The Secret of the Curve Ball

Curveballs: they’re not just for junkballers anymore:

The three best visual illusions in the world were chosen at a gathering last weekend of neuroscientists and psychologists at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Florida. The winning entry, from a Bucknell University professor, may help explain why curve balls in baseball are so tricky to hit.

A properly thrown curve ball spins in a way that makes the air on one side move faster than on the other. This causes the ball to move along a gradual curve. From the point of view of a batter standing on home plate, though, curve balls seem to “break,” or move suddenly in a new direction. This year’s winning illusion, created by Arthur Shapiro of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, may explain this phenomena. His animation shows a spinning ball that, when watched directly, moves in a straight line. When seen out of the corner of the eye, however, the spin of the ball fools the brain into thinking that the ball is curving.

Click through for the animation, which is pretty spiffy.

After watching it, though, I can’t help but wonder: if the key to slowing down the perceived break of a curveball is to view it head-on instead of with peripheral vision, why didn’t Tony Batista hit better than he did?

(Thanks to The Diabolical Sara K for the link)

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13 years ago

hah! Tony Batista swung at everything. Recognition is half the battle. Still gotta lay off.

Oh why did the Orioles sign that guy?

The Ol Goaler
13 years ago

So that’s why I couldn’t “see” the curve as a hitter, but I could as an umpire… Hmmmm!

13 years ago

Actually, if you looked at Tony Batista straight-on, he turned into Kelly Gruber.

Aaron Moreno
13 years ago

Well, the optical illusion just piles on to the fact that curve balls actually curve. It’s a genuine wonder how anyone can hit baseballs at all, let alone do it at a high level.