no reason to believe that they can, which would lead to a stark, ash-less world, according to Nature Conservancy spokesman Frank Lowenstein.

"At the turn of the 20th century, many bats were made of elm and chestnut. Now we've lost nearly all of those trees. Of 16 species of ash in North America, we're looking at the loss of all 16. Anywhere in the country you are looking at an ash tree, those will be gone."

If that's the case, L-Slugger would be facing a two-pronged decision: Import ash lumber from China (thus raising the price of the bats and perhaps making them near exclusive to major leaguers) or start making bats from a different wood. Either might create a short-term black market for ash bats in the major league (can you imagine what a guy like Ryan Howard would pay if he was suddenly running low on bats?), and a lot of uncertainty down the road.

And to think: It's all caused by something you could squish with a paperweight.

By Cameron Smith  |  April 16, 2009; 4:54 PM ET
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