perfect book to enlighten all your friends who think that Magnus force is a TV
show currently in afternoon reruns: The Physics of Baseball (Harper & Row,
$7.95), by Robert Kemp Adair, Sterling Professor of Physics at Yale.
In a delightful
preface, we learn how the late Bart Giamatti, who had been president of Yale
before becoming president of the National League and then commissioner of
baseball, inspired the work by asking his former colleague to advise him on
some of the more technical elements of baseball. In return, Giamatti appointed
Adair "Physicist to the National League"—a job with no pay but with,
Adair says, "a title that absolutely charmed the 10-year-old boy who I hope
will always be a part of me."
The Physics of
Baseball dazzles one with information and offers a tough, brain-stretching
read. Adair says the book was "written for fun" and "is not meant
as a scholarly compendium of research on baseball." Egad, if this is fun, I
shudder to think of what he considers scholarly writing.
To be fair, there
are some very fun facts, but I felt like a sandpiper at low tide, wading around
sticking my head in the thick mud to find them. The best ones I pulled up
include the following:
here's where you'll learn all about Magnus force—thrown by a righthanded
pitcher at 70 mph may rotate 17 times on its 60'6" journey. That's 1,800
rpm, or half the rate of a small synchronous electric motor.
?In 1921, Cool
Papa Bell of the Negro leagues is said to have run the bases in less than 13
seconds—barely one second slower than Carl Lewis could theoretically run that
120-yard distance in a straight line.
?The collision of
the bat, itself going 70 mph, and the ball, traveling at 90 mph, lasts only
about [1/1000] of a second. It takes nearly 8,000 pounds of force to change the
motion of the 5?-ounce ball from its speed of 90 mph toward the plate to a
speed of 110 mph toward the centerfield bleachers. Swing [1/100] of a second
late, and it's foul.
Other facts: In
the 1961 All-Star Game in San Francisco, a balk was called on Stu Miller of the
Giants when a gust of wind blew him off the mound. A ball batted with an
initial velocity of 110 mph at an angle of 35 degrees from the horizontal would
go about 750 feet in a vacuum; near sea level at Shea Stadium it would travel
only about 400 feet; at Atlanta's 1,050-foot altitude it would go 408 feet; in
Kansas City, 406 feet; in Chicago or Milwaukee, 405 feet. But if Denver is ever
granted a franchise, the equivalent 400-foot drive by Darryl Strawberry in Shea
would go an amazing 440 feet in a mile-high stadium. And a batted ball will
travel 20 feet farther on a 95� day than on a 45� day.
But once past
these nuggets, I found myself in mud as the syntax became virtually opaque. To
understand the flight of a baseball, Adair tells us, we must know this:
object (such as a baseball) passes through a fluid (such as air), the fluid
affects the motion of the object as it flows about the object. Moreover, for
all fluids and all objects, the character of the flow of the fluid is
determined by the value of a (dimensionless) Reynolds number proportional to
the density of the fluid, the fluid velocity, the size of the object, and
inversely proportional to the viscosity of the fluid. For a given Reynolds
number, the behavior of the gaseous fluid of stars—interacting with each other
through gravity—that make up a galaxy 100,000 light-years across is described
in very much the same way as the behavior of the molecules of air passing
through an orifice one micron across, where a micron is about equal to the
resolution of a high-power microscope."