Are children's soft-core baseballs safer than standard hardballs, as has been
Not necessarily. concludes a study published in the
April1998 issue of the Journal of Trauma. The study. conducted by researchers at
the Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine. based at St.Joseph Mercy
Hospital in Ann Arbor-, Mich.. compared nine brands of soft-core baseballs in
their ability to reduce the risk of fatal chest-impact injuries in children. The
researchers found that most brands did not offer significantly greater
protection than a standard hardball. while one brand was potentially more
dangerous. The key factor was the mass of the baseballs. The heavier soft-core
balls offered less protection. The lighter soft-core balls were
These findings are significant because previous recommendations by the
Consumer Products Safety Commission have suggested that all varieties of
soft-core baseballs were safer.
"The results of this study indicate that the use of the heavier soft-core
baseballs may not differ from the use of a standard baseball in relation to the
risk of fatal chest-impact injuries." said lead author David H. Janda.
He added that the use of such balls may give youngsters a false sense of
security. "Children may be more likely to take a greater risk in fielding the
ball or not moving away from a wild pitch if they are using the supposedly safer
baseball," he said.
The study used a biomechanical surrogate (known commonly as a crash-test
dummy) specially designed for measuring the effect of a blunt impact to the
chest. Balls were weighed to determine mass, then "thrown" at the surrogate from
a pressurized air cannon at velocities of 40, 50 and 60 mph. Each ball
was thrown 10 times at each velocity.
Gauging the amount of impact energy absorbed by the surrogate's chest,
researchers calculated the "viscous criterion" (VC), a measurement of both the
amount and rate of chest compression. Used extensively by the automotive
industry, the VC has been validated by previous studies as the best predictor of
serious chest-impact injury.
Analysis showed that the lightest soft-core baseball tested, the
Incrediball, was the safest, with a significantly lower VC value at all three
velocities. Other lighter-mass balls were safer at the highest two velocities.
Soft-core baseballs that were similar in mass to a standard hardball had no
change in the VC, while the heaviest soft-core baseball, the ADStarr 10, had a
significantly higher VC than a standard baseball at impact velocity of 60
Timing of the chest impact is also a crucial, but an uncontrollable
variable, Dr. Janda noted, because the heart is more vulnerable at certain
points during the heartbeat cycle.
The results of this study suggest that other techniques, such as
preventive coaching, need to be implemented when trying to improve baseball
safety, Dr. Janda said. "Teaching a child how to get out of the way or turn his
chest away from a wild pitch may be more effective in reducing the rate of
injuries. Before players take the field, they should realize that protective
equipment will not prevent all injuries, and other preventive measures should be
Baseball accounts for more fatalities among 5- to 14-year-olds than any
other sport, with a total of 88 deaths occurring in the U.S. between 1973 and
1995. Of that total, 38 were caused by baseball impacts to the