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 The Physics of Baseball

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Baseball can be used as a vehicle to teach physics. Newton’s second law states that an object will move with constant velocity until a force is exerted on it. The force at which the baseball hits the bat depends on the mass of the ball and how fast the speed of the ball changes. A pitched ball is going fastest when it leaves the pitcher’s hand, because air friction slows it down as it approaches the batter.

The origins of American baseball reach back to the early 1800s. By the 1960s the sport was considered “America’s “pastime.” American baseball appears to be an offshoot of the English sport of rounders, a type of cricket played in the Colonies as early as the mid-18th century. Alexander Joy established the modern baseball field in 1845, when baseball was a leisure activity played only by the wealthy. But after soldiers returned from World War I, where they had played the sport behind the battle lines, baseball was enjoyed by members of every social class.


Newton’s third law states that whenever one object exerts force on a second object, the second exerts an equal and opposite force on the first. When the ball hits the bat, the bat applies a force on the ball that equals that of the ball on the bat. Even though these forces are equal and opposite, there is a net force on the ball because the forces act on different bodies. Objects tend to vibrate at their natural frequency when disturbed. When traveling waves interfere with each other they can form standing waves. Standing waves have alternating nodes and antinodes. Nodes on a standing wave are the regions where there is little to no amplitude, so there is no vibration. Batters want to hit the ball on the node of the bat, so there is little vibration and maximum energy is transmitted to the ball, causing it to travel farther.

Momentum is another important aspect of physics that applies to pitching. The momentum of an object depends on both its speed and mass. When pitchers move their legs and hips first (slow-moving and massive), that momentum is transmitted up the body, through the torso and into the arms and fingers as they pitch the ball. If a pitcher tried throwing a ball just from the momentum of the fingers, it wouldn’t go very far, because fingers have very little mass. The large mass of legs and hips creates the momentum needed to pitch a fast ball.

The Anatomy of a Home Run

When you look at the physical breakdown of a home run, it's hard to believe it can ever happen. In fact some noted physicists have said that, on paper, hitting a home run is impossible. Let's look at what it takes.