“Babe Ruth and metal bats changed baseball forever,” said Texas Longhorns coach Augie Garrido.
If Ruth had swung a metal bat, he might have blasted a 900-foot homer. He certainly would have beheaded a first baseman. By the late 1990s, 5-foot-8, 160-pound college players who should have been singles hitters were blasting Ruthian shots out of ballparks.
When USC beat Arizona State by a ridiculous 21-14 score in the championship game of the 1998 College World Series, the NCAA knew something had to be done. Metal bats had become too explosive and lethal and were producing football scores.
Home run made special again
- Before the 2000 season, the NCAA modified bat specifications to make them perform more like wooden bats. Though baseball purists would rather see wooden bats in college baseball, the bat modifications worked immediately.
Home runs dropped dramatically. Earned run averages of good pitching staffs fell below 4.00. Teams had to work harder to score runs through bunting, stealing and situational hitting.
College baseball has become a better game. When a team hits a homer, it’s something special again.
- “Before they modified the bats, pitching had really become secondary to hitting,” Garrido said. “Now offenses are much easier to play against for pitchers and defenses. More teams are playing small ball. It can still be dangerous to throw inside against metal bats but the modified bats have gone a long way toward leveling the playing field.”
Home run totals of the lively bat era of the late 1990s are staggering compared to today’s numbers. The 1997 LSU national champions set an NCAA record with 188 homers while Alabama blasted 160 homers and featured 10 hitters with double-digit bombs.
- Lance Berkman crushed 41 homers in 63 games that year for the Rice Owls. That would be equivalent to 105 homers in a major league season.