Last Friday, a Times editorial lamented that "just when purists surrender grudgingly to exploding scoreboards, artificial turf and domed stadiums, along comes news that the wooden bat may very soon be wholly replaced by aluminum.... The thunderous crack of the bat will be replaced by a wimpy ping."
The Times was at least half serious. So were author Paul Hemphill and Jim Darby, senior vice-president of Easton Sports, the largest producer of aluminum bats in the U.S., who squared off in
. (Hemphill: "Say it ain't so, Alcoa." Darby: "Baseball is an ever-changing game.") So too was Richard Durbin, a Democratic congressman from Illinois, who on July 26 exercised his oratorial skills in defense of wood. "Mr. Speaker, I rise to condemn the desecration of a great American symbol," Durbin intoned. "No, I am not referring to flag burning. I am referring to the baseball bat." Durbin made his prowood arguments, and then, anticipating the qualms of some environmentalist colleagues, he added, "I do not want to hear about saving trees. Any tree in America would gladly give its life for the glory of a day at home plate." While he was at it, Durbin also attacked such baseball innovations as "designated hitters, plastic grass, uniforms that look like pajamas, chicken clowns dancing on the baselines and of course the most heinous sacrilege, lights in Wrigley Field.... What is next? Teflon baseballs? Radar-enhanced gloves?"
As the great bat debate raged, some sought to allay the fears of tradition-minded fans. Howard B. Keene, president of the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, wrote to SI last week that his firm had "no intention or desire to get out of the wood-bat business.... Rawlings/Adirondack has worked very closely with Major League Baseball to encourage the use of wood bats at nonprofessional levels and to protect this standard of the game in the professional ranks."
Keene probably hasn't played the Nintendo computer baseball game Bases Loaded. The video has such realistic big league touches as golf carts in the bullpens and players who give high fives. But when bat meets ball in Bases Loaded, a ping is heard. Nintendo says it couldn't reproduce a thwack. Perhaps. Or maybe ping is the sound of the future.
ARMLOCK OR WEDLOCK?
According to an Olympic Festival media guide, Skipper Kelp, an 18-year-old boxer from Colorado Springs who won the light welterweight division, "has six black belts in marital arts."
TRICKS OF THE TOUR
The clock said Laurent Fignon was 50 seconds ahead of Greg LeMond as they started the last stage of the Tour de France (SI, July 31), but several cycling experts say Fignon had already squandered much of his lead with a poor choice of equipment.
"I'll bet half of what LeMond gained was because he was a smarter rider," says Mark Hodges, assistant executive director of the U.S. Cycling Federation. For one thing, LeMond used handlebars that helped him achieve an aerodynamic tuck. And over those last 16.8 miles, Fignon chose not to wear his streamlined racing helmet. "European riders are less concerned with technological advancements," says Ed Burke, former technology director for the USCF. 'That hurt Fignon."
"Skipping the helmet was a major mistake," says Jim Gentes, who has a bias since he designed LeMond's headgear. "Hair is really bad aerodynamically." Gentes says wind-tunnel tests have shown that his helmet provides a one-second-per-kilometer advantage over a bare head. Burke figures the follicle factor cost Fignon 20 seconds. He says his estimate is conservative because Fignon's stylish ponytail was, for hair, relatively aerodynamic.
Charley French is a bicycle engineer who advocates the "clip-on aero-extenders" that LeMond used. French says the clip-ons, which attach to a bike's handlebars and force the rider into a tuck, "are worth almost a minute and a half over 25 miles." Burke says most of a cyclist's effort goes to overcoming wind resistance. He estimates that Fignon's wider bars, which caused him to take a more open riding position, cost Fignon nearly 50 seconds. LeMond's margin of victory was eight seconds.