ASA throws brushback pitch; vendors charge the mound

The American Softball Association (ASA) threw the team industry a fastball high and tight with its new mandate on softball bats earlier this summer and suppliers and retailers aren’t taking this brushback lightly. Together, they are digging in to either force a delay or change in the ruling.

Leading the charge to the mound is Worth. On July 10, shortly after ASA handed down the new regulations (scheduled to take effect January 1, 2004) it filed a lawsuit claiming that ASA did not give suppliers enough time to find the proper test equipment, much less reverse course to meet the new standards for fastpitch bats already in the pipeline.

“Because ASA made this decision before bat manufacturers had access to a lab certified with the new test system, we have been unable to fully determine the impact on Worth bat models both past and present,” Worth stated when it filed its lawsuit. “We are well into the production, sales and shipment of our 2004 line of bats without a solid understanding of design changes that may be necessary to meet the new standard. ASA’s action in this regard is extremely disruptive for players, retailers and bat manufacturers alike.”

Because of this, Worth has asked the courts to require ASA to act in keeping with its bat licensing contract and grant the required lead time and grandfathering time prescribed when changing standards.

Dealers and other manufacturers are just as unhappy as Worth about the announced rule changes.

“Any time a change is made without sufficient time for manufacturers, retailers and players to work through existing inventory, the industry will be impacted,” says Mike Zlaket, VP-baseball/softball for Easton Sports, Van Nuys, CA. “We have tried to provide as much clarity and visibility as possible to all concerned in the hopes of minimizing the impact, but the suddenness of the change is obviously a concern.”

Dealers have already placed or are ready to place orders for the upcoming season but now have to factor in ASA’s ruling.

“It obviously makes people hesitant in buying,” says Dave Schwartz, general manager of Bergen Batting Center in River Edge, NJ, which sells some 1000 softball and baseball bats a year. “People want to know what is legal and what isn’t. We’ve been burned before. And it’s happening constantly in men’s slow pitch,” Schwartz adds. “You can’t hang retailers and manufacturers out to dry.”

Meanwhile, vendors debate on what to do next. “We have continued to ship orders on schedule, though some retailers have hesitated before bringing in bats that may be affected,” Easton’s Zlaket notes.

He says that Easton is working with ASA “to try to address the situation in a way that is mutually acceptable.” Although Zlaket did not define “mutually acceptable,” no doubt Easton and others would applaud a favorable ruling in Worth’s lawsuit, requiring ASA to delay the ruling and grandfather existing bats.

Schwartz says that the ASA standard creates confusion because even though it only affects bats used in ASA tournament play, many leagues loosely follow the ASA guidelines. He applauds baseball for getting it right the first time. “I just wish they (ASA) would follow baseball’s lead. It just seems like baseball got everything set and it’s done.”

That’s exactly what Easton is advocating, Zlaket says diplomatically. “We feel strongly that any future rule changes should be accompanied by reasonable phase-in and grandfathering periods so the players, retailers and manufacturers don’t suffer.”

In the meantime, Zlaket suggests dealers stay on top of the changes and ask their reps and association directors a lot of questions to prepare for the upcoming season.

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