Playing Little League Baseball? You Have to Buy a Brand New Bat
It's the biggest change Little League Baseball has ever seen. It may be the biggest sweeping change to a major sport in U.S. history.
Little League Baseball is requiring players to have new bats which adhere to their new USA Baseball standard for the 2018 season.
The change has been years in the making. It was first announced in 2015. Local leagues across Michigan reminded parents before last Christmas that a new baseball bat might make a good gift. Leagues have also offered players opportunities to test and purchase bats. Like it or not, the time for the big change is here.
If your kid used a bat last year, it needs to be replaced this year. The bats which meet the new requirements were not even available for purchase before the end of 2017. All eligible bats have the new USA Baseball stamp which you can see above.
The USA Baseball standard will be used in many other leagues too, but Little League is the biggest of the leagues adopting the new standard. Little League explains the change:
USA Baseball’s national member organizations believe that a wood-like performance standard will best provide for the long-term integrity of the game. However, wood is a scarce resource. The new bats will be designed to perform much like wood, where its performance will be limited to the highest performing wood.
The new bats with their wood-like performance will not hit balls as hard or far as bats used last season. USA Baseball's executive director/CEO, Paul Seiler explained, "Beginning with the launch in 2018, we will take another step forward in making our game more uniform at the youth level and ensuring the long-term integrity of the game."
Keeping the game at a uniform level is important. Anyone involved with Little League baseball over the last several years has seen the wide range of bats available in stores and at fields, and the high prices that went with the higher performing bats. The new standard won't save anyone any money in the short term, but it could help to keep the playing field more level and lower the advantage a more expensive bat might have. Time will tell.
Do you really have to get a new bat?
Little League says umpires are required to make sure bats meet the new standard, but it's easy to see how that might not be enforced. This has been a problem in some leagues in prior seasons with kids using illegal big barrel bats. In past seasons, players would sometimes come to the field with two bats, waiting to see if the umpire that day would inspect bats and enforce the rules. It's one thing for a kid to want to use their favorite bat which happens to be illegal some leagues, it's another thing for a parent or coach to knowingly allow them to try to get away with it. The big barrel bats are allowed in many travel league tournaments and in some leagues for older kids.
The new standard will mean nothing but wasted money if umpires don't inspect bats and enforce the rules.
Little League offered local leagues the opportunity to apply for grants to purchase new bats for teams to share. The grant deadline has passed. If your kid has a new USA Baseball standard bat, expect that some other players on your team will not have a bat and some parents and players to be appreciative if you offer to share yours.
Little League has found a bit of a middle ground as far a barrel size goes. Last year's barrel limit for most was 2 1/4 inches. The USA Baseball standard raises the size limit to 2 5/8 inches. It may not seem like much, but it can be. Bats with 2 3/4 inch barrels remain illegal.
Rules differ for softball players and older baseball players. Here's a review from Little League:
As of January 1, 2018, the new USA Baseball Bat Standard was implemented. USABat Standard bats must be used in the Little League Major Baseball Division and below. Either USABat Standard bats or BBCOR bats must be used at the Intermediate (50/70) Baseball and Junior League Baseball Divisions. At the Senior League Baseball Division, all bats must be meet the BBCOR standard. Little League-approved baseball bats that were approved for use for the 2017 season will no longer be acceptable for use in any Little League game or activity as of January 1, 2018. These changes only affect baseball divisions and don’t affect any divisions of softball.
USA Baseball also specifically says safety is not the reason for the change.
In the long run, simplifying which bats are allowed will eliminate some confusion and be good for the game. It will also be good to level the playing field of bat performance. For those planning to be involved in baseball for the long term it makes more sense. It's the kids and families who are on the borderline deciding whether they'd like to try the sport or not that might be turned off by an added expense. This is where league-provided bats and bat sharing become important.