Are Hard Balls Safer Than Soft?

SOMETIMES, IT'S BETTER FOR a young baseball player to be hit with a hard ball than a softer one. That, anyway, is the claim of a mechanical engineering professor from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Henry Scarton argues that a softer ball may vibrate at the same frequency as vulnerable internal organs and transfer most of its impact to them. Result: possible heart failure from cardiac arrhythmia. The Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine in Ann Arbor, Mich., has also questioned the safety of softer balls.

But studies show traditional hard balls are involved in nearly all deaths of young players. Michigan State University reported 73% fewer injuries among youth teams using softer "safety balls," such as those from Worth Inc. Worth Chairman Jess Heald says Scarton's study doesn't hold water.