Science Ruins the Curveball

It's all an optical illusion

The curveball is the ruiner of young arms and old hitters, scourge of Pedro Cerrano and the reason Barry Zito is a very rich man. It's spawned dozens of nicknames -- bender, hook, Uncle Charlie -- and entered the wider lexicon as a synonym for something that appears to be one thing but turns out to be another. And, if a group of scientists is to be believed, it only exists in our mind.

That's not quite true, but Professor Arthur Shapiro of Bucknell and his team recently won the international visual illusions contest by creating an animation (check it out here) that debunks the myth of the curveball that drops off the table like a ton of bricks.

Here we present an illusion that suggests that the perception of a “break” in the curveball’s path may be related to physiological differences between foveal and peripheral vision. We contend that the visual periphery frequently reports a perceptual combination of features (a process we refer to as “feature blur”) because it lacks the neural machinery necessary to maintain separate representations of multiple features.

In laymen's terms, it's your noggin and not your peepers that are affected by the way a curveball moves.

Sheez, it was better when the only role science played in baseball was creating newer and better things for Roger Clemens to inject into his rear end. While the animation is really cool, it takes a lot of fun out of watching a pitcher seemingly make a ball stop in mid-air and plummet into the dirt while a hitter flailed at it wildly. Real pitchers too, not just Bugs Bunny.

Next thing you know, some Ph. D. with an axe to grind will be telling us that your knuckles don't have anything to do with throwing a knuckleball.

Wait? What?

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for

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