Sunday, July 14

The Emerald Ash Borer pitches against ash bats in Major League Baseball

Imagine a baseball season without the iconic crack of an ash bat. That could be a reality thanks to the ash beetle, a small beetle that is causing massive destruction of ash trees across North America.

For decades, ash reigned supreme in baseball bats. From legendary players like Babe Ruth to modern hitters like Mark McGwire, ash has been the material of choice for its feel and performance. Companies like Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of the Louisville Slugger, churned out hundreds of thousands of ash bats every year.

However, the ash beetle has changed the game. This invasive insect, about the size of a grain of rice, attacks ash trees by laying eggs under the bark. The larvae then feed on the tree’s vital nutrients, killing it. Since its arrival in the United States in 2002, the ash beetle has spread rapidly, leaving a trail of dead and dying ash trees in its wake.

The impact on baseball was rapid. Finding quality ash lumber is becoming increasingly difficult. Companies like Hillerich & Bradsby have had to adapt, now producing mostly low-end ash bats for casual use. Major League Baseball players, once loyal to ash, have switched to maple bats, which offer advantages in hardness and consistency.

Ash’s future in baseball looks bleak. Even if scientists were able to control agrilus planipennis, it would take generations for the ash trees to recover. While other types of wood like birch are being explored, they have not yet captured the hearts (or ears) of gamers.

This change marks the end of an era for baseball. The sound of the ash bat hitting the ball, a sound synonymous with the game for so long, may be fading. The future of baseball bats belongs to maple, for now, leaving ash bats as a relic of a bygone era.