I just love baseball!! Organized leagues or pick-up games with friends or family what a great sport of skill and comradery. And it’s definitely not just for boys! (bottom) Check out this super slo-mo of a ball hitting the bat HERE. More video links below.
Sad. Lethargic. Just not right today. My beloved Indians are no longer in the hunt this year. Like you, I was hanging on to every pitch, every at bat, every move by the managers – hoping for a hit, or wishing for a swing and a miss. What an amazing game. Through all the data, and pontificators, as the experts will say, most believe in the playoffs, it all comes down to pitching. And, with the best pitcher in the American League this year, and the best bullpen and closer, I really thought we were headed to the big show again. But alas, “maybe next year.” On the “fun” side, watching the games, it did get me a thinkin’… just how do those guys throw those pitches and make the ball move the way it does. So, I went to discover some cool facts for you, and some interesting trivia, “just because”. Enjoy, and thanks to Mentalfloss.com and factretriver.com.
When watching from home, or listening in on the radio, we hear a lot of talk about what kind of pitch was just thrown, will be thrown, should be thrown, might be thrown, or, perhaps, shouldn’t have been thrown at all. Cutters, sliders, sinkers and more. Here’s how they work:
- Fastball – This is the basic, most important pitch in baseball. The first two fingers rest just on (or inside) the seams and the pitcher releases the pitch with the palm pretty much facing the batter, producing maximum velocity. How fast are we talking? Generally, in the 90-95 mph range, though some pitchers have been known to easily hurl over 100 mph. Technically, what most pitchers throw is called a two-seam fastball and produces a sidespin that causes the ball to cut in as it approaches the batter. There are other varieties, like the 4-seam fastball, which is thrown by holding the ball with the seams horizontal, rather than vertical. This produces backspin, which creates high pressure under the ball and low pressure on top resulting in the illusion of the ball rising (actually the ball isn’t rising, just falling more slowly than it would normally). There’s also a split-finger fastball where the first two fingers split, or straddle the seams, which causes the ball to drop a little as it approaches the plate. Despite the movement, the basic idea of a fastball is to overpower the batter, so he swings late and misses.
- Sinker – If you’ve ever played wiffle ball, you know the ball rises, falls, and curves in and away from a batter depending on where you position the air holes in the ball. Likewise, in baseball, a pitcher can create movement and variation in speed depending on how he releases the ball, or how he spins the ball. Off-speed pitches, like the sinker, are pitches that are released with the palm of the hand facing away from the pitcher. This causes the ball to sink as it approaches the batter. The idea here is to either get him to swing over the ball and miss, or, if he connects with the pitch, to produce a ground ball, rather than a line drive.
- Changeup – A changeup is like a sinker, in that it’s an off-speed pitch, only the palm is turned even further out. All off-speed pitches are similar in that they’re thrown with less velocity than the fastball. But the batter doesn’t know when one is coming because a good pitcher is able to use the same arm speed as he does for the fastball. So to throw it with less velocity, the pitcher presses the baseball deep into his palm. Less finger contact means less torque and less velocity. If a batter is expecting a fastball, slowing down, or “changing up” the speed to, say, 87 mph can trip him up and he’ll swing ahead of the ball. Great pitchers can build an entire career on the changeup because they’re able to slow it down all the way to around 80 mph. If they can throw a fastball around 95 mph, that’s a whopping 15 mph slower and really confuses the batter.
- Screwball – This is another off-speed pitch that not only sinks, but moves from the pitcher’s left side to the right as it approaches the batter (opposite for lefties). The palm is again pronated away from the pitcher, even further than the sinker and changeup. As the pitcher releases the ball, he twists the ball like a corkscrew. A left-handed batter will see the ball break away from him and a right-handed batter will experience the opposite, as the ball breaks in on him (the reverse is true if the pitcher is left-handed, of course).
- Cutter – Turning the palm in the opposite direction produces a series of pitches known as breaking pitches. The first stop over from the fastball is the cutter, which is like a fastball, only it breaks in ever so slightly and is generally thrown a few mphs slower than a fastball. The further the palm is rotated toward the pitcher, the more movement (in most cases, but not all). Major league pitchers can create amazing movement in and out from a batter, disguising the pitch to look like a fastball, but then it “cuts” away.
- Slider – Basically the same thing as a cutter, a slider is thrown with less velocity than the former and the palm is rotated further toward the pitcher. The slower speed means there’s more time for the ball to move, or slide, from one side of the plate to the other.
- Curveball (my favorite) – A good curveball can be devastating, and also fun to watch. These are the pitches that appear to arc up toward the batter’s chest (or even head) before dropping into the strike zone like a bomb as they reach the plate. Of course, not every successful curveball pitcher throws the large arc variety and they need not be so dramatic. Even a small arc keeps the hitter off balance. The pitcher turns his palm in so far that his hand looks like the letter “C.” He then flicks his wrist as he releases the ball (the opposite direction from the screwball) creating topspin. The more topspin, the greater the air pressure difference between the top and bottom of the ball, and the greater the break.
And some “I didn’t know that” fun trivia:
- The unofficial anthem of American baseball, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” is traditionally sung during the middle of the 7th inning. It was written in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer, both of whom had never been to a baseball game.
- The life span of a major league baseball is 5–7 pitches. During a typical game, approximately 70 balls are used
- A “can of corn” is an easy fly ball. The term comes from when old-time grocers used their aprons to catch cans knocked from a high shelf.
- “Soaking” was a very early baseball rule that allowed a runner who was off base to be put out by throwing a ball at him.
- The most innings ever played in a major League baseball game was 26 innings on May 1, 1920, when the Brooklyn Dodgers played the Boston Braves.
- The longest game on record was between the Chicago White Sox and the visiting Milwaukee Brewers on May 9, 1984. The game lasted 8 hours 6 minutes and went 25 innings.
- A big-league player can hit a 90-mph pitch with more than 8,000 pounds during the millisecond that the bat is in contact with the baseball. The ball leaves the bat at a speed of 110 -125 mph.
- A player increases his chance of hitting a home run if he hits the baseball at the bat’s “sweet spot.” This spot is an area between 5 and 7 inches from the barrel end of the bat. When a player hits the sweet spot, there is less vibration, and the bat makes a satisfying “crack” sound.
- The probable MLBrecord is Leon Cadore of the Brooklyn Dodgers who pitched every inning of a 26-inning game in 1920. It is estimated that he threw 360 pitches over the course of the game. His opponent on the mound, Joe Oeschger of the Boston Braves, also pitched all 26 innings and threw an estimated 319 pitches.
- While no records formally exist, it is believed Steve Kowalski can “out eat” most fans in a nine- inning game. This includes peanuts, popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, and the burger of the day.
Some Cool Video Links:
Fun – Grips and crazy ball movements:
University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Baseball Research Center:
Video of a pitch in super duper slow motion:
The science and physics of a baseball pitch:
A lighter video. Fun ceremonial first pitches: