By Berlau, John
Consumers' Research Magazine , Vol. 79, No. 7
At a recent press conference at the Baltimore Orioles, baseball stadium, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chairman Ann Brown warned of injuries to children playing baseball and showcased new protective equipment, including break-away bases, -batting helmet face guards, and softer baseballs and softballs. She announced a CPSC study which concluded that these devices "may prevent, reduce, or lessen the severity of more than 58,000 injuries" each year.
Yet a prominent orthopedic surgeon, whose research on baseball injuries was cited in the CPSC study, says many of the agency's recommendations, particularly regarding soft baseballs, are soft on data.
"We are pleased the Consumer Product Safety Commission is stepping to the plate," Dr. David Janda wrote the agency. "However, for the CPSC to step up to the plate with a corked bat is a step backwards."
Janda directs the Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has advised the International Olympic Committee and the National Football League Players Association on safety in sports. His 1988 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found a 96% reduction in injuries after recreational softball teams started using the Rogers -Break Away Base was used as a basis for the CPSC's recommendation of those bases. Janda, however, criticizes the CPSC study for ignoring his research showing that softer baseballs are not safer, and may be more dangerous, than standard balls. "The worst thing you can do as a public health official is to recommend a safety device that you have no data for," he says.
Although many people intuitively think softer means safer, Janda's research team found that this is not necessarily so with baseballs. Using a variety of animal models and "dummies" designed to represent children, Janda reported in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine that "all the tests and comparisons. . .failed to demonstrate a significant advantage with respect to impact force reduction using softer core baseballs," and that softer balls sometimes "exacerbated impact effects." Because softer balls frequently weigh more and their spongy material can stick to the chest longer than standard balls, they frequently-hit the chest with more force than standard balls do, Janda explained. Indeed, he points out that the only chest-impact death recorded by the CPSC in 1995 was a child struck by a soft baseball. …