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Scientists Explore Physics of Baseball Feats

A home run is one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in baseball. A physicist, physics teacher and pitching coach talk about the physics behind a home run, a 90-mile-per-hour fastball and other baseball feats.

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  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    The fans came to this year's All-Star Game in San Francisco hoping to see the Giants' Barry Bonds hit a homerun. While he didn't, three others did hit long balls into the stands in a thrilling display of power and timing and elementary physics.

    The increasingly glamorous homer has become the biggest crowd-pleaser in Major League Baseball, despite the fact that some noted physicists have said that, in theory, hitting a homerun is practically impossible.

    Paul Robinson, a rabid baseball fan, is a physics teacher at San Mateo High School near San Francisco. He uses the sport and the eternal quest for the homerun to inspire his students, hoping they will see more than who's ahead and what's the count.

  • PAUL ROBINSON, San Mateo High School:

    And when you go to a ballgame, you're seeing all the interplay of force, and velocity, and projectile motion. It's a beautiful thing to see and watch, and physics just adds to that beauty.


    Those who play the game, like these athletes from Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, may not be aware of it, but they are users of the laws of physics, and Robinson says, the more they realize that, the better players they can be.

    Take, for example, a 90-mile-an hour fastball. It takes less than half a second to leave the pitcher's hand and cross the plate. That's 400 milliseconds. It takes the first 100 milliseconds for the eye of the batter to see the ball and send an image to the brain. It takes the next 75 milliseconds for the brain to process the information and gauge the speed and location of the ball, 50 milliseconds to decide whether to swing. If the brain says "swing," it takes about 25 milliseconds for the legs to react and begin their stride. That leaves only 150 milliseconds left to get the bat around and make contact.