Kagan: The physics of falling baseballs

From SABR member David Kagan at The Hardball Times on December 22, 2014:

Here I am once again staring out the window. Sometimes it drizzles and the droplets fall as if in slow motion. Other times it pours as large drops scream toward the ground. To cheer myself I sometimes imagine baseballs falling as rain.

Gabby Street must have imagined a similar scenario. Charles Evard Street had an intriguing major league career which began with the Cincinnati Reds in 1904. He was “lent” to the Boston Beaneaters midseason in 1905. Apparently, he sat out ’06 and ’07 then played four years with the Washington Senators. He ended his journeyman career with the New York Highlanders in 1912.

Gabby’s fame came from two events. He managed the 1931 Cardinals to the World Series championship and, in 1908 while with the Senators, became the first person to catch a ball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument. This, like nearly all baseball legends, is debatable.  Nonetheless, the actual ball that was used seems to be available for sale.

Gabby Street spent a good deal of time that season catching Hall of Fame flamethrower Walter Johnson. So it could be said that he was well prepared to catch a ball hurling at high speed, but just how fast will a dropped ball be going?

Let’s start thinking about falling objects on the moon where there is gravity, but no air. It would be pretty easy to find the speed of any falling object because they all speed up at the same rate – 3.6 mph every second. This experiment was actually done on the moon with a hammer and a feather by Apollo 15 Commander David Scott.

On Earth, things are a bit more complicated. As a ball or raindrop falls it feels two forces; the gravitational force often called “weight” and the air resistance usually described as “drag.” These two forces are shown in figure 1 at three different times during the fall. The weight alone would cause a falling object to speed up by 22 mph every second about six times the rate on the moon.

Read the full article here: http://www.hardballtimes.com/the-physics-of-falling-baseballs/

Originally published: December 23, 2014. Last Updated: December 23, 2014.