Label Up! Fact or Fiction ?

Do I have to swing my bat label up? Is it fact or fiction? In this installment from The Dugout we are going to settle this often misunderstood piece of baseball lore once and for all. First, we must lay some ground rules so to speak. There are several different types of baseball bats and it is important to know the differences. The label up concept applies differently to each.

  1. Wood bat – solid, one-piece wood construction. Usually ash, maple or yellow birch. Legal in all wood bat leagues. Leadbury currently produces only wood bats.
  2. Wood composite – Many possible construction methods; foam core with wood shell, resin infused wood powder molded into bat form, composite reinforced sleeve on outer surface of bat. Must comply to BBCOR standard. Not legal in all wood bat leagues.
  3. Metal bats – one piece construction using an aluminum alloy. Must comply to either USSSA or BBCOR certification standards depending on league requirements. Not legal in wood bat leagues.
  4. Composite bats – one, two, or sometimes three-piece construction using a combination carbon fibre, kevlar and resin. Many different construction methods. Must comply to either USSSA or BBCOR certification standards depending on league requirements. Not legal in wood bat leagues.
  5. Hybrid bats – Two-piece construction, usually with a composite handle and alloy barrel. Must comply to either USSSA or BBCOR certification standards depending on league requirements. Not legal in wood bat leagues.

The label up rule applies only to solid wood bats. Wood composite, metal, composite and hybrid bats usually require a quarter turn with every swing. They perform equally on each potential hitting surface and distributing the impacts around the circumference of the barrel can extend bat life.

With solid wood bats, you must hit label up (or down) because wood is stronger on impact along one plane. The interesting part is that ring porous woods (Ash) and diffuse porous woods (Maple & Yellow Birch) are not strongest on the same plane. Porosity affects both the appearance and working properties of the wood. Ring-porous woods have larger pores at the edge of their growth rings, while diffuse-porous woods have the same size of pores throughout. This can affect the appearance of the wood, especially in pieces that are flatsawn, as shown.

You may have noticed that maple and birch bats have the label on the longitudinal (edge) grains, and ash bats have the label on the face grain. This is not by mistake. Ash, due to its ring porous grain structure, bends like a deck of cards when you make contact on the face grain. But when the edge grain is the hitting surface the bat is far more durable. Like bending a deck of cards on the opposite plane, it is far stiffer.

However, maple and birch are much stronger when making contact on the face grain. This wasn’t discovered until 2009, over ten years after maple first made its way into the sport. In fact, the weak grains on diffuse porous woods are the radial grains, extending outwards from the centre of the log. This means that the stronger hitting surface is the face grain and not the edge grain.

So, what does that ink dot mean? The ink dot is a mandatory quality control measure enacted by the MLB in 2009. The ink seeps along the radial grains allowing them to be measured accurately using a special tool.  The MLB requires that maple (and birch) bats are labeled ninety degrees opposite from ash bats, and ink dot tested to ensure the slop of grain does not stray more than three degrees from the centre axis of the bat. This means the fracture surface will extend along the bat preventing the barrel from shearing off and becoming a potential hazard. As the slope of grain increases, the bat becomes exponentially weaker. It is very important to look for maple and birch bats that are ink dot certified to ensure a safe and high-quality bat. Have a look at the ink dot on your bat and make sure the slope of grain is in fact three degrees or less. All Leadbury maple bats are held to this standard.

So now you know why you must swing your wood bat label up, that is if the manufacturer has properly labeled your bat. All Leadbury bats are labeled in accordance with the MLB rules, and most others are as well. When in doubt, look for the correct grain surface depending on the wood species and swing accordingly.