The Emerald Ash Borer Throws Ash Bats at Major League Baseball

Imagine a baseball season without the iconic crack of an ash bat. That could become a reality thanks to the emerald ash borer, a tiny beetle that is causing massive destruction to ash trees across North America.

For decades, ash has reigned supreme in baseball bats. From legendary players like Babe Ruth to modern hitters like Mark McGwire, ash has been the go-to material for its feel and performance. Companies like Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of Louisville Slugger, churned out hundreds of thousands of ash bats each year.

However, the ash beetle has changed the game. This invasive insect, about the size of a grain of rice, attacks ash trees by laying eggs under the bark. The larvae then feed on the tree’s vital nutrients, killing it. Since its arrival in the United States in 2002, the ash beetle has spread rapidly, leaving a trail of dead and dying ash trees in its wake.

The impact on baseball has been rapid. Finding quality ash lumber is becoming increasingly difficult. Companies like Hillerich & Bradsby have had to adapt, now primarily producing low-end ash bats for occasional use. Major League Baseball players, once loyal to ash, have switched to maple bats, which offer advantages in hardness and consistency.

Ash’s baseball future looks bleak. Even if scientists succeed in controlling the emerald ash borer, it could take generations for the ash trees to recover. Although other types of wood, such as birch, are being explored, they have not yet captured the hearts (or ears) of gamers.

This change marks the end of an era for baseball. The sound of the ash bat hitting the ball, a sound synonymous with the game for so long, may be gone. The future of baseball bats belongs to maple, for now, leaving ash bats as a relic of a bygone era.