Q+A Bill Nye, The Science Guy The 47-year-old celebrity scientist--you've seen him teaching kids about gravity and other natural forces on PBS--is a baseball obsessive and a Mariners fan

June 15, 2003

SI: So, does corking a bat work?

Nye: It makes the bat lighter in the business end, and there's a
pseudoscientific notion that it makes the bat springier, but this
turns out not to be the case.

SI: Why not?

Nye: The ball's only in contact with the bat for one
one-thousandth of a second, and there's just not time to transfer
the energy from the cork to the ball.

SI: Is there any way cork would help?

Nye: For fun I taped nine wine bottle corks to the outside of a
bat and hit off a tee. The first two or three times I hit it, it
seemed like the ball went about 10% farther--but then the cork
shattered.

SI: What's the best way to cheat effectively?

Nye: Spitballs, definitely. The spit allows the ball to slip off
your fingers, so you can grip it tightly and throw it hard
without much spin.

SI: What other physics lessons apply to baseball?

Nye: Sliding into first base makes you slower! As soon as you
leave your feet, you have no propulsion. You're slowing down.

SI: Any good home experiments?

Nye: Find the sweet spot of your bat by suspending it from a
hanger bent into a narrow loop. Hit the bat with a mallet. When
it moves back without rotating, you've found the center of
percussion. The sweet spot is about half a ball's width up from
that point.

SI: Several teams have hired statistical consultants. What could
you offer as a scientific consultant?

Nye: Oh, wow! We would measure the revolutions per minute of each
guy's curve, then measure the length of his fingers and arms and
come up with a way to put more and less spin on the pitch. Also,
I've got some kooky exercises for visualizing the strike zone
while you're doing everyday things. I'd make sure everybody could
count steps on the warning track without looking. And based on
the length of a guys' legs, I'd figure out the fastest way to
round a base.

SI: Any way to cut down on those high-scoring games?

Nye: Get rid of the DH, but only after Edgar Martinez
retires. --Daniel G. Habib

For more from Bill Nye, go to si.com/scorecard.

COLOR PHOTO: BUENA VISTA TELEVISION "Spitballs work!"

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)