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The curveball is a figment of your imagination

Jun 11, 2009, 7:43 PM EDT

Whenever you hear someone’s curveball described as “dropping off the table” take it with a grain of salt.

According to one professor anyway, the curveball’s action is part-physics, part-illusion, the movement aided by a trick of the eye.

Criss Angel would be proud.

“There’s something physical about it and something illusory about
it,” said Bucknell University professor Arthur Shapiro. … “They look
like they jump or break or do all these funky things, but they don’t.
The idea that the bottom falls out isn’t so. I’m not saying curveballs
don’t curve. I emphasize that, yes, they curve. They just do so at a
more gradual rate. Instead of making a sudden hook, they would form a
really big circle.”

Shapiro explains that the eye exaggerates the break because peripheral
vision is processed differently than straight on vision by the brain.
So as the ball approaches and the viewpoint changes, the eye makes the
ball’s break look stronger than it is.

Shapiro made a very cool graphic to explain his idea, which he insists is only a hypothesis.

So what do players think? Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt offered his
opinion for the story, and he had a thoughtful take, saying he agreed
that the curveball presents an illusion to the hitter, but not due to
peripheral vision.

“Hitters are seeing the ball with both eyes, not out of the side of
front eye as suggested,” said Schmidt. “I believe the illusion is a
result of the speed with which the action takes place, not a peripheral
view. Then again, I’m not a scientist, just a hitter.”

Well, not just a hitter. Thanks to SPORTSbyBROOKS for this story.

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