Friday, May 26, 2017

Say Happy Birthday to the curve ball

Baseball's curve ball is 150 years old this year, Tom Verducci reports in Sports Illustrated. Here's how he came to be.
The legend of the first curveball starts like this: In the summer of 1863 a 14-year-old boy named William Arthur Cummings experienced a eureka moment one day while tossing clamshells along a Brooklyn beach with some buddies. “All of a sudden it came to me that it would be a good joke on the boys if I could make a baseball curve the same way,” Cummings later wrote. 
Four years of practice later, Cummings, then pitching for an amateur Brooklyn team as a 5' 9", 120-pound righthander, broke out his new pitch in a game against Harvard University on Oct. 7, 1867. Harvard won 18–6, but Cummings rejoiced in the success of his curveball, later writing, “I could scarcely keep from dancing with pure joy.” 
By then Cummings had earned the nickname “Candy,” a Civil War–era honorific that denoted the best at his craft. Cummings pitched 10 years before a sore arm sent him off to a career in painting and wallpapering. 
Other pitchers of that era, including Fred Goldsmith, also claimed to have thrown curveballs, but Cummings defended his legend as its inventor so often and so well that in 1939, 15 years after dying, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with a plaque that reads, “Invented curve as an amateur ace of Brooklyn Stars in 1867.” His enshrinement came five weeks after Goldsmith went to his grave clutching an 1870 newspaper clipping that he insisted proved he was the original curveball artist.
Here's what this bad boy does.
Astros pitcher Lance McCullers takes the nail of his right index finger and places it into the seam of the baseball where it curves around the MLB logo. He places his middle finger directly over the long seam. He places his thumb on the bottom of the ball, over another seam. 
Seams are held in triplicate. Seams beget grip. Grip begets force. 
“I just try to rip over it and throw it as hard as I can,” McCullers says. “It’s an aggression pitch for me. It’s called an off-speed pitch, but I don’t view it that way.” 
The middle finger applies tremendous pressure on its seam, the nail of the index finger applies only a bit of pressure, and the thumb, a lazy hitchhiker along for the ride, applies none. When the process works perfectly, it takes only the split second when the ball has just left McCullers’s hand—as his head snaps to the side, as the ball starts to spin at 2,850 revolutions per minute and as the fastest curveball in the majors among starters flies up to 88 miles per hour—for McCullers to know the poor batter is toast.

Even as the ball leaves his hand, even before it completes its 55-foot thrill ride, the last 10 of which are a stomach-turning, Coney Island drop, even before the doomed batter swings at where the demon used to be—McCullers knows how it will end.
Yikes!

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