Breaking From Tradition: Why It’s Time For Baseball To Retire The Old, Round Knob
This weekend, hundreds of the brightest members of the professional baseball sports medicine community will gather in Los Angeles for the annual PBATS Baseball Medicine Conference.
Among the attendees will be athletic trainers, physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches, and team physicians. Much of the focus will be on UCL reconstruction and rehabilitation (Tommy John surgery), arguably the most pervasive, damaging and costly injury in professional baseball today.
But there’s another injury, equally rampant, that all in attendance will likely have encountered at least once in their baseball careers: the fractured hamate bone.
It’s an injury that has persisted for decades, to the point where it’s now viewed almost as a rite of passage.
This needs to change.
Through better design, we think it can, and will. Which is why we’ll be there, too.
Round Knob The Culprit
The hamate bone is one of eight carpal bones in the human wrist. It is found near the base of the palm, directly below the metacarpal bones of the ring and pinky fingers.
In other words, it’s exactly where, for most batters, the knob of a conventional, round-handled bat pushes into the palm of the bottom hand during a routine baseball swing.
The result of this repetitive force can be seen in the bruised hands and tattered batting gloves of any serious baseball player. Repeated impacts, especially the high-impact variety generated by elite players, can fatigue the hamate bone and lead to fractures, which typically require surgery and weeks of rehabilitation.
Even when a player returns to the lineup, he sometimes needs months to recover his pre-injury power.
Slow motion video shows the damaging “hammer effect” of a traditional round knob against the palm.
What’s more, the localized pressure from the round knob to this region of the palm can pinch the underlying ulnar nerve, causing batters to involuntarily relax their bottom-hand grip and send bats pin-wheeling into the stands or field of play.
These findings were documented in a recent study comparing traditional round-handled bats with the Axe Bat, conducted by Vijay Gupta, Ph.D., Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering, using NCAA Division I players.
An Outdated Design
If this sounds like a serious design flaw, you’re right.
Fact is, the round knob is an antiquated model, a remnant of the early days when technology limitations required baseball bats be mass produced on wood lathes. Ostensibly, the round knob still exists to ensure the player does not lose his grip on the bat. But even that point we now know is folly, as research has shown it to have the opposite effect.
It’s as our CEO, Michael Schindler, is fond of saying: “The round knob does nothing to help the player.”
And still, this wouldn’t be a problem if hamate fractures didn’t routinely take out some of the game’s brightest stars and best prospects.
Who can forget Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton, one of the most dynamic and formidable power hitters of this era, shaking his hand and doubling over in pain after breaking his left hamate bone on a swing in June? Though his return was initially estimated at 4-to-6 weeks, Stanton ended up missing the final 87 games of the season at a salary cost to the club of nearly $3.5 million, and untold more in attendance-driven revenue.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Stanton. The same thing was happening at all levels of professional baseball.
In fact, we counted 17 other players on MLB or MiLB rosters who suffered publicly reported hamate fractures this year — from Diamondbacks catcher Oscar Hernandez to Rays top prospect Daniel Robertson.
Digging deeper, we found 51 players who appeared in at least one game in a Major League uniform this season who have suffered a fractured hamate bone at some point during their baseball careers. Fifty-one.
Again, those are only the publicly reported injuries. The real number is likely far greater.
Browsing the historical record turns up more than 250 instances of current and former professional players with the injury, including stars such as Don Baylor, Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr., Roger Maris and Jim Thome.
Of this group, the median age at time of first fracture was 23, reflecting the common occurrence of the injury among first- and second-year pros — a damaging way to start (or stunt) a pro career, indeed. Those injured during the season and requiring surgery missed anywhere from 10 to 144 games, costing clubs hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars in lost performance
Bad Breaks: Hundreds of pro players have suffered publicly reported hamate fractures during their careers, including:
- Bobby Abreu
- Garret Anderson
- Don Baylor
- Jerry Browne
- Jose Canseco
- Darin Erstad
- Julio Franco
- Steve Garvey
- Joe Girardi
- Ken Griffey Jr.
- Jose Guillen
- Eric Hinske
- Todd Hollandsworth
- Dave Hollins
- Kenny Lofton
- Roger Maris
- David Ortiz
- Scott Rolen
- Rusty Staub
- Jim Thome
Better Design Is The Answer
So, if it’s potentially harmful to players, disastrous for general managers, and costly to owners, why is the round knob still on virtually every bat in every dugout in America?
Tradition, certainly. Familiarity, too.
But also, until recently, there hasn’t been a compelling alternative.
There is now.
The Axe Bat is built for the hitter from the ground up. Its angled knob, oval-shaped bottom and flush backside follow the natural contours of the wrist and palm, eliminating negative resistance and greatly reducing the risk of common hand and nerve injuries. The shape is purpose-built for the baseball swing. We believe it’s what all bats would look like if baseball were invented today, using modern technology.
Elite players are discovering its benefits, which in addition to comfort, include better bat control and grip stability, more efficient power transfer, and increased space to accelerate the barrel.
So when we arrive in Los Angeles, this is the story we’ll be sharing. It’s a story of progress, optimism and technology-informed design.
After more than 100 years, it’s also about time.by