Baseball Magic Settled! The Curveball Is a Trick of the Eye

Greg Maddux hurls a curveball--er, optical illusion--for the Braves.

After wondering for years about how curveballs curve and breaking balls break, we can finally rest easy knowing that the rules of physics are not being violated on the pitchers mound! ScienceNOW reports on how curveballs are the mental effects of the way our visual field works. All this is the result of research by scientists at American University and the University of Southern California.

As the article notes:

Regarding baseballs, the problem is that the fovea can focus on only a very small area—only about 2 degrees of the visual field (or an area smaller than your thumbnail held at arm’s length)—so as a pitched ball moves closer it can easily slip into your peripheral vision as it becomes larger. When that happens, Shapiro explains, the movement and spin of the ball combine in the hitter’s mind and create the perception that the ball is veering off track. Hence, curveballs seem to curve more, fastballs seem to break, and the best hitters in baseball succeed in getting a hit only about three times in every 10 at bats.

Still not ready to give up the idea that guys like Greg Maddux and Sandy Koufax were weaving magical spells on baseballs? This visual simulator is striking (no pun intended). Be sure to check it out.

It’s still amazing to consider the skill needed both to pitch and hit in Major League Baseball. While science may explain the mechanisms that cause us to perceive a phenomenon, there’s still plenty of room for admiration of people who hone their abilities to control body and mind to such a precise degree.

Thanks to my dad for sending this article my way!

>> Link: Baseball’s Zany Pitches Just a Visual Illusion – ScienceNOW.

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