The Physics of a Curve
By: Brennen Hodge
February 8, 2008
“Strike three!”, yelled the umpire. The kid didn’t even come close to touching the it. This is the gratification you receive from throwing a properly thrown curve ball. Ever since I was 12 years old, I am been making batters duck out of the way, swing at balls in the dirt, and essentially look like a total idiot at times. That is a curve ball for you. A ball, when thrown properly, looks like a fastball coming right at your head then all of a sudden the bottom falls out of it and comes right across the plate. It is probably the hardest pitch to hit in baseball and likewise the hardest pitch to master. Added to your repertoire of ...view middle of the document...
But when he proved it could be done, he was known as the Boy Wonder.
Diminuitive in size at 5'9, 120 pounds, the Toledo native began to work his way up from semipro teams to the National Association and National League in the 1870s. He enjoyed tremendous success in 1873 and 1875, winning 35 games one season. From there, he became an owner, moving to the International Association and running both the league and his team, the Lynn Live Oaks. Cummings continued to play, but struggled on the field with losing records. His team was forced to drop out of the league and Cummings returned to the NL in 1877. As you can see this man should not be in the hall of fame through his stats. He is simply in the hall of fame for his contribution to the game, the curve ball.
Another pitcher to lay claim to inventing the curveball is Fred Goldsmith, who some claimed gave the first publicly recorded demonstration of the curveball (to baseball historian Henry Chadwick) on August 16, 1870 in Brooklyn, New York. However, it is now generally agreed that Cummings was already throwing the curveball in actual games by the time Goldsmith gave his demonstration.
“All right, go stand behind that tree and I’ll hit you with an optical illusion.” That was hall-of-fame pitcher Dizzy Dean’s response to a critic who claimed that a curveball was merely an optical illusion to a batter. Dean knew it was a fact that baseballs really curve. In fact, every pitcher in the majors knew this was true because pitcher Freddy Goldsmith had proved it in 1870. Goldsmith set up three poles in a straight line. He threw a pitch from the left side of the first pole that then passed the right side of the middle pole before curving back to the left of the last pole.
Scholars have been debating for years about what force makes a curveball curve. Though Lord Rayleigh to Magnus (yes, this is his actual name) was the first to do experiments on spinning spheres in aerodynamic flows, the first to actually take a baseball into the laboratory in 1959 was Lyman Briggs, retired director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Even though the mathematics and physics involved gets very complicated very quickly, the force is a result of the one thing that makes all motion possible: friction. What makes a baseball curve is viscosity, which causes the “no slip” condition where the spinning ball makes the air inside the adjacent boundary layer circulate. If you don’t understand this don’t worry, it will be explained later. But first it is important to know exactly what a curveball is.
How to Throw a Curveball
The grip is the most important part of learning how to throw a curveball. Grip the ball by placing your middle finger on the inside half of the seam and apply pressure to the ball. Your index finger should stay as close to your middle finger as possible. Your ring and pinkie finger should rest under the ball with only your ring finger in contact with the baseball. The ideal location...