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The Physics of Baseball: Third Edition, Revised, Updated, and Expanded

The Physics of Baseball: Third Edition, Revised, Updated, and Expanded

4.2 13
by Robert K. Adair

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Blending scientific fact and sports trivia, Robert Adair examines what a baseball or player in motion does-and why. How fast can a batted ball go? What effect do stitch patterns have on wind resistance? How far does a curve ball break? Who reaches first base faster after a bunt, a right- or left-handed batter? The answers are often surprising — and always


Blending scientific fact and sports trivia, Robert Adair examines what a baseball or player in motion does-and why. How fast can a batted ball go? What effect do stitch patterns have on wind resistance? How far does a curve ball break? Who reaches first base faster after a bunt, a right- or left-handed batter? The answers are often surprising — and always illuminating.

This newly revised third edition considers recent developments in the science of sport such as the neurophysiology of batting, bat vibration, and the character of the "sweet spot." Faster pitchers, longer hitters, and enclosed stadiums also get a good, hard scientific look to determine their effects on the game.

Filled with anecdotes about famous players and incidents, The Physics of Baseball provides fans with fascinating insights into America's favorite pastime.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Fascinating and irresistible.
Wall Street Journal
An absolutely wonderful compendium of little know fact about the national pastime.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Revised, Updated and Expanded Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.43(d)

Read an Excerpt

Models and their Limitations

A small, but interesting, portion of baseball can be understood on the basis of physical principles. The flight of balls, the liveliness of balls, the structure of bats, and the character of the collision of balls and bats are a natural province of physics and physicists.

In his analysis of a real system, a physicist constructs a welldefined model of the system and addresses the model. The system we address here is baseball. In view of the successes of physical analyses in understanding arcane features of nature--such as the properties of the elementary particles and fundamental forces that define our universe (my own field of research) and the character of that universe in the first few minutes of creation-it may seem curious that the physics of baseball is not at all under control. We cannot calculate from first principles the character of the collision of an ash bat with a sphere made up of layers of different tightly wound yarns, nor do we have any precise understanding of the effect of the airstream on the flight of that sphere with its curious yin-yang pattern of stitches. What we can do is construct plausible models of those interactions that play a part in baseball which do not violate basic principles of mechanics. Though these basic principles--such as the laws of the conservation of energy and momentum-severely constrain such models, they do not completely define them. It is necessary for the models to touch the results of observations--or the results of the controlled observations called experiments-at some points so that the model can be more precisely defined and used to interpolate known results or toextrapolate such results. Baseball, albeit rich in anecdote, has not been subject to extensive quantitative studies of its mechanics, hence, models of baseball are not as well founded as they might be.

However connected with experience, model and system-map and territory-are not the same. The physicist can usually reach precise conclusions about the character of the model. If the model is well chosen so as to represent the salient points of the real system adequately, conclusions derived from an analysis of the model can apply to the system to a useful degree. Conversely, conclusions-although drawn in a logically impeccable manner from premises defined precisely by the model-may not apply to the system because the model is a poor map of the system.

Hence, in order to consider the physics of baseball, I had to construct an ideal baseball game which I could analyze that would be sufficiently close to the real game so that the results of the analysis would be useful. The analysis was easy; the modeling was not. I found that neither my experience playing baseball (poorly) as a youth nor my observations of play by those better fitted for the game than I ideally prepared me for the task of constructing an adequate model of the game. However, with the aid of seminal work by physicists Lyman Briggs, Paul Kirkpatrick, and others, and with help from discussions with other students of the game, such as my long-time associate R. C. Larsen, I believe I have been able to arrive at a sufficient understanding of baseball so that some interesting conclusions from analyses of my construction of the game are relevant to real baseball.

In all sports analyses, it is important for a scientist to avoid hubris and pay careful attention to the athletes. Major league players are serious people, who are intelligent and knowledgeable about their livelihood. Specific, operational conclusions held by a consensus of players are seldom wrong, though-since baseball players are athletes, not engineers or physicists--their analyses and rationale may be imperfect. If players think they hit better after illegally drilling a bole in their bat and filling it with cork, they must be taken seriously. The reasons they give for their "improvement," however, may not be valid. I hope that nothing in the following material will be seen by a competent player of the game to be definitely contrary to his experience in playing the game. Honed by a century of intelligent trial and error, baseball must surely be played correctly--though not everything said about the play, by players and others, is impeccable. Hence, if a contradiction arises concerning some aspect of my analyses and the way the game is actually played, I would presume it likely that I have either misunderstood that aspect myself or that my description of my conclusion was inadequate and subject to misunderstanding.

Even as the results discussed here follow from analyses of models that can only approximate reality, the various conclusions have different degrees of reliability. Some results are quite reliable; the cork, rubber, or whatever stuffed into holes drilled in bats certainly does not increase the distance the ball can go when hit by the bat. Some results are hardly better than carefully considered guesses: How much does backspin affect the distance a long fly ball travels? Although I have tried to convey the degree of reliability of different conclusions, it may be difficult to evaluate the caveats properly. By and large, the qualitative results are usually reliable, but most of the quantitative results should be considered with some reserve, perhaps as best estimates.

In spite of their uncertainties, judiciously considered quantitative estimates are interesting and important; whatever their uncertainties, they often supplant much weaker-and sometimes erroneous--qualitative insights. Consequently, I have attempted to provide numerical values almost everywhere: sometimes when the results are somewhat uncertain, sometimes when the numbers are quite trivial but not necessarily immediately accessible to the reader.

As this exposition is directed toward those interested in baseball, not physics, I have chosen to present quantitative matters in terms of familiar units using the English system of measures distances in feet and inches, velocities in miles per hour (mph), and forces in terms of ounce and pound weights. I have also often chosen to express effects on the velocities of batted balls in terms of deviations of the length of a ball batted 400 feet (a long home run?) under standard conditions.

To express the goals of this book, I can do no better than adopt a modification of a statement from Paul Kirkpatrick's article "Batting the Ball": The aim of this study is not to reform baseball but to understand it. As a corollary to the statement of purpose, I must emphasize that the book is not meant as a guide to a player; of all the ways to learn to throw and bat a ball better, an academic study of the mechanics of the actions must be the least useful.

Meet the Author

Robert Adair is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Physics at Yale University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His research has largely been concerned with the properties of the elementary particles and forces of the universe.

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Physics of Baseball: Third Edition, Revised, Updated, and Expanded 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Review of Novel I enjoyed my book The Physics of Baseball Third Edition and I would highly recommend it to any baseball fan or enthusiast. Although it can be a little difficult to read it can really help you comprehend and understand the game of baseball. The book blends scientific fact and baseball trivia very nicely. Another part of the book that I enjoyed was that it answered questions that you may have thought of before regarding baseball but didn't know the answer. It will also answer questions that are not realistic but are pretty amusing and fun to know, such as how much can a curve ball break. So this book has a lot of facts as I mentioned. However, that's not all. It also can change the way you play the sport. It tells you hitting the ball with back spin can easily be the difference between getting out and hitting the ball out of the ballpark. The book gives an example about if you play in Denver or somewhere with an high altitude and have thin air that batted balls can travel up to 10% farther. The book is filled with a total of 177 facts about famous players and incidents. For example, Mickey Mantel has one of the longest homerun shots on record 560 feet. With recent technology perfected by IBM tale of the tape that has estimated within 5 feet his homerun to actually be approximately 575 feet. The Physics of Baseball provides fans with fascinating insights into American's favorite pastime. You should definitely read this book if you play or if you are a baseball fan like me!
conmeister More than 1 year ago
This book was basically one of the best books on how physics relates to baseball. Definately the best that I have ever read. Even if you dont like baseball you need to pick yourself up a copy and start reading like crazy. It is just amazing how the author knows so much about physics and baseball. I myself play baseball and had no idea that physics played such a role in the games outcome. For example, the author talked about how the laces on a ball can affect the balls flight path. Another example would be how the bat speed can determine how far you hit the ball. I am almost certain that if a major league baseball player were to femiliarize himself with this book it would almost immediantly make him a better player. This book also opened my eyes to the possibility that physics can play a part in baseball that it could play a part in other sports such as football. Overall this was a great book and I personally recomend it to anyone that has some free time on their hands. Actually even if you dont have some free time, make some. This book was astounding and spectacular. Any adjective in the dictionary that means good, applies to this book. Read it.
Gilkmeister More than 1 year ago
The Physics of Baseball Third Edition is a great book and reveals a lot of really cool facts about baseball. Anyone who plays baseball or is a fan of baseball definitely needs to pick themselves up a copy of this book. Even if you don't like baseball, you will find that you keep coming back to read more and more of this book because it is so informal and interesting. The author, Robert K. Adair, covers a variety of topics about baseball in this book including the basis of physical principles, the flight of balls, the liveliness of balls, the structure of bats, and the character of the collision of balls and bats. As you read this book, you will keep on learning more and more cool and interesting facts about baseball and physics and won't want to stop reading until you finish. When I read this book, I couldn't put it down because every time I finished a chapter, I loved what I read and was excited to keep on reading and see what Robert K. Adair had to say in the next chapter. You will be amazed at all of the unbelievable things that are explained about pitching and batting and just baseball in general. Every chapter of this book is full of interesting information about baseball and after reading this book, my overall thoughts and feelings were that it is the best book ever made about baseball. I would definitely recommend anyone who gets a chance to read this book, The Physics of Baseball Third Edition, because it is one of the best books that I have ever read.
Gabriel Estrada More than 1 year ago
The reason that I am sharing my opinion is to not only praise this well crafted book, but to let others know about my experience reading this book. Even though this is only 160 pages, there is so much more detail than other books that I have read. The Physics of Baseball has many aspects of baseball including pitching, batting, running, fielding, and throwing. Each topic has a more specific sub topic as well. For pitching a few of the sub topics include the movement and velocity of a fastball, curve ball, and knuckle ball. For hitting some of the sub topics are bat-ball collision and spin of batted ball. The trend continues for the other categories. In addition to that, other variables are included. A stat sheet can not explain the flight of a baseball and the limitations to altitude. The box score does not show how an almost home run would have gone over the fence if not for the bat vibrations. All of this data comprised into one source. I cannot deny that some of the mathematics are complex and foreign but there is more to this book than that. A brief history about the topic is mentioned to give the reader a new perspective in that area of the field. Having experience with the game itself has also helped me. I can see how the numbers behind everything in baseball can affect anyone on given day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Physics of Baseball, by Robert K. Adair, is a very fascinating book that reads similar to a school textbook. The book gives insight that most normal people do not know on the wonderful sport of baseball. It includes many interesting diagrams, charts, and figures to depict certain things such as path or distance of the ball, path of a bat relative to a certain pitch, and charts showing statistics from the major league ballplayers. The book starts out describing linear models and moves directly to the flight of the ball in the next chapter. It talks about things such as spin on the ball and force added to make the ball fly in a certain path. Adair also cover certain factors of baseball such as wind resistance. After the flight of the ball, Adair discusses swinging the bat, which is much more complex than I had previously thought. If you think swinging is about you just meeting the bat to the ball, you have no idea what it really is all about. Physics goes into depth about the time the ball takes to reach the plate at certain speeds and when the bat should be swung. For example, it takes a 95 mph fastball 400 millisecond to reach the plate. It takes the average major league player 150 milliseconds to swing and obviously the faster the bat speed, the farther the ball will travel when struck properly. Next after hitting, is pitching. The pitching rubber is exactly ten inches higher than the batters plate and Adair shows how certain pitches pass certain points and makes the batters job more difficult. Of course everything is much more intricately than what I have said. What I also found interesting in Physics was that taller pitchers do not have to exert as much force to make the ball travel to the plate faster as do smaller pitchers because of the angle at which the ball needs to go. Other things talked about in The Physics of Baseball are bat properties, fielding, throwing, and judging fly balls. The bat properties have to do with vibrations of the bat and the ¿sweet spot¿ where when hit the ball will travel the farthest. Overall The Physics of Baseball is very interesting though throughout it's shorter than you think 150 pages it can drag at times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As baseball players, we likely have oft wondered why it felt so good to hit the ball hard and far. Now we know, courtesy of Professor Adair: hitting the ball at the sweet spot of the bat eliminates wobble at the handle and that stinging sensation in our hands. I echo the view that every baseball fan should own a copy of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. Taught me a lot about the game I did not know!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book The Physics of baseball and I would recommend it to any baseball players or lovers of the sport. The book showed great detail in every section you read and even include pictures an diagrams to help you understand the subject. This book answered questions that I had about the sport of baseball and even taught me many new things about the sport that I had never even thought about but was fun to learn, for example the book talked about how the percentage of a home run can drastically increase or decrease depending on many variables like elevation, speed of the pitch and where the bat and ball make contact. I overall thought Adair did a good job with the book because he brought the sport of baseball into a new and interesting way to learn about the sport of baseball. (Devin K)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The Physics of Baseball" is a great book to understand the science behind the sport played for centuries. Mr Robert Adair examines many things in the sport of baseball through a science perspective and helps the reader understand throughout the book. Adair explains in depth on all parts of the game, including hitting the baseball, and throwing the baseball. He explains the different spins of different pitches a pitcher throws. Adair explains all the different forces that are on the baseball when thrown or batted. He also explains the running part of the game. Who reaches first base faster, either a right or a lefty? There are many graphs in the book that Adair included to make it much easier for the reader to understand any topics. This book will change the sport that you once thought was so simple, into a complex game of science.(Michael V)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a very interesting book with a lot of cool facts. However, the book had very advanced terms  and many things I did not understand. I thought the book was good if you appreciate the sport of baseball. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the novel very interesting. It showed people what really happens in the game of baseball and gave me a new appreciation of baseball players every where. Being a baseball player myself, it really surprised me some of the things that I do that obtains a certain result. This book also helped me out with baseball because I looked at some of the simple equations im learning in my class and used it to apply to my swing and pitches that really helped me. I stopped trying to just swing as hard as i could when trying to hit a home run, or just throwing the ball as hard as I could. I looked at what you need to do to reach the maximum potential in my swing, and in my pitches. I also took a look at the spin of my balls, and how i could make it better. I used what the book taught me to make my ball move more just by simply looking at the spin and wind resistance of the ball and applied it to myself when pitching. This book is a delight, and very interesting if wanting to know more about the wonderful game of baseball. If you like behind the scenes action, i highly recommend this book to you. (Walker B)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The physics of baseball is a very interesting book. I like how they combined science and the game of baseball. An example of how physics play a role in baseball is when the author talked about how the laces on a ball can affect the balls flight path, and another example would be how the bat speed can determine how far you hit the ball. I recommend this book to people who play baseball and are interested in how physics play a role in the game of baseball.(Brett H)
Sean_Thornton_317 More than 1 year ago
This is an extremely well written book by an extemely intelligent professor who writes with warmth and humility. I learned more about baseball in the first ten pages than I care to admit. The charts aare terrific, the different subjects are handled with appropriate detail, and the author is very careful with his facts. I believe this is a classic that should be on your sports bookshelf.