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Pro Baseball Has Doping. Amateur Softball Has ... Hot Bats

The genial world of amateur softball has a dark secret: hot bats. They look just like ordinary softball bats, but they've been altered to send balls faster and farther.
Rick Paulas
The genial world of amateur softball has a dark secret: hot bats. They look just like ordinary softball bats, but they've been altered to send balls faster and farther.

Amateur slow-pitch softball would seem to be a low-stakes game. A bunch of friends join a league, take some swings, run the bases and retire to the dugout for postgame beers. At best, there might be a plastic trophy for the winners.

But there's a dark and dangerous side to this pleasant pastime: hot bats.

"A hot bat is any bat that has been somewhat altered in order to give it an added performance," says Rick Paulas, who plays softball and investigated the devious practice recently for SB Nation. "Essentially you are constructing the bat in a manner that produces a higher exit velocity than was initially intended by the bat manufacturers."

Paulas writes that hot bats make a serious difference in performance — and they're nearly impossible to detect.

In a conversation with NPR's Rachel Martin, he offers a glimpse of the seedy underbelly — nay, the seething underworld — of a favorite easygoing pastime.

Interview Highlights

How bat doctors do it

The most common thing that bat doctors will do is this thing called "bat shaving," where they will take off the top of the bat, which is called the end cap. Inside of the bat is hollow, too — that's something to keep in mind. And what they do is they put the bat in sort of like a metal lathe, and they will shave the inside.

This does two things: It makes it a lighter bat, so that it's an easier swing, and also what it does is it creates this thing called a "trampoline effect," where when the ball hits the end of the bat, the ball will actually compress the bat slightly and then it will kind of boomerang back like a trampoline. That's where the trampoline effect comes from.

On the dangers of a hot bat

This is sort of where we get into the biggest problem with bat doctoring — is that [the ball] does go further, which is one thing. But what happens is that it exits the bat with this velocity. ... The pitcher, who is kind of the person most in danger because of their placement on the field, they kind of have no time to react to these balls.

That's sort of like the worst-case scenario on these things. Anywhere you play on the infield, there's the danger of getting hit with a ball. But as far as the pitcher's concerned, the balls are exiting at such a rate that a lot of times they can't even get out of the way if they wanted to. And sometimes, and this has happened a few times, ... I've seen people get hit in the head and have to be carted off the field.

On whether it's cheating — and how to fix it

This is cheating! As far as the actual letter of the rules for the American Softball Association and a bunch of different softball organizations, at the very most, the bat can only have an exit velocity of 98 miles an hour, and these tinkered bats are getting upwards of 105-108 miles an hour. ...

The excuse that the bat doctors give is that if they're not doing it specifically, someone else is gonna do it. The excuse that the people using it kind of had is, you know: "The other team is doing the same thing, and this is just a way for me to get a — not a competitive advantage as much as just equal the competition." ...

The easiest solution is simply that the league provides the bat. And so maybe the league will bring out two to three bats a game, everyone has to use the same one and that's kinda it.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff