Editor's note: Last fall, ESPN.com writer Patrick Hruby set out to discover the truth about the gyroball, a mysterious, near-mythical baseball pitch. To see what he found out, simply follow the series of e-mail dispatches from Hruby to his assignment editor.
You sound skeptical. Don't be. The gyroball is big. Potentially huge. Baseball hasn't seen an original pitch in three decades, not since Bruce Sutter's split-fingered fastball, which only turned a minor-league washout into a Hall of Fame reliever. Hitters still haven't caught up. The gyroball could be just as revolutionary. Maybe more so. Picture a pitch that's thrown like a fastball that spins like a bullet that takes a sharp, late turn over the plate, swerving sideways up to three feet.
Bullet spin. Sideways. Three feet. Hello! Does that sound like just another breaking ball to you? If the gyroball is real, it's the greatest pitch you've never seen. A pitch that shouldn't be possible. Baseball isn't ready. Mariano Rivera's cut fastball moves a few inches, max. It's almost unhittable. So how are batters going to cope with a pitch that breaks harder than an Apache attack chopper?
Check out the attached diagram I cribbed it from Esquire magazine which compares the flight paths of a slider (A), a curveball (B) and a gyroball (C).
That's the fun part. Right now, the gyroball is akin to Keyser Soze. A mystery. One report claims the pitch breaks twice. Another says it bends like a screwball. Most big leaguers haven't even heard of the thing. So if we find the truth? We'll have captured the Loch Ness Monster, beating everyone else to the sports story of the year. The decade, even.
As for your other question: I absolutely need to visit Tokyo. The gyroball supposedly was invented by Japanese scientists. On a supercomputer. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto!
Ever heard of Daisuke Matsuzaka? He's only the best pitcher in Japan, MVP of the World Baseball Classic, a player so dominating, so iconic, that countrymen born in same year 1980 have been dubbed the "Matsuzaka Generation."
(I bet the Yankees drop $30 million just to talk to this guy. Nobody outspends King George).
Anyway, I think Matsuzaka throws the gyroball. Really. See for yourself, courtesy of YouTube:
Tokyo, here I come!
PS Couldn't get the vids to play on my laptop. Network error. Hope they're impressive!
Wow. I think you're right. That first YouTube pitch resembles a slider, and the other well, you can't see much of anything. Stupid batter. Doesn't he realize he's standing in the way of baseball history?
Did a little digging. Know those fridge-sized computers that control the nuclear defense grid and can thump Kasparov at chess? Researchers measure their processing power with the Himeno Benchmark Test, named after Japanese scientist Ryutaro Himeno the same guy who supposedly invented the gyroball.
Found one of Himeno's web pages. Link is below. Check out the movies, which appear to be gyroball-related.
PS Al Capone's vault? I don't get the reference.
Flight is all set. Just waiting for Himeno to reply before buying the ticket. Sorta odd, since I sent him a note two weeks ago. Must be a busy man.
And yeah, I agree: those movies look like something out of a Dire Straits video. Or maybe "Tron."
Bad news. I e-mailed Wayne Graczyk, an ex-pat American who writes a baseball column for the English-language Japan Times. Figured we could meet up in Tokyo, grab a beer, talk gyroball.
Here's his response:
Patrick, Sorry, but I have never heard of the gyroball. It sounds like a hoax to me.
All the best,
Whatever. Graczyk's probably working on a big gyroball feature and doesn't want to get scooped.
Told you this thing was big.
Okay, this is starting to get weird. I just got off the phone with Bobby Valentine the former big league manager who's now running the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japan League and he says the gyroball is a crock. Good PR, but nothing more. See the transcript below.
Q: Does Daisuke Matsuzaka throw a gyroball?
A: The guy has pitched against my team for three years. I've seen every pitch he's thrown during that time. I've talked to all my hitters. I have about 800 of his pitches on video from this year, at least as many from last year. Those are just against my team. We also have all the pitches he threw against all the other teams.
The gyroball has never been in our scouting report.
Q: So it isn't real?
A: It's a goof. It would be great if you could throw something that broke late and broke three feet. But you can't. You'd need 13-inch fingers. The ball would have to be jet-propelled.
Q: What about the link to Matsuzaka?
A: I talked to Matsuzaka. My understanding is that some professors presented to him that if you threw the ball in a certain way, the ball would react in a certain way. In a real closed environment probably just him and a catcher he may have tried to do some things.
Q: Where are all these rumors coming from?
A: There's a lot of people who played baseball when they were young, and they quit when pitchers starting throwing the curveball which starts by coming at the hitter before breaking over the plate. In their minds, that ball broke three feet; as you get older, it broke four feet. But in reality, it broke a few inches. And that was enough to make accountants out of people.
You're wrong. Valentine is hiding something. I bet one of his pitchers throws a gyroball. I wouldn't put anything past him.
Contacted Jeff Passan, a baseball writer with Yahoo! Sports who spoke with Matsuzaka in March. Get this: Matsuzaka claimed that he doesn't throw the gyroball just like Valentine says but then admitted that he's working on the pitch and has tossed a few by accident. Also said that he has never met Himeno.
Curiouser and curiouser, huh? Forget Bobby V; perhaps Matsuzaka is the one being disingenuous. Think about it: if you had a super secret miracle pitch, would you share it with the world, encourage other pitchers to copy you and eventually watch hitters adjust? Or would you keep your mouth shut, strike guys out and bullet-spin your way to Cooperstown?
My guess is that Passan caught Matsuzaka off-guard. Got him to say too much. Which only proves my point: there's something going on here. Something incredible.
As such, I hope you'll reconsider sending me to Japan. So what if Himeno doesn't answer e-mails? We don't need him. We just need Matsuzaka. I'll rebook my flight today. Just say the word.
PS Texas Rangers pitcher Akinori Otsuka told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he had a high school friend who threw the pitch that is, until said friend blew his arm out. Just our luck, huh?
Forget Japan. Change of plans. Know a guy named Will Carroll? Writes for Baseball Prospectus. Does some injury stuff for our fantasy sports group. Insists that the gyroball is real. And spectacular. He also claims he can teach it in fact, he's holding a gyroball clinic for a couple of high school pitchers in New Jersey next weekend.
I'm invited. I know it's short notice, but can we arrange for a camera crew? Footage should be amazing.
I smell SportsCenter!
Yeah, I suppose a freelance photographer should suffice. I'm surprised broadcast didn't express more interest. Did you show them my diagram?
As for Carroll, you're off-base. Granted, some big league teams have blown him off. But that's only because baseball is clubby and hidebound, forever fearing the new. You've read "Moneyball," right?
Carroll is genuine. Been chasing this pitch for years. Story goes like this: in 2002, someone in one of our online chats asks Rob Neyer about the gyroball. Neyer knows nothing, so he asks Carroll. Carroll knows even less, but happens to be a bit obsessive. And by a bit, I mean a lot.
He hunts around. Stumbles across an internet message board where the posters are talking gyroball. They have pictures, too diagrams detailing pitch spin and force vectors, rife with Japanese text, apparently scanned from a book. Carroll's intrigued. By sheer coincidence, he has a friend visiting Tokyo, who finds the book and drops it in the mail. Takes about a month.
The wait kills Carroll. Kills him. Eventually, he gets the package. He rips off the packing tape and figures the book's a joke. A prank. There are photos of Troy Aikman and Pedro Martinez, baseball airflow charts, panels from Japanese comic books. One illustration has what looks like a witch maybe it's a goblin yanking on a pitcher's elbow. Check it out.
Anyway, Carroll's stubborn. He plows through the pages, even though he can't read kanji. He makes a mistake, mixing up the gyroball with a Japanese pitch called the shuto in essence, a reverse slider and then pens an erroneous article for Neyer.
Oops. Carroll's embarrassed. But he can't let it go.
Bullet spin. That's the key. Problem is, Carroll can't figure out how to make a baseball whirl like a football, let alone what football spin makes a baseball do. The gyroball is a crossword puzzle; Carroll doesn't have the box. So he takes a sharpened screwdriver, jams it through a ball. He sits by his computer, spinning the pierced ball, hours at a time. He hangs out at an indoor baseball facility near his suburban Indianapolis home, Batter's Edge, trying to throw the pitch. Only he can't get the ball to break. Ever. Days become months. For an entire year, Carroll tells no one. Not a soul. But he never loses faith, never stops plugging away
Look, I could go on. I think you get the point. Give my contact info to the photographer, okay?
PS Bring a tinfoil batting helmet? Good one. Har har.
You're lucky to have me. Know that? The things I do for this job. I almost got nailed in the nads. Twice.
Sigh. I suppose I should start at the beginning. I met Carroll at Frozen Ropes, a baseball training center that's just off the highway. Red-brick building, possibly a converted industrial park, shares space with a Latin dance school. Interior looked like you'd expect green plastic turf, black safety netting, free weights, batting cages, a wooden ramp that serves as a pitching mound. Framed Monmouth and Rutgers baseball jerseys on the walls. See the shots.
On to Carroll. Outgoing guy. Thirty-six years old, sports a shaved head and a goatee vaguely resembles David Wells, but with glasses. Wore a BALCO ATHLETIC DEPT. T-shirt. Funny. Six local high school pitchers showed up. Carroll told me at least one of them would be throwing a gyroball within 10 minutes.
I freaked a little, had to scramble for my notepad. Everyone gathered in a semicircle. Carroll went over the grip, the arm motion, the follow-through. The kids took turns on the mound. They struggled. Balls in the turf, out wide, up high, into the safety netting. I nearly got plunked. Felt a little bad for the catcher, a kid named Gary.
On the other hand, he was wearing protective gear. So he was one up on me.
Carroll kept asking for the time. I told him he was fine. (Actually, things went on for at least half an hour. So much for his guarantee). Now and then, Carroll would track a pitch, then say something like, "Did you see it?"
Gotta admit: I didn't. I started to worry. That's when it happened. Anthony Montefusco, a 15-year-old sophomore, threw a pitch. Kevin James, a former Rutgers catcher and Montclair State coach, stood in. I was positioned behind the catcher. (Behind the safety net, too. Good place to be). The ball spun toward James' torso, then broke down and across the plate.
James went nuts. Said he was frozen, that the pitch had more movement than any slider or curveball he had ever seen. Swore it could be devastating. Just plain swore. Turned to Carroll and said and this is right out of my notes "America needs to bring this pitch over and teach it to our kids."
(Funny thing is, I talked to James before the clinic. He wrote the gyroball off as a fairy tale).
I grabbed a bat. Haven't held one in years. I was nervous, with good reason: The gyroball breaks sideways, so Carroll tells pitchers to aim for the batter's hip. The first kid up throws a ball behind me. I swallowed a yelp.
Next came Montefusco. The ball well, I'm not sure how to describe it. It came at me, same as his pitch to James, then dropped left to right. Seemed to wobble, like a drunk uncle tumbling down a flight of stairs. Was it a gyroball? I'm not sure. I'm not an expert. It certainly looked different. Too bad we didn't get it on tape. Would be a lot easier to break down. Can't you pull some strings on the network side?
No, the ball didn't break three feet. Not even close. Didn't move directly sideways, either.
Still, these are high school kids. If you asked them to throw sliders, would their stuff move like Randy Johnson's?
Have a little faith. Aren't you a Jets fan?
PS Heard that one of the pitchers at the clinic, a strong-armed senior named Ben Miller, used a gyroball to strike a kid out in a travel team game the next day. Meanwhile, people in the stands were whispering about heh heh a Japanese superpitch. I should have stuck around.
Fine. I'll keep searching. Speaking of which, the CBS Evening News is running a gyro piece this week. Carroll's been working with Steve Palazzolo, a minor league pitcher in Milwaukee's system who supposedly threw some gyroballs for a camera crew. Hope they don't get the story first. Set your TiVo.
You see the CBS segment? Aired last night. Hard to see Palazzolo's pitch. Had some movement, but not like the true gyroball. Maybe he was nervous. Also, Al Leiter called it a cutter. Dope.
Got Palazzolo's number from the Brewers. He says his gyroball works like "a glorified cutter." Also insists he hasn't come close to mastering the pitch. He's thrown it for a few hours, tops, and never in a game.
Still, the important thing is that Palazzolo swears the gyroball is real. And distinct. We should keep an eye on him. He's tall, like 6-foot-10, and has big league velocity. If he does get the gyroball down watch out!
That's what they call the gyroball in Japan. Honest. Says so on my computer screen. I found the gyroball book! Right on Amazon.jp. Everything's in kanji, so I ran the whole page through Google translation. Himeno is one of the authors. And get this: the English title reads "Natural Shape of the Demon Sphere."
Awesome. Just awesome. Already placed an order. Should arrive in a week or so. Expect an expense report.
PS SEARCHING FOR THE DEMON SPHERE. How's that for a headline?
Spent last night surfing that knuckleball message board Carroll told me about. Total gyroball hotbed. Diagrams, rumors, speculation. Page after page. These guys are in deep. Especially Mark Allen. He's a 20-year-old student at Tennessee Tech University. Amateur pitcher. Hopes to walk on to the baseball team. Says he can throw the gyroball. Could be just the person we're looking for.
Stop shaking your head.
Here's the thing: Allen doesn't know Carroll. Hasn't seen the Japanese book. Doesn't even have a pitching coach. He's an outsider with an open mind and absolutely nothing to lose. Really, who better to unravel a mystery that the orthodox pitching establishment would rather ignore?
Don't forget: Einstein was a lousy math student. "Moby Dick" was a total flop upon its release. And didn't you float through journalism school on a tide of psychedelic substances? I'm heading down to Tennessee next week. Believe.
PS I need another photographer. And I already had the travel department book my flight, so don't bother saying no.
Relax. Followed up with Allen. Think he's the one. His fastball tops off in the low 80s, so the Tennessee Tech coaches don't have much use for him. He needs something special, the way Sutter needed the splitter. Makes him willing to try anything, no matter how bizarre.
Also, he's seen the gyroball before. Honest. When Allen was in eighth grade, a friend took a family vacation in Tokyo. Came back with a comic book. A baseball comic book. Featuring the gyro.
(Of course, this means the Japanese have known about the pitch for at least seven years. Seven years! That's a bigger head start than Sputnik).
Fast forward to last spring. Allen spies the gyroball info on the knuckleball message board. Resolves to learn the pitch. Crazy, right? Only get this: Allen taught himself to throw through online instructions. Guess what? As a high school senior at Hume-Fogg High, he pitched 13 innings of shutout ball in a 14-inning, 15-strikeout, 187-pitch win over rival Portland High. I looked it up myself. This kid is determined.
One more thing: Allen is a world-class Yo-Yo spinner ranked in the top 100, no joke which means he's familiar with spiraling things from the Far East.
Good enough for you?
PS Allen sent me some comic scans. Check them out.
Chatted with Dave Clark, the guy who runs the knuckleball board. Friendly fellow. Fifty-four years old, freelance sportswriter, lives in Massachusetts. Wrote a book on the knuckler. Claims the gyroball has been a hot topic for 7-8 years, which jibes with the timing of Allen's comic book.
Clark sent me a trio of gyroball-related images. Says he found them on a dusty old CDROM. Thinks they came from a Pacific-crossing baseball fan named Randy. See for yourself.
This pitch is an iceberg. We've only seen the tip.
PS Meeting up with Allen tomorrow. With any luck, I'll see this pitch in person. Can't wait. Demon Sphere, baby. Demon Sphere.
You heard, huh? It rained. All day. Couldn't see a thing on the drive from Nashville to Cookeville. The Tennessee Tech infield was a soggy mess. Had to go indoors. Place looked like a converted barn wood beams across the ceiling, more tarp for walls, a concrete floor topped with narrow strips of worn plastic turf. Everything painted green, the color of a John Deere lawn tractor.
As for the really bad news? I don't think Allen throws the gyroball. He had the fastball arm motion and the bullet spin but the break on his ball was nothing dramatic. Resembled Palazzolo's pitch on that CBS piece. Might have dropped a bit more. I dunno.
Anyway, we got some pics. Not sure what's next. Had high hopes for this. Give me a few days to regroup.
Guess what showed up in my mailbox? The gyroball book! It's written in kanji, so I can't exactly make out what it says. Still, everything checks out: the message board diagrams, the picture of Troy Aikman, all sorts of crazy stuff for instance, the bottom of each page has a flip-book picture of a guy throwing a gyroball.
Best of all? A diagram of the picture in action (coming from a left-handed pitcher, so it breaks right instead of left). You won't believe your eyes. The ball practically makes a 90-degree swerve in front of the batter. It ought to have a turn signal. Amazing!
PS You see the Matsuzaka/Red Sox news? Fifty-one million, just so Boras can ask for more money. Heh. No way this guy doesn't throw a superpitch.
Too late. I'm at the airport right now. I'll be in Indianapolis before lunch.
Look, I'm sorry I didn't clear this trip with you beforehand. But chill. It's just money. Besides, I got Sean to sign off on it who knew our photo editor was such a big baseball fan?
Already have a photographer driving down from Chicago. Gonna meet with Carroll and Bill Burke, interview and pics, then find Joey Niezer. He's the real key. Like I told you:
* He may be the first American pitcher to throw the gyroball, taught to him by Carroll;
* He played high school ball at Oldenburg Academy, where Burke was the pitching coach;
* He graduated in 2005 and is listed on the baseball team roster at Wabash University, about an hour east of Indianapolis.
I already e-mailed the kid. For now, check out this video of Niezer's gyroball, supposedly filmed during practice:
Things are coming together. Finally.
Whoa. Turns out Niezer threw the gyro in games, maybe two dozen times. Never yielded a hit. Left batters bailing. Left umpires baffled. Burke's favorite story? Niezer's up in the count. Tosses a gyroball. Batter thinks the ball is going to peg him. He steps forward in the box only to jump backward as the pitch veers over the plate for a called strike.
Like I said: whoa.
Met with Burke and Carroll at a brewpub outside Indianapolis. Burke's 29, a software engineer and a self-confessed baseball geek. He actually met Carroll at the same pub, at a Baseball Prospectus pizza party back in 2004.
Carroll was finishing his pitching book. Burke had just become pitching coach at Oldenburg, a former all-girls school with a nascent baseball program. The two struck up a friendship. Carroll started working with Burke's pitchers and while driving to Chicago for a White Sox game, he told Burke about the gyroball. They agreed to show the pitch to Niezer far and away the most talented pitcher on the Oldenburg staff and Burke's brother, Devon.
Devon is a gifted athlete he now plays soccer at Wabash, where Niezer pitches but couldn't get the ball to break. Instead, he beaned a nine-year-old kid.
Next came Niezer. The ball spun. Broke sideways. Bingo! Gyro! Carroll was ecstatic, in part because he realized that he wasn't completely crazy.
(Hey, almost forgot: that grainy footage of Niezer throwing the gyroball? It was filmed on Burke's digital camera. Or maybe Carroll's. They don't remember, exactly. You think Abraham Zapruder had the same problem?)
Following lunch, Burke and I drove to Oldenburg's home field, Liberty Park in Batesville. Really neat place. Grandstand is like 100 years old. There's no outfield fence, just a row of miniature pine trees. Bullpen is about five feet from a rainbow-colored jungle gym.
I stood on the mound. Had to do it. Here it was: the gyroball's Plymouth Rock. Gave me goose bumps. Burke found that amusing. In fact, he and Carroll agreed: if they were making the pitch up, Batesville is the last place they'd pick for its stateside unveiling. They're probably right. Then again, the Magi found Jesus in a dinky little manger, right?
Anyway, I'm gonna grab dinner. Still waiting on Niezer. I'll hit Wabash tomorrow.
PS Guess who appeared on the above-bar flat screen while I was having lunch with Burke and Carroll? Matsuzaka. There are no coincidences.
I'm at the airport. Heading home. Niezer stuff fell through. See below.
> From: Niezer, Joseph
> To: Hruby, Patrick
> SUBJECT: RE: ESPN.COM INTERVIEW REQUEST
The thing is I've never thrown a gyroball in a game. I don't really know anything about the physics of the pitch or even exactly how to throw it.
The few times I messed around with it in practice it seemed like just a different way to throw a slider. It definitely broke a little bit, but no more than my slider did.
To answer your question, it was more of a sideways spin and break. I don't ever remember a downward break. I throw kind of sidearm as it is, so a 12-6 type downward break would be almost impossible for me to create. I do not really remember throwing it in BP. I may have a couple of times, but I don't remember any specific results.
The batter Bill described was probably just reacting to my slider breaking from behind him over the plate.
Hope this helps!
Took your advice. Brought the gyroball book to the Japanese embassy here in DC. They wouldn't translate it! So much for cultural exchange.
Fortunately, I've been swapping e-mails with Masa Niwa, a baseball writer for Sports Yeah!, the Japanese equivalent of Sports Illustrated. He speaks English, lives in Seattle, seems to know about the gyroball. He's gonna be in St. Louis for the World Series. Cool with you if I meet him there? Would save me a cross-country flight.
PS Any chance you can get me a game credential?
Actually, I'm at the downtown Radisson RIGHT NOW. Lobby is packed with Cards fans. Some are even sober!
This was a great idea. Masa's fantastic. Been going over the book for the last 45 minutes. It's a gold mine. For instance, the characters in the title don't just mean "demon sphere." They also mean "miracle pitch." And that yellow wraparound label on the front? Here's the translation, front and back:
IT EXISTS! SOME JAPANESE BASEBALL PLAYERS CAN THROW THE SECRET PITCH! WE CAN FILM THE GYRO PITCH AND YOU CAN BE A GYROBALLER!
Get this: in Japan, they sell special red and black baseballs that show exactly where to place your fingers in order to throw the gyroball. They have instructional DVD's, too. We should order one, pronto. Oh, and remember that gyroball comic? It's called "Major," and it's wildly popular. Masa says every kid in Japan knows about the gyro which, by the way, wasn't invented on a supercomputer. At least not completely.
The story actually starts with Kazushi Tezuka, co-author of the book. He's a Japanese baseball trainer, works with kids and pros alike, has a "baseball dojo" in Tokyo. Think Tom Emanski. Anyway, it's the spring of 1995, and Tezuka's looking for a better way to throw a fastball. He's out shopping. Sees a video for an American toy called the X-zylo, a thin, fist-sized plastic cylinder that resembles a used roll of packing tape.
Apparently, the X-zylo flies really straight and really far. Spins like a bullet, too, which gets Tezuka wondering: Would the same spin make a pitch move faster? He gets the toy. It flies as advertised, as far as 100 meters. At the same time, Tezuka's working for the Orix Blue Wave, a Jleague club. The Blue Wave have this rookie outfielder, a converted high school pitcher named Ichiro yeah, that Ichiro. He's a skinny kid, but has a hell of an arm. Throws the ball with a football-type spin. Even pronates his wrist something Carroll told me was key to throwing the gyroball.
Tezuka starts tinkering. He meets Himeno. The two collaborate on computer models, enlist pro pitchers to help with experiments in the book, there's a GREAT picture of Hideki Irabu, Mr. Fat Toad himself, wearing one of those black spandex motion capture suits and come up with a bullet-spin pitch. They call it the gyroball not because of the spin, but because "gyro" is the garbled English version of "X-zylo," Again, who knew?
Hey, looks like Masa is back from taking a call. Gotta go. More soon.
You wanna know? Really? I'll tell you: From the sidewalk next to the hotel, you can see the Arch. I hope it falls on my freaking head.
Seriously, I don't know where to begin. Everything's wrong. Unless I've made a huge mistake. Or Carroll messed up. Or Masa doesn't know what he's talking about.
Here's the deal: There are two types of gyroball, two-seam and four-seam, both with bullet spin. The latter is better for an overhand pitcher, the former for a sidearmer. Whatever. That's not what matters. What matters is this: According to the book, the gyroball doesn't break sideways. Not three feet. Not one foot. Not one inch. Nada, zilch, zippy. No left turn. That's not how it works. Instead, the pitch messes with a batter's timing. Looks faster than it actually moves. Comes in lower than expected. In essence, the gyroball is a glorified changeup.
Oh, and that's not the worst of it. According to Tezuka, the pitch probably isn't new. Not entirely. In the book, there's a whole chapter called "Searching for the Miracle," packed with pictures of Japanese pitchers like Yutaka Enatsu and Shunsuke Watanabe. Tezuka speculates that all of them may have thrown gyroballs only they didn't know it!
(Get this: Masa thinks Matsuzaka has read the gyro book. He also thinks Jered Weaver may throw a gyro-style fastball. Seriously. Jered friggin' Weaver).
I'm lost. Totally lost. Gonna head to the airport. Hope you didn't get me a credential.
Couldn't care less about the World Series. Not after this.
Went over my notes from the gyroball book. I screwed up. Missed a few pages while talking to Masa. One of those pages has the gyro diagram I sent you, the one with the ball breaking sideways. Remember? Can't believe I was so careless.
I sent the scan to Masa. He's still at the Series and on deadline for this weekend, so it may take him a few days to look it over. In the meantime, chew on this: Supposed gyroballer Shunsuke Watanabe plays for the Chiba Lotte Marines Bobby Valentine's team!
I knew Valentine was hiding something. Knew it.
PS If I order one of those X-zylos, can I expense it?
That pitch in the diagram? It's a slider. An exaggerated slider. Masa cleared things up. Also said he'd help me get in touch with Tezuka, probably in the next two weeks. I still have this nagging feeling that we're missing something.
By the way, the X-zylo flies far. Real far. Tried it out for myself. According to the Web site that sells it, aeronautical engineers don't quite understand how the thing works kinda ironic, considering I still don't understand what the same bullet spin does for a pitch.
It must have some effect. Right?
Couldn't wait for Tezuka. Talked to a physicist. Not just any physicist. A nuclear physicist. Guy named Alan Nathan. Works at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Studies pitch flight in his spare time. Big baseball fan. Says the side-breaking gyroball might be possible. He contacted Himeno, who actually wrote him back. With diagrams!
(Helps to have a "Dr." in front of your name when it comes to getting a response, I guess).
Here's how the gyroball works. The path of every pitch is determined by two forces: gravity and the Magnus effect. Gravity pulls the ball down; the Magnus effect, created by spin, air resistance and turbulence, moves a pitch in the same direction as the ball's rotation.
(For example, a four-seam fastball has backspin, which pushes up, working against gravity. Result? It doesn't drop as much as other pitches. By contrast, a curveball has topspin, which pushes down, working with gravity to produce a bigger drop.)
On to the gyro. Because the spin axis is along the direction of motion, the Magnus effect is negated. Only gravity applies. The ball comes out of the pitcher's hand with near-fastball speed and fastball arm motion but it drops more than the typical backspin fastball, as much as 18 inches. This can fool a batter, much like a changeup.
Now for the important stuff: According to Himeno's diagrams, a slight vertical tilt of the gyroball's spin axis can produce a sideways break. Just what we're looking for! Stay the course. We can't give up now.
Slight snag: Nathan did some quick calculations. He says that with a 20-degree tilt, the side force gyroball can only break about six inches not much more than a cutter.
The good news? Nathan can't be totally sure about his numbers. Not without real-world confirmation. He wants to conduct an experiment.
I think we can help. I think we should help.
Here's the plan: We fly Palazzolo, Allen and Montefusco out to Boston, take 'em to Fenway Park. Fenway has a Sportvision camera system that tracks and maps pitch movement (know that KZone stuff on our broadcasts? That's Sportvision). We record all three pitchers throwing the gyroball, then have Nathan break down the data.
Oh, almost forgot Nathan is friends with a guy I've been talking to, former big league pitcher Dave Baldwin (played for the old Washington Senators, among other clubs). Baldwin is something of a pitching historian, quite intrigued by the gyroball. He's willing to analyze ball spin and pitching motion, which gives us another pair of expert eyes.
Palazzolo and Allen are already on board. So is Sportvision. All we need is your approval.
Just say yes, okay?
PS If you ever drill into a baseball, keep a DustBuster handy. Just trust me.
The Red Sox are spending millions on Matsuzaka. MILLIONS. We can't spend a mere $50,000 on a gyroball science experiment?
Sometimes, I really don't understand you.
Forget that science experiment. In fact, forget the whole stupid story. I'm done. Finito. Masa finally contacted Tezuka. He confirmed everything. The book translation. Nathan's calculations. Himeno's diagrams. They're basically accurate. Is the gyroball real? Sure. Does it have a miracle three-foot sideways break? Uh-uh.
I should have known better.
Those instructional DVD's I told you about? Tezuka sent me a set. They're in Japanese. No subtitles. Doesn't matter. You can see how the ball moves. Clear as day. It breaks, sure. But not like a Harrier jump jet.
Heck, I even showed the pitch to Baldwin, just to make sure I knew what I was looking at. He says the gyroball is actually a "back-up slider" -- a pitch that's been around for decades, a pitch that hurlers have tried to avoid because they consider it a mistake.
A mistake! My thoughts exactly. Anyway, if you're still interested, you can watch the clips. Take a gander.
The dream is dead.
Okay, scrap the gyroball stuff. And never mind my lousy attitude. I was burned out. Sorry.
I just heard from Dave Clark, the knuckleball book author. There's another pitch out there.
Called the Corkscrew Knuckleball. Moves toward the plate in shifting spirals spirals that can be more than a foot wide! Totally catchable, utterly unhittable. Like something from a Goofy cartoon. Only real. Can you imagine?
Dave says he threw one about 12 years ago. By accident. Also says he knows a friend of a friend who may be able to throw the pitch on command. Well, probably. Maybe. We'll see. Anyway, I can be on a plane tomorrow. Just say the word.
I'm telling you: This could be huge.