« Ida Hoos - On The Perils of Mathematical Modeling and Public Policy | Main | Poker, Popper, and Wittgenstein - This Ain't No Love Story »

Hot Baseball News - Say Hey to Global Warming?

Mays_Willie_The_Catch.gifWhether or not baseball is still America's Game has been debated for a long time.  For some, its often-glacial pace can't compete with the speed and physical intensity of the other major sports.

But for others the glacial pace is both comforting and a description of their rate of acceptance of the reality of climate change.

Recently, Sports Illustrated devoted a sizeable part of an issue to the effects of global warming on sports. From Golf courses to ski slopes, the article was a thorough summary of potential changes to sports because of the possible loss of outdoor venues. (See Going, Going Green by Alexander Wolff). A lot of doomsday scenarios to be sure - but some chilling images nonetheless. None more so than a sidebar on The Catch - Willie Mays' famous steal of Vic Wertz's shot to center field in the 1954 World Series between the NY Giants and Cleveland.

The story is that with global warming, average temperatures have risen just enough to make Mays' catch much harder, and quite possibly impossible, even for Willie. This is because the higher temperatures produce air that is less dense, allowing the ball to travel just a little bit farther then it would have otherwise. Compared to average temps of 76° in 1954, today's average temp of slightly more than 77° would give Wertz's fly ball an extra two inches of loft. Would Mays still get the ball, or would it hit the tip of the glove's webbing and bounce off? Would the Giants go on to sweep the Indians?

The physicist behind this model is Alan Nathan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He maintains a fascinating web site on the Physics of Baseball that contains the results of his own research and numerous other links to physics-of-baseball resources. He has published articles on everything from The Physics of the Trampoline Effect in Baseball and Softball Bats to The Effect of Spin on the Flight of a Baseball to How to Hit Home Runs: Optimum Baseball Bat Swing Parameters for Maximum Range Trajectories.

This modeling is pure speculative fun, right?

Not when your opinions of global warming are more informed by politics than by science. Since the March 12 Issue of SI hit the stands, there have been numerous letters to the editor complaining of that old bellwether - "liberal bias." The letters assert that SI and readers who actually believe in Global Warming have no business reading a sports magazine. We are all swallowing (gulp) hook, line, and sinker the left-wing claims about Global Warming..and doesn't everyone know that it was colder this year than last in my home town, and, oh yeah, what's the big freakin' deal about 1° anyway?

On second thought I was being wildly off-target describing their rate of acceptance of the reality of climate change as glacial. There won't be any change until the golf courses start vanishing - which, should be noted,  is one of the main doomsday scenarios in the SI article.

(And for someone who takes warnings of global warming a bit more personally, see Global Traumaning by Tim Blair.)

Is there a better way to reach these folks short of the horror of seeing Green Life Jackets at Augusta?

Maybe. There's already a blog about discussing climate change. See A Few Things Ill Considered: A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic. This blog is maintained by Coby Beck - who claims that he is not a climate scientist, but is "rather obsessed with the controversy over Global Warming." Beck's site is a systematic attempt to answer as many objections as possible about Global Warming, which he neatly characterizes as falling in one of six broad areas:

  • Ignorant or Misinformed Arguments
  • Socio-Political/Economic arguments
  • Scientific FUD*
  • Philosophical/Arguments from Higher principals
  • Crackpottery
  • Underdog Theories

* - Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (although some might speculate on other possible meanings for this acronym)

Beck's site is an amazing collection of arguments against global warming, and his answers to those who recite them. (And it's more amazing if it really is true that he's not an atmospheric scientist).

Medieval Warm Period by J. Harris. Click to enlarge.
So the next time someone claims that Vikings could not have settled in Greenland without the higher temperatures of the MWP (the Medieval Warm Period) you'll know what to do...

Call in the center fielder to make the impossible grab, turn quickly, laser the ball to the infield, letting no doubters advance...

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (5)

He forgot to take into account the reduced pressure on the Say Hey Kid. Less pressure, less spinal compression, taller Willie.

He'd have had it easily and we'd have missed one of the most spectacular plays in all baseball.

The kool aid drinkers might want to check out the statements of the Russian Physics Academy (Not sure of the correct translation of the name) or view this before they get too cocky: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2332531355859226455&q=Great+Global+Warming+Swindle&hl=en
May 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSkippy

Skippy -

The Willie Mays prediction is based on the fact (not a climate modeling prediction) of a 1 degree temperature change since The Catch. The prediction is then based on modeling the flight of a baseball which, while not nearly as complex as climate modeling, also yields predictions that cause very visceral reactions. There are more hits to the Willie Mays post than almost all of my previous posts added together over the past year!

About climate change:

Note that my blog post doesn't address causes - only acceptance of reality of warming/climate change.

The video you sent is pretty long, so if you could summarize the Russian Physics Academy statements, it would be very helpful

Some who claim that current climate modeling is bad science, or politically-motivated science often don't know (or let on that they know) the actual process of climate modeling.

And the same is true for Global warming fatalists.

Because I teach many types of modeling (not just climate modeling) as well as the potent mix that occurs when ideology/politics colors the debate about the modeling results (and policy decisions based on the results), I am wary of strong statements for or against without substantive rationale and references.

There are plenty of kool-aid drinkers on both sides of this, and most other important issues.

Check out my earlier post on Coping with Chaotic Climate Models, (and especially C. Bitz's article referred to in the post) for a good description of the imprecision of climate models, and how this imprecision must be accounted for. Click here to see this article.

To keep this debate going, it would be helpful if you let us all know a bit about yourself and what types of reading and/or research are informing your opinion.

May 1, 2007 | Registered CommenterR.A. DiDio
May 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpj

freelance writer

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNEWMANLily28

freelance writer

July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLewis33Carmen

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Textile formatting is allowed.