While the aftershocks from baseball's work stoppage continue to leave that game turned upside out, inside down and worthy of pen-and-ink comment by editorial cartoonist John Caldwell, we're grateful to be reminded that rates of acceleration sometimes apply to something other than greed. In the May issue of Physics Today, Yale professor Robert K. Adair not only assures us that curveballs still curve and line drives still slice, but also explains precisely why.
Adair says that because a baseball usually travels between 60 and 120 mph, a speed that's neither unusually fast nor unusually slow, the game is played befuddlingly between "two aerodynamic regimes." This, combined with the raised stitches on the ball, makes for baseball's occasionally vexing exceptions to what would normally be tidy natural laws. In summing up, Adair sounds more than a little like that laureate of convoluted logic, Yogi Berra. "Simple matters," he writes, "are not always easy."