As it turns out, our pre-war study might have been ahead of its time. For more on similar tests done with modern technology on Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, click here.
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 being.
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 persons.
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 instigation 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 the 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.single page
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