Physics of Baseball

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"Baseball 's a simple game. You hit the ball. You throw the ball. You catch the ball," said a well-respected baseball manager by the name of Casey Stengel. Mr. Stengel was a baseball man, not a mathematician nor a physicist. Physics and mathematics can be applied to the game of baseball on every pitch, and on every swing of the bat. To understand the physics of the game, it is first necessary to look at the center of the game, the ball. Section 1.09 of the Official Baseball Rules states that the ball must weigh between 5 ounces and 5 ¼ ounces, and that the circumference of the ball must be between 9 inches and 9 ¼- inches (www.majorleaguebaseball.com/library/rules.sml). The velocity of the ball plays a large part in its motion. When the ball is traveling at a speed of about 50 miles per hour or less (small velocity), it is said that the air runs "smooth" over the ball, which does not create much movement. For velocities of about 200-mph or more, the air surrounding the ball, and the air trailing the ball, is said to be quite "turbulent" (Adair 6).
However, for the most part, the game is played with velocities between these two areas, which creates a gray area where characteristics of both can be observed. When a ball is hurled towards home plate by a pitcher, it can be forced to move in different directions if there is an altered surface on the ball traveling at a small velocity. This can be achieved by illegally placing a foreign material, such as spit or Vaseline, onto the ball. Movement can also be achieved when a ball is changed through use during the game  to prevent such movement, balls are changed constantly throughout the game. The air resistance is, surprisingly, smaller for turbulent air than for smooth air.
Despite popular belief the biggest opponent that a hitter faces is not the pitcher it is air resistance. If a ball were hit with a velocity of 110-mph at an angle of 35, it is expected to travel about 700 feet, if it



Cited: Adair, Robert K. The Physics of Baseball. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990. Monteleone, John and Mark Gola. The Louisville Slugger Ultimate Book of Hitting. New York: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated, 1997. Rubin, Louis D. "The Quotable Baseball Fanatic." New York: The Lion Press, 2000.

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