PULLMAN, Wash.—The man who perhaps knows more about the properties and the anatomy of a baseball than anybody in the world won’t say if he grew up loving the game.
“I’ve been advised not to say no,” Lloyd Smith, the director of the Sports Science Laboratory at Washington State University, said with a smile. “I’ll put it this way: My passion is in the experiment. That for me is the reward.”
Major League Baseball wants Smith, a professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at WSU, to have that exact empirical and dispassionate outlook. He’s one of the scientists MLB retained almost three years ago to help the sport understand one of its most hotly debated topics: increased home run rates.
But even Smith recognizes that when it comes to improving something as emotion-driven as America’s pastime, the simplest scientific solution might not be the best one.
Right now, MLB could theoretically build a baseball that behaves consistently, free of the decreased air resistance currently causing balls to soar over the fence at an unprecedented pace. The technology exists. Professional golf already employs it….