Even though there’s war raging on several fronts and an election coming up, like many American males, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking mostly about the Major League Baseball playoffs. The draw of our national pastime was seemingly the same in 1921, when, despite World War I finally coming to an end and the first successful BCG vaccinations against tuberculosis, the question on everyone’s lips was: How the heck can Babe Ruth hit so many home runs?
Thankfully, two graduate students at Columbia University, on behalf of Popular Science [read the original article here], conducted a series of tests on the slugger to find out. By measuring raw physical attributes, such as swing speed and power generated, as well as mental and physical agility and coordination, the scientists discovered that the Sultan of Swat’s eyes, brain, nervous system and muscles were able to work in almost perfect harmony, despite his voracious appetite for booze, cigars, food and prostitutes.
Recently GQ ran a series of similar tests on supernaturally gifted St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols, who ripped yet another monster home run in the Cardinals’ game-one victory in the World Series on Saturday. And although the magazine’s crew were re-creating experiments based on very dated technology (you’ll see far more advanced equipment featured in Gatorade ads), they argue that any scientific inquiry applied to player recruitment and development is a step in the right direction for baseball, which, unlike other sports, mostly shuns science in favor of hunches and intuition.
So how did Pujols stack up? Well, the 6’3”, 225-pound hitting machine is certainly a gifted athlete, acing almost every test thrown his way. But surprisingly, the article goes on to explain, measures such as bat speed and bench-press max have less to do with creating great hitters like Ruth and Pujols than do proper swing mechanics and depth perception, also called “binocularity.” Yeah, no wonder baseball goes with gut feelings and overrated stats—how else are they going to sell $200 jerseys? “This Wily Mo Pena jersey was totally worth it. I hear his brain can reconcile disparate perspectives into a coherent three-dimensional image at a distance of four feet…” —Josh Condon