The 2016 World Series deserves all the ink. It’s a battle between two perennial losers: the Cleveland Indians, who last clinched the World Series in 1948, and the Chicago Cubs, who are currently in year 108 of a championship drought. There are also a lot of heavy bats on both sides and — despite great pitching — that means home runs. Everyone likes home runs. And no wonder, they’re the most exciting element of baseball. The physics of a solo shot are astonishing. The amount of force that needs to be directed into a ball headed on an opposite vector is truly astonishing. It’s enough to do, well, a lot more than move a ball 350 feet.
According to Daniel Russell, an acoustics professor at Penn State, who maintains a webpage dedicated to the physics and acoustics of baseball and softball, the force of the average home run-hitting bat on an incoming baseball is roughly 18,439 newtons, or 4,124 pounds of force.
That’s a lot. It takes a little over 4,000 newtons to break the femur — the largest bone in the body. Multiply that four times over, and it’s clear a batter could do much more than just break human bones left and right. Not to mention, Russell calculates that the peak forces for hitting a home run could go as high as 36,982 newtons or 8,314 pounds of force. That’s a lot of broken bones.
To put that in perspective, here are six analogously forceful actions:
- The Bite of a Great White Shark: The ultimate alpha predator can use its jaws to bring 18,000 newtons of force to bear on a hapless seal puppy or wayward surfer. Generally, sharks bite like that only once before the tearing and ripping commences.
- Pushing a Car: The average American car weighs 4,000 pounds. That means a home run swing could move on, though, in reality, it would be far more likely to take out a headlight.
- Hitting the Green on a Par Five: The hit required for a very long golf drive clocks in at 18,000 newtons. Don’t mess with golfers.
- Breaking Through a Steel-Toed Boot: Construction gear is designed to protect workers from up to 15,000 newtons worth of compression pressure. So yeah, José Bautista could break someone’s toe.
- Parking in San Francisco: Emergency brakes exert roughly 15,000 newtons of force to keep cars from moving on tilted surfaces.
- Killing an Elderly Florida Couple’s Pekinese: Alligators can slam their jaws shut with 16,000 newtons of force. The muscles they use to open their mouths are significantly weaker, but that hardly matters after the damage is done.