Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mick's Moonshot

Maybe you've heard, this is the last week at Yankee Stadium and some memorable things have taken place there. Put the hating aside for the week and at least acknowledge that the place does house some incredible moments.

On May 22, 1963, in the 11th inning of a game against the Kansas City Athletics, Mantle drilled a fastball off Bill Fischer that hit the copper frieze, commonly known as the facade, at the top of the stadium in right field. A few feet higher and the ball would have left the ballpark completely. It is estimated the ball would have traveled over 700 feet if the facade were not there. No major-leaguer has ever hit a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium.

Mantle called it the "hardest ball I ever hit." He hit the facade at least two other times in his career. This famous photograph shows the ball's trajectory, how far the facade was from home plate, and how high it was.

700 feet? I can't see that as remotely possible, but I never took physics. So I did some quick sleuthing and found this article about HR distances claimed:
In order to fully understand and appreciate long-distance hitting, a frame of reference should be established. Any drive over 400 feet is noteworthy. A blow of 450 feet shows exceptional power, as the majority of major league players are unable to hit a ball that far. Anything in the 500-foot range is genuinely historic. For perspective, consider the computerized measuring system implemented by IBM in most major league cities in 1982. By 1995, the sponsorship had changed, but the program had been expanded to include every big league ballpark.
It should be noted that those regular references over the years to 500- and 600-foot home runs were born out of scientific ignorance, misinformation, or even deliberate exaggeration. The most common cause for overstatement has been the basic misconception about the flight of a batted ball once it has reached its apex. Seeing great drives land atop distant upper-deck roof, sportswriters observing the occurrence from a press box would resort to their limited skills in mathematics without any regard for the laws of physics. Perhaps the ball had already flown over 400 feet, whereupon it was interrupted in midflight at a height of 70 feet above field level. Awed by such a demonstration of power, the writers would then describe the event for posterity as a 500-and-some-foot home run. With the guidance of our scientific brethren, we know that once a batted ball has reached its highest point and lost most of its velocity, it falls in a rapidly declining trajectory. The aforementioned fictional home run could have been reported at 550 feet in a prominent newspaper, and re-created at that length by historians for years thereafter, when in fact it traveled about 100 feet less. Hyperbole has always been part of the phenomenon of long-distance home runs, and this factor must also be considered.

By his own account [Mantle] hit the longest home run of his career on May 22, 1963 at Yankee Stadium. The ball struck the facade on the right-field roof approximately 370 feet from home plate and 115 feet above field level. Almost everyone in attendance believed that the ball was still rising when it was interrupted in midflight by the roof structure. Based upon that belief, this drive has commonly been estimated at about 620 feet if left unimpeded. However, the reality is that the ball was already on its way down, and those reporting the trajectory were victimized by a common optical illusion.
So there.

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