But, yes, climate change and baseball. One aspect where the warming of this continent will impact the game is that in your lifetime you are likely to see the commercial extinction of the white ash. A hundred years ago, this country saw something similar when a bark fungus from Asia was introduced on the Eastern Seaboard and destroyed the chestnut population. This time around an eastern Russian insect known as the Emerald Ash Borer is aggressively annihilating ash forests slowing down only toward the northern extent of the ash's range. What limits the freeze to death when the air temperature gets below -15 degree Fahrenheit.
The somewhat cyclical reappearance of a strong Polar Vortex resulted in the exploding populations in Northern Minnesota to reduce the population by 80%. However, those temperatures were rare and the Polar Vortex was more temporary than long term cold. In Southern Minnesota, the die off was around half that at 40%. The periodically cold winters seen in Pennsylvania and New York are thought to have only a very mild impact on the Emerald Ash Borer. The populations are intact and are thought to bounce back relatively quickly. With warming in play, these vortexes will not stretch down as far with as cold of an impact and the Emerald Ash Borer will advance and a race to the Arctic will commence. Regardless, such a reduced environment for the ash would commercially be a death knell.
So with respect to baseball, it means that we just might need to find new lumber to consider. With that in mind, I compiled a list of over 100 different tree species from within the United States and a few lumber varieties found in other countries. My interest was to find a collection of wood species that might be of use. We know that Louisville Slugger is experimenting with yellow birch as an alternative wood, so we used our grading scale to identify species more similar to white ash and sugar maple than yellow birch. Here is that list:
|Tree Species||Average Specific Gravity, Oven Dry Sample||Static Bending Modulus of Elasticity (E)||Impact Bending, Height of Drop Causing Failure||Compress. Parallel to Grain, Max Crushing Strength||Compress. Perpen. to Grain, Fiber Stress at Prop. Limit||Shear Parallel to Grain, Max Shear Strength|
|Oak, Swamp Chestnut||0.67||1.77||41||7,270||1,110||1,990|
|Oak, Northern Red||0.63||1.82||43||6,760||1,010||1,780|
|Oak, Swamp White||0.72||2.05||49||8,600||1,190||2,000|
What does one want in a bat? I can think of four things. First, you want wood with a low density. That means you can decrease mass while keeping the head size. That process decreases potential momentum, but it enables hitters to wait on a ball and be more patient. Second, you want some elasticity. Otherwise, you are going to feel the vibration of the bat through your arms. Those first two reasons are major ones why hickory was so rare amongst baseball players outside of extreme contact hitters and, strangely, Babe Ruth. Third, you want a bat that can tolerate a lot of abuse without snapping. Finally, you need a good source of lumber.
As mentioned above, Louisville Slugger is concerned and is experimenting with yellow birch, which confuses me. Yellow birch has ideal density, is resistant to breaking, and is widely available. However, it does not have much elasticity. You are going to feel every ball come off that bat with some awful vibration. Perhaps by naming the yellow birch they are trying to keep other bat makers in the dark. Lumber supplies are incredibly important in this business and you would likely want to be able to get the trees you want.
When I look at the above list, the woods that spring forward as potential replacements would be the Pin Oak, American Beech, and Opepe. Opepe, also known as Bilinga and Aloma, is a wood that grows commonly from Sierra Leone to Uganda. Essentially, this tree grows where you seem to find non-laboratory ebola outbreaks. Currently, this wood is used as a building material outside of its native region and is on the higher end of the imported wood market. There certainly is a large number of trees to drop for bats, but shipping them across the Atlantic will raise the cost quite a bit. If you ignore that, it doubles nice in many of the characteristics for white ash. Perhaps, more important, the opepe will be of importance if the game is able to spread to Africa. Being able to locally source your own wood for bat would make things a lot easier.
The Pin Oak is found in the mid-Atlantic as well as in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. It is not the most robust of trees and needs some help if it would be used commercially. It has a tendency to prefer swampy or wet areas and can grow only at low altitudes. The wood is used for cheap construction work and for timber due to the presence of knots. Knots would be an issue. It would greatly impact the stability of the bat. I am not aware of how often these knots arise, but this too could be a wood of importance overseas as well. In Australia, the Pin Oak has invaded and spread easily. I do not know if anyone in that country has experimented with it for bats.
On the face of it, there does appear to be a few trees that could be a suitable replacement for ash. Hopefully, it does not come to that.