"BIOLOGICAL BASEBALL"          PAGE 3


Finding the ball
Other factors that affect the batter's swing are the effective length and weight of the bat. The farther up the handle the hitter holds the bat, the less time it takes to swing at the ball, for the simple reason that there is less mass to move through space, and therefore less inertia to overcome with sheer muscle power. But consequently, less mass hits the ball. Power is the trade-off for speed and precision, hence the maxim that the more powerful the swing, the less likely the hit.

Ken Griffey, Jr.
Ken Griffey, Jr.

Charley Metro: "Singles hitters hit for average; power hitters hit home runs . . . it's like using a hatchet to cut with precision, or an axe. One is accuracy with a hatchet, and the other is power with an axe. One is a powerful thing and the other is delicate."

The age of a player affects batting success. Up to about age 35 or so, the batter is likely to keep hitting better, which suggests that good hitting requires experience with many different pitches and styles of pitching. Apparently, a hitter's judgment improves with age; finally, of course, he begins to slow down physiologically.

If the batter doesn't hit the ball just right, he's in trouble. An amazing series of reactions propels a shortstop or third baseman into the path of a hard-hit ball. In two steps or less, he may have already caught the ball and fired it to first base for an out, with a swiftness and assurance acquired only through years of practice. Inherited skill alone just won't do the job.

Watch a beginning little league team sometime--often a fielder will wait until after the ball has quit rolling before going after it, or will run to the wrong spot to make a catch.


The human ability to estimate trajectories of moving objects is difficult to explain. Good fielders begin their movement just as the ball is hit, without wasting even half a step. An outfielder instantly begins running toward the spot where he thinks the ball will fall. Sometimes, he will make a running catch without losing a stride, thrusting his glove into position at the last second.

Charley Metro: "The great catches are made at the start, not at the end. The end is the net result of the start . . . If you pivot [correctly], you've made one step and you're three or five feet, whatever, toward the ball. . . . But if you do this [leaning the wrong way, stepping across] you've taken three steps and haven't moved out of your tracks. So the great catches in the outfield are made with the initial move."

The ability to accurately predict where the ball will be involves the extrapolative capacities of the brain, but these skills are not completely unique to humans. For example, relatively tiny-brained animals like frogs can spear flies on the wing with their sticky tongues. To do so, their brains must be programmed to determine when the flies are within range and which way they are moving. Dragonflies and birds of prey are able to dive on and capture small moving animals.

Certainly this feat also involves an almost instantaneous ability to estimate trajectories. In the case of the frog, researchers have been able to locate specific nerve cells in the frog retina and in the brain which are excited by small, dark, moving objects. The frog apparently pays no attention to these objects until their images begin to grow bigger on his retina, indicating that they are moving closer to him. If all other visual cues are right, out goes the tongue.

The behavior of frogs and other lower organisms is apparently completely pre-programmed. But for birds of prey and other relatively intelligent animals, a great deal of trial-and-error learning precedes the ability to dive and capture fleeing prey.