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Join Date: Dec 2002
Why Babe Ruth is Greatest Home-Run Hitter
Hugh S. Fullerton (1921)
Published in Popular Science Monthly
Popular Science Monthly tests in the laboratory his brain, eye, ear, and
muscle -- and gets his secret
The game was over. Babe, who had made one of his famous drives that day, was
tired and wanted to go home.
"Not tonight, Babe," I said. "Tonight you go to college with me. You're
going to take scientific tests which will reveal your secret."
"Who wants to know it?" asked Babe.
"I want to know it," I replied, "and so do several hundred thousand fans. We
want to know why it is that one man has achieved a unique batting skill like
yours -- just why you can slam the ball as nobody else in the world can."
So away we went. Babe in his baseball uniform, not home to his armchair, but
out to Columbia University to take his first college examination.
Babe went at the test with the zeal of a schoolboy, and the tests revealed
why his rise to fame followed suddenly after years of playing during which
he was known as an erratic although a powerful hitter. How he abruptly
gained his unparalleled skill has been one of baseball's mysteries.
Albert Johanson, M.A., and Joseph Holmes, M.A., of the research laboratory
of Columbia University's psychological department, who, in all probability,
never saw Ruth hit a baseball, and who neither know or care if his batting
average is .007 or .450, are .500 hitters in the psychology game. They led
Babe Ruth into the great laboratory of the university, figuratively took him
apart, watched the wheels go round; analyzed his brain, his eye, his ear,
his muscles; studied how these worked together; reassembled him, and
announced the exact reasons for his supremacy as a batter and a ball-player.
Baseball employs scores of scouts to explore the country and discover
baseball talent. These scouts are known as "Ivory hunters," and if
baseball-club owners take the hint from the Ruth experiments, they can
organize a clinic, submit candidates to the comprehensive tests undergone by
Ruth, and discover whether or not other Ruths exist. By these tests it would
be possible for the club owners to discover -- during the winter, perhaps --
whether the ball-players are liable to be good, bad, or mediocre; and, to
carry the [p. 20] practical results of the experiments to the limit, then
may be able to eliminate the possibility, or probability, of some player
"pulling a boner" in mid-season by discovering, before the season starts,
how liable he is to do so.
The scientific ivory hunters of Columbia University discovered that the
secret of Babe Ruth's batting, reduced to non-scientific terms, is that his
eyes and ears function more rapidly than those of other players; that his
brain records sensations more quickly and transmits its orders to the
muscles much faster than does that of the average man. The tests proved that
the coordination of eye, brain, nerve system, and muscle is practically
perfect, and that the reason he did not acquire his great batting power
before the sudden burst at the beginning of the baseball season of 1920, was
because, prior to that time, pitching and studying batters disturbed his
almost perfect coordination.
Ruth the Superman
The tests revealed the fact that Ruth is 90 per cent efficient compared with
a human average of 60 per cent.
That his eyes are about 12 per cent faster than those of the average human
That his ears function at least 10 per cent faster than those of the
ordinary man. That his nerves are steadier than those of 499 out of 500
That in attention and quickness of perception he rated one and a half times
above the human average.
That in intelligence, as demonstrated by the quickness and accuracy of
understanding, he is approximately 10 per cent above normal.
It must not be forgotten that the night on which the tests were made was an
extremely warm one, and that in the afternoon he had played a hard,
exhausting game of baseball before a large crowd, in the course of which he
had made one of those home-run hits which we at Columbia were so eager to
understand and account for. Under such circumstances, one would think that
some signs of nerve exhaustion would be revealed. The investigation lasted
more than three hours, during which Ruth stood for most of the time, walked
up and down stairs five times, and underwent the tests in a close warm room.
At the end of that time I was tired and nervous, and, although Ruth showed
no symptoms of weariness, it is probable that under more favorable
conditions his showing would have been even better.
The tests used were ones that primarily test motor functions and give a
measure of the integrity of the psychophysical organism. Babe Ruth was posed
first in an apparatus created to determine the strength, quickness, and
approximate power of the swing of his bat against his ball. A plane covered
with electrically charges wires, strung horizontally, was placed behind him
and a ball was hung over the theoretical plate, so that it could be
suspended at any desired height.
I learned something then which, perhaps, will interest the American League
pitchers more than it will the scientists. This was that the ball Ruth likes
best to hit, and can hit hardest, is a low ball pitched just above his knees
on the outside corner of the plate. The scientists did not consider this of
extreme importance in their calculations, but the pitchers will probably
find it of great scientific interest.
Science Discovers the Secret
The ball was adjusted at the right height, and, taking up a bat that was
electrically wired, Ruth was told to get into position and to swing his bat
exactly as if striking the ball for a home run, to make the end of it touch
one of the transverse wires on the plate behind him, then swing it through
its natural arc and hit the ball lightly. The bat, weighing fifty-four
ounces (exactly the weight of the bats Ruth uses on the diamond), was swung
as directed, touched the ball, and the secret of his power -- or, rather,
the amount of force with which he strikes the ball -- was calculated. At
least, the basis of the problem was secured: The bat, weighing fifty-four
ounces, swinging at a rate of 110 feet a second, hits a ball travelling at
the rate of, say, sixty feet a second, the ball weighing four and a quarter
ounces, and striking the bat at a point four inches from the end. How far
will it travel? There are other elements [p. 21] entering into the problem,
such as the resilience of the ball, the "English" placed on it by the
pitcher's hand, and a few minor details. But the answer, as proved by the
measurements, is somewhere between 450 and 500 feet. This problem
cannot be worked down to exact figures because of the unknown quantities.
The experimenters, however, were not so much interested in the problem in
physics as they were in the problems in psychology. The thing they wanted to
know was what made Ruth superior to all other ball-players in hitting power,
rather than to measure that power.
Babe Could Beat His own Record!
Before proceeding to the psychological tests, however, we tried another in
physics to satisfy my curiosity. A harness composed of rubber tubing was
strapped around Ruth's chest and shoulders and attached by hollow tubes to a
recording cylinder. By this means his breathing was recorded on a revolving
disk. He was then placed in position to bat, an imaginary pitcher pitched an
imaginary ball, and he went through the motions of hitting a home run. The
test proved that, as a ball is pitched to him, Babe draws in his breath
sharply as he makes the back-swing with his bat, and really "holds his
breath" or suspends the operation of his breathing until after the ball is
hit. But for that fact, he would hit the ball much harder and more
effectively than he now does. It has been discovered that the act of drawing
in the breath and holding it results in a sharp tension of the muscles and a
consequent loss of striking power. If Ruth expelled his breath before
striking the ball, the muscles would not become tense and his swing would
have greater strength and rhythm.
The first test to discover the efficiency of his psychophysical organism was
one designed to try his coordination; a simple little test. The scientists
set up a triangular board, looking something like a ouija-board, with a
small round hole at each angle. At the bottom of each hole was an
electrified plate that registered every time it was touched. Ruth was
presented with a little instrument that looked like a doll-sized curling
iron, the end of which just fitted into the holes. Then he was told to take
the instrument in his right hand and jab it into the holes successively, as
often as he could in one minute, going around the board from left to right.
He grew interested at once. Here was something at which he could play. The
professor "shushed" me, fearing that I would disturb Ruth or distract his
attention as he started around the board, jabbing the curling-iron into the
holes with great rapidity. He would put it into the holes twelve to sixteen
times so perfectly that the instrument barely touched the sides. Then he
would lose control and touch the sides, slowing down. Only twice did he pass
the hole without getting the end of the iron into it. With his right hand he
made a score of 122. Not unnaturally, his wrist was tired and Babe shook it
and grinned ruefully.
Then he tried it with his left hand, scored 132 with it, proving himself a
bit more left- than right-handed -- at least in some activities. The
significance of the experiment, however, lies in the fact that the average
of hundreds of persons who have taken that test is 82 to the minute, which
shows how much swifter in the coordination of hand, brain, and eye Ruth is
than the average.
Every Test but Another Triumph
In a sequel to this test that followed, Babe tapped an electrified plate
with an electrically charged stylus with the speed of a drum-roll, scoring
193 taps per minute with his right hand and 176 with his left hand. The
average score for right-handed persons undergoing this wrist-wracking
experiment is 180, and, while there is no data covering right-handed persons
using the left hand, it is certain that Ruth's record is much above the
average, as he is highly efficient with the left hand.
But steadiness must accompany speed and so they tested the home-run king for
his steadiness of nerve and muscle by having [p. 110] him thrust the useful
little curling-iron stylus in different-sized holes pierced through an
electrified plate which registered contacts between the stylus and the side
of the hole. These measured respectively sixteen, eleven, nine, eight, and
seven sixty-fourths of an inch; small enough, but not too small for Babe,
for he made a score that showed him better than 499 persons out of 500.
The tests that interested me most were those to determine how quickly Ruth's
eye acts and how quickly its signals are flashed through the brain to the
muscles. Showing an amazingly quick reaction time, they interpreted what
happens on the ball-field when the stands rock under the cheering that
greets another of Ruth's smashes to the fence, proved an eye so quick that
it sees the ball make an erratic curve and guides the bat to follow.
The scientists discovered exactly how quickly Ruth's eye functions by
placing him in a dark cabinet, setting into operation a series of rapidly
flashing bulbs and listening to the tick of an electric key by which he
acknowledged the flashes.
The average man responds to the stimulus of the light in 180 one thousandths
of a second. Babe Ruth needs only 160 one thousandths of a second. There is
the same significance in the fact that Babe's response to the stimulus of
sound comes 140 one thousandths of a second as against the averages man's
Human beings differ very slightly in these sight and sound tests, or rather
the fractions are so small that they seem inexpressive; yet a difference of
20 or 10 one thousandths of a second indicates a superiority of the highest
Translate the findings of the sight test into baseball if you want to see
what they mean in Babe Ruth's case. They mean that a pitcher must throw a
ball 20 one thousandths of a second faster to "fool" Babe than to "fool" the
If the results of these tests at Columbia are a revelation to us, who know
Ruth as a fast thinking player, they must be infinitely more amazing to the
person who only comes into contact with the big fellow off the diamond and
finds him unresponsive and even slow when some non-professional topic in
The scientific "ivory hunters" up at Columbia demonstrated that Babe Ruth
would have been the "home-run king" in almost any line of activity he chose
to follow; that his brain would have won equal success for him had he
drilled it for as long a time on some line entirely foreign to the national
game. They did it, just as they proved his speed and his steadiness -- by
simple laboratory tests.
For instance, they had an apparatus with a sort of a camera shutter
arrangement that opened, winked, and closed at any desired speed. Cards with
letters of the alphabet on them were placed behind this shutter and exposed
to view for one fifty-thousandth of a second. Ruth read them as they flashed
into view, calling almost instantly the units of groups of three, four,
five, and six letters. With eight shown he got the first six, and was
uncertain of the others. The average person can see four and one half
letters on the same test.
When cards marked with black dots were used, Ruth was even faster. He called
up the number of dots on every card up to twelve without one mistake, The
average person can see eight.
To test him for quickness of perception and understanding, he was given a
card showing five different symbols -- a star, a cross, and three other
shapes -- many times repeated, and was told to select a number -- one, two,
three, four, or five -- for each symbol, then to mark the selected number
under each one as rapidly as he could go over the card. He scored 103 hits
on that test, which his the average of all who have tried it. But when given
a card covered with printed matter and told to cross out all the a's, he
made a score of sixty, which is one and a half times the average.
The secret of Babe Ruth's ability to hit is clearly revealed in these tests.
His eye, his ear, his brain, his nerves all function more rapidly than do
those of the average person. Further the coordination between eye, ear,
brain, and muscle is much nearer perfection than that of the normal healthy
The scientific "ivory hunters" dissecting the "home-run king" discovered
brain instead of bone, and showed how little mere luck, or even mere hitting
strength, has to do with Ruth's phenomenal record.