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 April 2007

Batter Up!


For well over a century, baseball has inspired sports fans, as well as writers, musicians and filmmakers, all of whom have celebrated the game and its heroes in a wide variety of books, poems, songs and movies.

Baseball has inspired scientists, engineers and equipment manufacturers as well, particularly those who belong to ASTM International Subcommittee F08.26 on Baseball and Softball Equipment, which is part of ASTM’s Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities. The purpose of the subcommittee is to develop test methods for evaluating the performance of baseball and softball equipment, particularly bats and balls.

“Subcommittee F08.26 is important because governing bodies of various levels of baseball and softball have looked to ASTM International to develop test methods so that they can set the rules in their games,” says Richard Greenwald, president and co-founder of Simbex, a company that develops products related to sports injury prevention. Greenwald, a biomedical engineer with over 15 years experience in research and development in sports and orthopedic biomechanics, has been involved with ASTM International for over 15 years, and has been chairman of Subcommittee F08.26 for six years.

Greenwald says that as non-wood and composite bats began to appear in the lineup alongside traditional wooden bats, there were concerns about how the changing equipment was affecting the way the game was being played. “For some leagues, there was a perception that performance was changing, with increased hitting, higher run totals and longer games,” says Greenwald. “We needed to develop new validated test methods that were repeatable, reliable and publicly available so that manufacturers, third-party test labs and researchers could perform tests on bats and balls at ball speeds that were more consistent with what was seen on the field.”

These concerns were felt at many levels of play for both baseball and softball. Subcommittee F08.26 meets twice a year, typically once at an ASTM Committee Week and once in conjunction with the
November meetings hosted by Playball U.S.A., an organization that includes representatives from all of the major baseball and softball leagues and associations.

According to Greenwald, two of the important standards recently developed by F08.26 are F 2219, Test Methods for Measuring High-Speed Bat Performance, and F 2398, Test Method for Measuring Moment of Inertia and Center of Percussion of a Baseball or Softball Bat.

F 2219 offers a laboratory the means to measure the performance of baseball and softball bats at higher inbound ball speeds than earlier published standards and provides sports governing bodies a way to compare calculated batted-ball speed and other physical properties of bats. Greenwald says that F 2219 represents an important part of the subcommittee’s ongoing effort to cross-correlate results of laboratory tests to products on the field.

F 2398 covers a method for determining the moment of inertia and balance point of baseball and softball bats. F 2398 harmonized work from several earlier baseball bat standards and is now referenced in other F08.26 standards that have been developed by the committee (such as F 1881, Test Method for Measuring Baseball Bat Performance Factor), since moment of inertia and balance point are important physical properties that are used in calculations in the other standards.

While much of their work has focused on bats, Subcommittee F08.26 has also turned its attention to baseballs and softballs in a proposed new standard, WK8910, Test Method for Measuring the Dynamic Stiffness (DS) of Baseballs and Softballs. The procedure described in WK8910 standardizes a method for measuring the dynamic stiffness of baseballs and softballs, using ball speed measurements before and after impact with a cylindrical test surface and the impact force between the ball and the impacted surface. Round robin testing is currently being done for the proposed new standard.

Greenwald says he is sometimes asked if the results of laboratory-based testing correlate well with performance on the field. He says that tests sponsored by the Sporting Goods Manufacturer’s Association in 1997 did show a good correlation between what was happening in lab tests and what happened on the field.

“I am proud of the way Subcommittee F08.26 handles itself,” says Greenwald. “We’ve done a good job at coming together and developing valid, useable tests for baseball equipment.”