Baseball and Bernoulli

So, to follow up on my blurb last time about baseball and spitting, Mike and I watched a couple of innings of Korean baseball on TV, and indeed, nobody was seen spitting. The game was pretty good, but not up to major league standards. On one play the batter hit a long fly ball to center field. The center fielder misjudged the play completely, turned the wrong way to go catch the ball and wasn’t even close to it when it fell in the outfield. The bases had been loaded, and everyone scored, the batter stopping at third base with a triple. The pitching was pretty good. Mike thinks that the hardest thing to accomplish in sports must be to hit major league pitching. It’s not like golf, an easy game where the ball just sits there on the ground, motionless, waiting to be struck a blow. No, in baseball the pitch is moving, and fast. The batter has less than a second to decide whether to swing or not, depending partly on whether he thinks it will be a ball or a strike, and whether it will curve or not. He has to aim his bat for where he thinks the ball will be in a few one-hundredths of a second.

Mike says things have changed some in pitching since he was a kid. The pitchers throw harder, and don’t throw as many innings in games so they don’t ruin their arms. It used to be a badge of honor to pitch a complete 9 inning game. Back in the olden days pitchers threw mostly fastballs, curve balls, and change-ups. There were a few who threw knuckle balls, and a variation of that was the opposite, a palm ball. These latter two pitches came out of the pitcher’s hand with no spin, supposedly causing an irregular and unpredictable flight. Sliders were introduced as well, and are still popular. Almost everyone throws a slider, a sort of half-curve ball. A few other trick pitches, like a screwball, were tried by a few pitchers. Another trick pitch appeared in the 1970’s, the split-fingered fastball. It was first mastered by Bruce Sutter who used to be a relief pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. The pitch seemed to drop like a rock just as the batter was taking a swing. He was so effective that twice that we know of he came in to pitch in the 9th inning and struck out three batters while throwing a total of 9 pitches. Mike saw him do it against Cincinnati, and his friend Jack saw him do it against Montreal, I think. Youngsters who want to become famous and wealthy pitchers are throwing harder and harder at a younger age, many of them injuring themselves in the process. I don’t know if it is true or not, but Mike says he read somewhere that one-third of all pitchers wind up having Tommy John surgery because of ligament strain or rupture. And yes, that is the same Tommy John who put his name on men’s underwear.

But, there is controversy. Mike recalls listening to a baseball broadcast with his father when the announcer  said the pitcher had thrown a sharp-breaking curve ball. Grandpa Moe derisively commented that it was impossible for the thrown ball to curve sharply. He said it had to be an optical illusion. The reason that it was impossible for the ball to curve sharply was Bernoulli’s Principle. He would tell Mike’s friends that there was no such thing as a sharp-breaking curve ball, and Mike’s friends would graciously refrain from contradicting him. I personally couldn’t say whether a ball can curve or not, but it sure looks as though it does on television.

So, what did Grandpa Moe think Bernoulli had to do with it? It is worth noting that Grandpa Moe had a PhD in Chemical Engineering, and used to take advanced math courses for fun when he was in graduate school. He failed to pass along the talent for math to Mike, who nevertheless managed to earn B’s in his college chemistry classes through a combination of luck and hard work. Daniel Bernoulli was a Swiss mathematician who lived in the 1700’s. His Principle, or Theorem, states that in fluid dynamics the total mechanical energy of a flowing fluid remains constant. The mechanical energy is comprised of the kinetic energy of the flowing fluid, the gravitational potential of elevation, and the energy associated with fluid pressure. So, he said, at points along a horizontal streamline, higher pressure regions have lower fluid speed, and conversely, lower pressure regions have higher speed. I have absolutely no idea what this means, and, I can assure you, neither does Mike. Apparently, though, it has many engineering applications including in aerodynamics. According to what Mike has read, no airplane would ever get off the ground if not for Professor Bernoulli and his Principle. So, maybe Grandpa Moe, for reasons unclear to us, was right. But I do know this: good amateur baseball players will never be successful professionals unless they learn to hit a curve ball, sharp-breaking or not.

You may or may not have seen the new “Solutions” section in yesterday’s newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They are featuring articles by guest writers who have a solution to offer about something possibly of use or interest to their readers. One of the 2 writers in this inaugural venture was none other than my pal, Dr. Michael C. Gordon. He wrote about the challenge of staying sober for addicts and alcoholics under pandemic conditions, and offered suggestions. You might enjoy reading it. I will try to figure out how to add a link, but in the meantime, it is in the Monday, May 11 edition if you want to look for it. The best thing about this was that they put in a plug for my blog, and for my grandfather’s autobiography as well.

So, there is always more to say, but it will have to wait for another day. We are eating, sleeping, and feeling well here in Happy Meadows, and I hope you all are too, wherever you may be. Take good care of your cats and dogs, love your neighbor, and every day pray for world peace. Mike read this morning in his thought for the day email that peace arrives when you get rid of fear and anger. Sounds right. Until next time, don’t let life throw you a curve ball, and if it does, hit it out of the park! So long from Happy Meadows.

Author: Black Magic

Black Magic is a handsome, charming, and self-absorbed cat who lives with Mike and Judy Gordon in Marietta, Georgia. He is about 7 years old, and he will remind you at every opportunity that his grandfather was Black Jack, that famous cat who wrote his own autobiography. Black Magic has a great many opinions, and despite his natural feline arrogance, he seems to be genuinely spiritual. But the reader can decide for him/herself.

3 thoughts on “Baseball and Bernoulli”

  1. Loved your post. I love baseball. I was one of the original bleacher bums. My friend and I took the “L” downtown to Wrigley Field almost every day in the summer and sat in the bleachers. We had a great time! Ernie Banks played first base then. It cost $1.00 to get in. Wow, how things have changed! Take care.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *