Merle Butler, ASA's national supervisor of umpires, had heard so much talk about players being hurt that he asked the local associations to document individual injuries last March, April and May. He hoped to get data to determine if the new ball really is a hazard, but the results of his survey have been so vague that he's unable to ascertain whether the increase in injuries is substantial, and whether they're the result of any particular ball or bat or an influx of new players. Says Porter, "If you get hit with any ball it's going to hurt. It's not a soft ball. That's a misnomer."
Nevertheless, a Dallas association recently banned the T-4000 because a player suffered facial injuries when one took a bad hop, but didn't ban the Rocket, the Hot Dot, or the TN-Poly, an action the Dudley people consider unfair. "All the new balls are essentially the same in hardness and reaction off the bat," says Marge Miller, assistant to Dudley's executive vice-president, Tom Faimali. "The initial reaction to the ball was fantastic, and it still would be if some local associations hadn't interfered. The reluctance to use the ball is based on misinformation that it's dangerous. I'm sure that when the first solid-core balls came out, the players had to change their reaction time just as they do now."
The ASA has banned the lively balls from national competition but otherwise has left the question of their use up to local officials. Meanwhile the ASA is considering whether to outlaw the balls at the local level. A decision should be forthcoming early next year.
"We're testing to find the standards we want in the balls used in our national tournaments," says Porter. "The Amateur Softball Association is trying to establish criteria with which to measure the resiliency and the rebound of soft-balls because the Association wants to control the speed of the ball and the distance that it carries. Our primary concerns are safety and maintaining a ball that will stay inside the park. You've got to maintain the sense of competition. When you've got nothing but guys hitting homer after homer, nobody is doing anything except the pitcher and the man trotting around the bases. There are nine other guys out there who want to play, too.
Meanwhile, the manufacturers are caught in the middle. They were certain the balls would be sanctioned, because separately each component has been approved. "The players should get together and tell the associations if they want to use the balls," said one manufacturer. "Who's the game really for—the players or the associations?"
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association would, of course, prefer a solution that would satisfy both the players and the organizers of the leagues and tournaments. One suggestion of theirs was to move the park fences back to accommodate the lively balls, but this would be costly, and in most parks there is simply no room.
Until the ASA makes up its mind, manufacturers are holding back on full-scale production, but the players aren't holding back. They're having the time of their lives hitting the long ball and breaking out the home-run trot.