By Steve Kallas
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Many of you are familiar with the sad story of Steven Domalewski, who on June 6, 2006 (at the age of 12) was hit in the chest with a ball hit off an aluminum bat. The resulting commotio cordis condition caused brain damage to the point where Domalewski has had a very limited ability to function, and essentially needs care every second of every day.
Earlier this week, in a settlement of a lawsuit against defendants Little League Baseball and Louisville Slugger in Superior Court in Passaic County, New Jersey, it was announced that the Domalewski family will receive $14.5 million dollars from the two defendants (no word on what the split between defendants is; that part of the settlement is, apparently, not public information).
Rick Wolff, on his excellent WFAN radio show, “The Sports Edge,” will discuss this case and its ramifications this Sunday morning at 8:05.
WHY THE SETTLEMENT?
Well, you can imagine that, in any case where you have a sympathetic plaintiff (in this case, a child who simply went out to pitch in a youth baseball game at the age of 12 and had his life significantly changed forever), defendants aren’t anxious to go before a jury.
But there was some very good lawyering done by New Jersey attorney Ernest Fronzuto on behalf of the Domalewski family. Domalewski was not hurt in a Little League game, but Little League was named as a defendant because they, essentially, claim that these aluminum bats are safe to use. As we have seen over the years, there are certainly times when they are not. Plus, the sizeable amount of the settlement ($14.5 million) shows that this was not a case where a few hundred thousand dollars was paid as a “nuisance” value.
Louisville Slugger (official name Hillerich & Bradsby) has made these bats for years. It has paid a few judgments over the years after jury trials for damage done to young pitchers and, in one case (Brandon Patch), for the death of a young pitcher.
While the money, obviously, will not give Steven Domalewski his life back as he knew it, it will help to offset the millions in medical bills that he is facing now and in the future.
WHAT IS THE BIGGER MESSAGE?
It is submitted that there is a much bigger message than the settlement of a case where a boy is brain-damaged for life as a result of being hit with a ball hit off an aluminum bat. For some inexplicable reason, Little League has affirmatively decided NOT to change the power of the aluminum bats used in the Little League Majors Division (9-13 year olds; what you are seeing right now on the ever-present Little League World Series on ESPN) and below. Little League has, to some degree, introduced BBCOR bats (that is, bats that are weaker in power than the previous aluminum bats that were used) into Junior League Baseball (the age level above LL Majors) and has made BBCOR bats mandatory for the older Senior League and Big League divisions.
But, in a world where kids are growing bigger and bigger (and are stronger and stronger), it defies logic that BBCOR bats would not be mandatory at the 13-and-below level — especially given the fact that the pitching rubber remains only 46 feet from home plate (the shortest pitching distance there is) in the Little League Majors Division and below.
Given the fact that Steven Domalewski was 12 when this happened to him, here’s hoping that Little League will –sooner, rather than later — announce that BBCOR bats are mandatory in all Little League divisions with no exceptions.
At some point, there will be a new standard of care in this country where the old “weapons,” as described by many, will simply be viewed as too dangerous to be on a baseball field. As you probably know, these more powerful bats have been banned by the NCAA in college baseball (in 2011) and by the National High School Federation (in 2012).
Having said that, in the Little League lower divisions — and in many other youth sport baseball leagues and various summer travel tournaments throughout the country — it’s still the rule that these powerful, non-BBCOR bats are legal.
The settlement announced in New Jersey this past week should help move along a complete change to weaker (or “truer,” as described by noted baseball pitcher and announcer Ron Darling, since they are closer to wooden bats) BBCOR bats. Hopefully, someday, we will simply have a return to only wooden bats.
Then, baseball will again be played the way it was meant to be by children of all ages.
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