At one time or another, every baseball fan has disagreed with
a call at the plate. Recently, 3-D graphics on televised games
have vindicated some armchair umpires. In "Baseball Tech,"
Alan takes a look at a similar tool an aerospace company designed
for real umpires that will provide objective, post-game self-analysis.
Paul Baim demonstrates
the Umpire Information System (UIS) at Boston's Fenway Park.
But first, Alan gives umpping a try and sees firsthand what
a challenge finding the strike zone can be.
UIS uses pairs of cameras to track pitches. One set in the
rafters above the first base line, and one above the third
base line. Using the images collected by these cameras, the
system produces a 3-D graphic that shows the predicted and
actual path of the ball to the plate.
define the strike zone, two additional cameras in the dugouts
take a snapshot of the batter just after the pitch. Applying
a model of the physics of the baseball in flight to the camera
images, the system extrapolates the path of the ball through
the strike zone very accurately--within a half-inch.
Not intended to replace umpires or publicly second-guess them,
this scientific system is meant to help umpires refine the
art of calling pitches. After the game, the UIS generates
a CD-ROM that allows the umpire to review any pitch. Baim
hopes to have one third of all major league parks equipped
with the system for the 2002 season.
is working for the batters, too. The National Collegiate Athletic
Association (NCAA) replaced oft-broken wooden bats with long-lived
aluminum in the early 1970s to save money. But the switch
raised a new issue: aluminum bats hit the ball much harder
and faster than wood.
that players might be injured, the NCAA set a ceiling on aluminum-bat
speed. Scientist Jim Sherwood
came up with a simple solution: keep aluminum bats from hitting
any faster than wooden ones.
speed isn't the only difference between wood and aluminum.
There's also sound--the familiar "crack" versus the "ping."
does the sound say about a swing?
Collier and his colleague Ken Kaliski are trying to differentiate
how the sound of a bat changes depending on where it's hit.
A wooden bat vibrates when struck. Vibrations are minimal
at a point about six inches from the tip--what players often
call the "sweet spot"--so the crack is sharpest when the bat
is hit there. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sound helps
fielders predict where the ball will fly.
aluminum bats react the same the same way? Apparently not.
Collier and Kaliski have found that, despite slight differences
in loudness, the quality of the ping is almost identical for
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