Baseball is an incredibly complex game when you consider the physics involved, and I’ve often thought about Darwinian evolution in the context of baseball, and the other way around.
You’ve got the pitcher on the mound throwing that ball at 90+ miles per hour. This pitch is the culmination of decades of practice resulting in a trajectory that may go slow, go fast, curve in or out or drop suddenly as it approaches the plate. The particular trajectory of that ball is a combination of several factors; secretive communication between the the pitcher and the catcher, the circumstances of the game at that particular time, the strengths and weaknesses of the batter and the pitcher and other factors as well, including the weather at the time.
Then you’ve got the hitter and the split second data collection, analysis and decisions facing him as the ball approaches. First of all the batter must have three dimensional eyes capable of tracking a small object approaching him at a high rate of speed. To be successful in hitting the ball he has to anticipate and predict where exactly the ball will or will not enter the strike zone. Then he has to coordinate the muscles of his entire body to place his bat in the path of the ball with the optimum force and impact angle. The batter is also faced with the almost instantaneous decision about where to hit the ball. Most often he will fail in one or more of these decisions and miss the ball or hit it to an unintended place such as the center fielder’s glove.
Speaking of the center fielder, look at what he is faced with at the instant the ball is hit, and the seconds to follow. Assuming he places himself in a good position to get a jump on the ball, he must almost immediately analyze where the ball will go as it leaves the bat and and launch his body to that anticipated location; a mistake here means the batter has the advantage. Let’s assume the fielder is near the extent of where he has to run in order to intercept the ball for an out; he has to continuously calculate his path in coordination with his analysis of the trajectory of the ball.
At the end of this attempted intercept, and depending on whether he is successful or not, the fielder is faced with yet another set of real-time decisions and actions. If runners are in play the fielder must instantaneously shift his attention to stopping or retarding the runners on base. If the fielder does not catch the ball, and it bounces off the outfield wall, these decisions are further compounded.
It would seem the runners, including the batter have the easier task at this point, somewhat leisurely watching the play of the ball and fielder and running or not depending on what is seen. Nevertheless, observation, analysis and action are in play.
I’ve not mentioned other aspects of the game that on the surface seem even more intricate and complex such as a close double play and the glove work involved. Nor have I mentioned the work of the game officials in calling strikes/balls and safe/out.
So back to Mr. Darwin and his modern counterparts. I offer this challenge:
Please explain in Darwinian terms how the complexities of baseball and all of the human systems involved came to pass.
Don Johnson – March 2012