After dropping ball on pink bats last year, MLB moves to get it right

The point of MLB's breast cancer initiative became muddled when controversy arose last year.

Paul Spinelli/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It was the kind of misguided corporate decision that makes people want to pull out their hair and scream. And now baseball has righted the wrong.

Players will be allowed to use pink bats with logos from any MLB-approved manufacturer on Mother’s Day, ending a controversy that arose last season and clouded baseball’s efforts to raise awareness for breast cancer.

The decision reverses a stipulation from the past two years that required players to use only Mother’s Day bats with logos from Louisville Slugger, the baseball partner that helped create the breast-cancer initiative in 2006.

Two sons of breast-cancer survivors, Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe and Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, were told last season that baseball would not permit them to use black bats with pink logos from their bat manufacturer, MaxBat, on Mother’s Day.

Plouffe said that he used the bat anyway and then spoke during the off-season with Tony Clark, the head of the players union, about finding an alternate solution.

HIGH FASHION WITH A PURPOSE

Baseball heard their voices and the voices of others as well.

Tim Brosnan, the sport’s executive vice-president of business, said that commissioner Bud Selig ordered the new rules for all future Mother’s Days, beginning Sunday.

“The fact that there was chatter about anything related to bats, who ought to be able to have a bat, and color and logo detracted from the primary cause — the sole cause — of the undertaking,” Brosnan said.

“The cause is to draw attention to the scourge of breast cancer. The commissioner just reached a decision, issued a mandate to us to come up with a solution that got us back to the purpose of doing pink on Mother’s Day to begin with, which is to call attention to the need to eradicate breast cancer in our lifetime.

“Anything that tended to confuse or allow people to veer that message by telling another story about that day defeated the purpose. At the commissioner’s insistence, we amended all the rules.”

Baseball initially required players to use pink bats only with Louisville Slugger logos due to its relationship with the company, which has worked with baseball and other partners to raise more than $1 million for the Mother’s Day initiative since 2006.

I decided to use the bat anyway. Showing my support for the fight is worth more than a fine. And no fine ever came.

Trevor Plouffe

Other bat companies had the option to make pink bats with no logos but declined. Under the new rules, those companies no longer will be required to donate to a breast-cancer charity if they make pink bats for use on Mother’s Day, though such contributions will be strongly encouraged.

The changes should alleviate criticism that baseball received from both inside and outside the sport about its previous policy of allowing only Louisville Slugger.

Plouffe took to Twitter a year ago and said he was “seriously disgusted that a company would block awareness for breast-cancer research so their brand can stand out.” He later deleted that tweet and another criticizing Louisville Slugger.

“I was surprised when I got a call from Jim Anderson (the MaxBats owner) asking me not to use the bat that he had sent me,” Plouffe said. “Apparently he had gotten a message saying that he would be fined if players used his pink bats on Mother’s Day.

“As a son and nephew of breast cancer survivors, I was pretty disappointed. Immediately I decided to voice my disagreements via Twitter — not my proudest moment — and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

“Other players expressed their frustrations as well and before long it became a pretty big story. I decided to use the bat anyway. Showing my support for the fight is worth more than a fine. And no fine ever came.”

Plouffe, though, said that he was prepared to take the matter further, developing a plan with the union in which all players would use a certain color bat on Mother’s Day to show their unity.

AROUND THE HORN

“With the change in policy, we clearly don’t have to do that, but that’s how important it was to us,” Plouffe said.

Clark, the head of the union, said the determination of players such as Plouffe helped spark change.

“Needless to say, players are very passionate about causes that are dear to them,” Clark said. “Breast cancer awareness on Mother’s Day and prostate cancer awareness on Father’s Day are indeed two of those causes. Their interest in being able to express that passion collectively in their own way made it worthy of more discussion.”

Markakis, who said that he was upset and confused upon learning last season that he could not use MaxBat’s black bat with the pink logo, praised baseball for reversing course.

“In this game, it’s personal preference of the equipment you want to use,” Markakis said. “When you’re not comfortable with a certain piece of equipment, you’re going to go away from it. In a situation like this, you want to use what’s comfortable and also honor people that need to be honored.

“It’s good that Major League Baseball stepped back, took a look at it and realized that it’s OK for everybody to do it. It’s for a good cause.”

A spokesman for Louisville Slugger, which since 2006 has donated nearly $300,000 worth of pink bats for players to use on Mother’s Day, said the company had no problem with baseball’s revised position.

“While we initiated the program and have contributed more to the Mother’s Day breast cancer program than all other bat companies combined, Louisville Slugger fully and wholeheartedly supports MLB’s decision,” said Rick Redman, the company’s vice-president of corporate communications.

“We want to make sure the focus stays on the fight against breast cancer. If even one life can be saved through the MLB Mother’s Day efforts, then that trumps everything else.”

The Mother’s Day initiative is one part of baseball’s efforts to address all forms of cancer. The sport has committed more than $40 million to Stand Up 2 Cancer, one official said, and partnered with the Prostate Cancer Foundation and American Academy of Dermatology for its “Play Sun Smart” program.

“We are, we think, kind of the sports industry leader in terms of highlighting cancer as a disease,” Brosnan said. “Our owners, our players, our clubs and we hope our fans join in our sentiment that we’re simply dedicated to trying to wipe it out.”