NEW YORK — Many maple bats will be
banned in the minor leagues this season, part of Major League
Baseball's push to stop shattered shards of wood from flying
dangerously through the air.

New regulations will prohibit bats
made from ultra-light maple. The low-density wood often is found in
bats with big barrels and thin handles, creating a whip-like action
when swung.

Softer red maple and silver maple —
not commonly used — will be completely eliminated by the 30-plus
companies approved to make bats.

The bans apply to players who are not
on 40-man rosters and have no major league experience. Baseball often
tests new rules on minor leaguers, be it drug tests or pace-of-game
ideas, because most of them are not in the MLB players' union and such
moves do not require union approval.

MLB and the union have been
extensively studying the issue of broken maple bats since 2008, as
splintered barrels wildly helicoptered all over the field and into the
stands.

"I think all bats are dangerous,"
said Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman John Lindsey, who has spent 15
years in the minors without a major league call-up. "It's not like
maple was the first bat to break. At times, they just look crazy, but
when bats break they fly all the time, no matter what kind of wood."

As part of the safety initiative, any
big leaguer whose bat broke at least 10 times last year must consult
with a panel of MLB and union bat experts to determine if there is some
extenuating problem.

Baseball also is changing the
specifications for all bats, slimming the maximum diameter of the
barrel from 2.75 inches — which had been the standard for more than 100
years — to 2.61 inches. Trying to change the geometry of bats, the
minimum size of bat handles is being increasing by about 1-50th of an
inch.

Those changes aren't expected to have any impact on the bats that players currently use.

"We're not taking the bat out of anyone's hands," union lawyer Bob Lenaghan said Monday night.

Commissioner Bud Selig said in May
2008 that shattered maple bats were "a source of concern for me." A
safety panel of MLB and union officials began studying the issue with
the USDA Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory and other experts.

More than 2,200 bats broken in the
majors during the final 2 1/2 months of the 2008 season were studied
and catalogued, as was every cracked bat in the big leagues last year,
said Dan Halem, MLB senior vice president and general counsel for
labor.

Guidelines were put into effect last
year to govern the quality of wood grain. Halem said maple bats cracked
about one-third less often last year, particularly in the second half
of the season as bat makers complied.

Bats made of maple and ash cracked at about the same rate, he said, but maple was more likely to break into pieces.

"We want to keep doing more for safety," Halem said.

Oakland outfielder Ryan Sweeney felt for the minor leaguers who might need to find new bats in 2010.

"That's brutal. I know they did
stuff with the two-tone bats last year and I saw more bats break in
spring training than ever before," he said. "I use both and it depends
on what I feel like. Some guys say the maple bats are better but it
doesn't matter to me."

Cleveland utilityman Chris Gimenez made his major league debut last year and will be exempt from the maple bat rules.

"I think they'll have a tough time
with that," Gimenez said. "I don't see how that's going to work. To me,
it would be like they're telling you that you can't use a third base
glove anymore because it's 12 inches and not eight inches. I don't know
how that will go over with a lot of guys.

"Say I break a bat and I've never
been in the big leagues and the guy on deck has been in the big
leagues," Gimenez said. "He hands me his. I hit a home run with it. Are
they going to take that away from me? I'm probably getting tossed out
of that game if they try to do that."