The Physics in Two Players’ Names

What does Archimedes’ Principle teach us about balls that land in McCovey Cove? (via Stephen Kelly)

“Oh, I’ll tell you their names. Strange as it may seem, they give these ballplayers now days very peculiar names.”

Bud Abbott, “Who’s on First?”

Baseball has a long history of players with euphonious names – go ahead, look it up. And many have inspired verse. Take Van Lingle Mungo, a surprisingly obscure pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers considering he was a three-time All-Star. I bring the issue of ballplayer names to your attention because there are two scientists whose namesakes currently play professional baseball.

Socrates Brito was awarded the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Minor League Player of the Year for 2015. He debuted as a September call-up getting a hit in his first major league at-bat. This past year he was up and down collecting only 95 at-bats and posting a sub-par .179 batting average. So, while Brito’s long-term contribution to baseball remains to be seen, his namesake’s contributions to science are already in the record books.

Now, you might know that Socrates – the Greek, not the Dominican – was a philosopher, not a scientist. However, you might not know that physics was once considered “natural philosophy.” In fact, the title of the book in which Sir Isaac Newton first explained the ideas of force and motion was entitled, “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy).

Socrates is probably best known for the “Socratic method.” Perhaps in school you were on the receiving end of this teaching technique where your instructor would continually ask you questions as opposed to providing answers. Socrates’ process of problem solving involves breaking the issue down into a series of questions whose answers would produce the solution to the original problem.

This practice was the precursor to what we call the scientific method. As humans, we seem to naturally have many questions: Why did the ball hit to right carry for a homer while a similar shot to left died on the track? What makes a curveball break? Is a lighter bat better than a heavier bat? Socrates realized the acquisition of knowledge begins with questions. Good questions are the starting point for good science.

Arquimedes Euclides Caminero was up and down with the Marlins in 2013 and 2014. He was traded to Pittsburgh for the 2015 season and led all National League rookie relief pitchers in appearances and strikeouts. During last season, he moved to the Seattle Mariners. It looks like he’ll be playing in Japan this year.

His parents must be technically inclined to have chosen his two names, one famous for math, the other for science. I hope they weren’t disappointed that he became a ballplayer instead of an engineer.

Euclid, Euclides in Spanish, was the Greek mathematician known for establishing the rules for geometry on flat surfaces. The reason you probably hated that stuff in grade school was that you didn’t appreciate its relevance to baseball.

You see Euclid’s theorems at work when you consider the perfect 90-foot square that defines the base paths. The precise right angle created by the foul lines as they intersect precisely at the back point of home plate is also a product of his efforts.

Archimedes as he is known in English, is credited with many achievements in mathematics but he is really known for his scientific accomplishments. He was the first one to attempt to build a death ray although his version was declared “busted” by Mythbusters.

He invented the unfortunately named, “screw pump” often referred to as the “Archimedes’ Screw.” In physics, he is best known for Archimedes’ Principle, “The buoyant force is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced” – whatever the hell that means.

Legend tells us he came to this insight while at the baths when he noticed the water level rise when he got in the tub. He became so thrilled with his discovery that he ran out into the streets of ancient Greece without a stitch of clothes, shouting “Eureka!” – I have found it. Not surprisingly, “Eureka” is also the state motto for California, but I digress.

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The point is Archimedes Principle explains why a ball landing in McCovey Cove floats instead of sinks. The bobbing ball feels two forces, the Earth pulling downward (gravity) and the water pushing upward – the buoyant force described by Archimedes’ Principle. Since the ball floats, these two forces must be equal in size.

So, the ball pushes out of the way the exact amount of water that weighs the same as the entire ball. Since the ball floats and the weight of the ball is the same as the weight of the displaced water, the water must be denser than the ball.

If a lead ball were tossed in the Cove it would sink like a stone. Now we know why. Lead is denser than water. So, it cannot displace sufficient water to create a big large enough buoyant force to keep it from falling.

So, Archimedes explains why objects denser than water sink and objects that are less dense than water float. Perhaps more importantly, you now know why the bubbles in your beer rise to the surface creating that tasty head instead of sinking to the bottom and making a mess. The bubbles are much, much, less dense than the liquid amber.

So, thanks to the parents of Señors Brito and Caminero for providing us this chance to think about physics and baseball. As Billy Shakespeare of the 1584 Stratford Avons once wrote. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”


David Kagan is a physics professor at CSU Chico, and the self-proclaimed "Einstein of the National Pastime." Visit his website, Major League Physics, and follow him on Twitter @DrBaseballPhD.
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Carl
Guest
Carl

Hi David,

From the title I was anticipating reading about Charles (evolutionary scientist) and Danny (pitcher with 170+ wins) Darwin. I was trying to remember what Johannes Kepler had theorized about planetary motion while remembering seeing Max Kepler take equally circuitous routes on balls hit to the outfield against the Twins last season.

Unfortunately, Paul Tesla never made it out of the minors, or you could have included both him and Nikola.

Even without them, however, the article was not a (either Robert or Niels) Bohr.

Luis
Guest
Luis

“Lead is denser than water. So, it cannot displace sufficient water to create a big large enough buoyant force to keep it from falling.”

Steel, iron and concrete are also more dense than water, yet ships are made of them..it is ultimately the shape of these more dense materials that determine the buoyancy. I am sure someone who knows a more precise reason will chime in and either correct me or add to this. 🙂

Jetsy Extrano
Guest
Jetsy Extrano

Luis, it’s because the important density is of the whole ship (below the waterline), including the air inside it. And we know that if we dump a wave into the boat, it sinks — the same shape metal hull filled with water, taken all together, is now denser than water. Does that explanation work? tl,dr A boat is basically a way of pushing a bubble down into the water to hold yourself up. Bonus buoyancy brain teaser: say you have a boat sitting in a perfect drydock, that fits right around the hull. You jack it up, pour a bottle… Read more »

Brian
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Brian

Van Lingle Mungo didn’t win one MVP award, much less two.

Paul Swydan
Member

Sorry. Fixed.

super mario world
Guest

Luis, it’s because the important density is of the whole ship (below the waterline), including the air inside it. And we know that if we dump a wave into the boat, it sinks — the same shape metal hull filled with water, taken all together, is now denser than water. Does that explanation work?

Yeezy Boost 350 Fake
Guest

Add to that ones from brands that specialize in sleepwear and loungewear—places like Derek Rose—and unexpected riffs on the familiar style (like the hippie/crunchy Birkenstock version or a luxe-y take from Pierre Hardy? and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged trend.