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  • The "Miracle Pitch", Does It Exist

    Searching for baseball's Bigfoot

    By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. – The search started Saturday afternoon. I was looking for the pitch that doesn't exist.

    I saw Daisuke Matsuzaka trotting off the field at Angel Stadium. He is the best pitcher in Japan, 25 years old with a grown-out mohawk streaked with red dye. His face is round, his body angular, his gait tall and proud. When he swooped into the dugout, I asked him about the gyroball.

    I'd asked Ichiro Suzuki if he knew about the gyroball, and he'd never heard of it. I'd asked the same of Michihiro Ogasawara, a veteran first baseman in Japan, and he looked at me like I queried him about UFOs.

    The gyroball is baseball's version of alien life. No one knows if they've seen it. No one knows what it looks like. No one knows much about it. Except there's a small pocket of American fans who graze the Internet champing to see Matsuzaka, because they're all convinced that he throws a gyroball and they're all convinced it will revolutionize the sport.

    There hasn't been a new pitch in baseball since the split-finger fastball, and it did everything from making Bruce Sutter a Hall of Famer to prolonging Roger Clemens' career by 10 years. Baseball evolves so slowly, unearthing a new pitch is like finding an Easter egg that happens to be filled with gold.

    In the minds of the gyro-obsessed, Matsuzaka is their 24-karat answer. So when he heard the gyroball question, chuckled and started talking, it was obvious he did know the pitch, and that maybe, just maybe, it existed after all.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The concept of the gyroball was perfected in a supercomputer by two Japanese scientists named Ryutaro Himeno and Kazushi Tezuka. In simulations, they showed how a pitcher with good mechanics could throw the baseball in a way that it spun like a bullet – or, in sporting sense, like a perfect football spiral – and broke like nothing anyone has ever seen.

    Roughly translated, the title of their book is "The Secret of the Miracle Pitch," and it's loaded with anime cartoons and mathematical formulas that attempt to explain how to throw a gyroball.

    Diagrams started showing up on the Internet in 2002 and made their way onto message boards. That's where Will Carroll learned of the gyroball, and he has chased it like a fleeting dream ever since.

    Carroll writes a column for Baseball Prospectus analyzing injuries. Sound mechanics tend to create less arm problems, and the combination of Himeno and Tezuka's mechanical research with their discovery of the gyroball was like a chocolate sundae with more chocolate drizzled on top.

    "A good gyro is impossible to hit," Carroll said. "Even if you did hit it, you can't do anything with it. If you're lucky you're going to aim the sweet spot of the bat on it and hit it off the end."

    To throw a gyroball, a pitcher holds the side of the ball with a fastball grip. The pitcher's hips and throwing shoulder must be in near-perfect sync, something the book refers to as "double-spin mechanics." As the pitcher rotates his shoulder, he snaps his wrist and pulls down his fingers rather than flipping them over the ball, as happens with curveballs. The rotation is side over side. When the pitcher lets go, he must pronate his wrist, or turn it so the palm faces third base. It's like a right-hander throwing a screwball, only instead of the ball last touching the middle finger, it spins off the index finger.

    Ideally thrown, the gyroball should resemble a fat pitch, then take a sweeping turn away from a right-handed hitter. It's a slider on steroids, a cut fastball with science behind it, a testament to the aerodynamics of a baseball.

    When video of Matsuzaka surfaced on the Internet, gyroball denizens were convinced they'd trapped Bigfoot. The footage was grainy, and it was from an angle that made the gyro look no different than a regular breaking pitch. For some time, they weren't sure if there was a difference between a shuuto – the "shootball," a reverse slider thrown by Japanese pitchers – and a gyroball.

    Rather than rely on footage of a pitcher no one knew for sure threw a gyroball – Matsuzaka's pronation was the only evidence – Carroll decided to conduct a test of his own. A friend coached Oldenburg Academy, a small Indiana high school, and Carroll asked the team's ace, Joey Niezer, to try the pitch just to see the results.

    After 10 minutes, Niezer felt comfortable enough with the gyroball to keep using it. One time last season, Carroll said, a gyro started so far behind a batter that he leaned forward to avoid it, only to see the ball paint the inside corner, forcing him to lean back.

    "They move so much," Carroll said. "We're used to seeing curveballs that break 6 inches if they're good. A splitter that dives a foot. This thing breaks a foot if you're not good at it.

    "I've seen Joey's break 3 feet. It takes a left turn and heads to the dugout."

    Curiosity grew. Carroll said Curt Schilling asked him if the gyroball was real, or just some kind of April Fool's joke. With Matsuzaka pitching in the United States for the first time, it would provide the perfect opportunity to quiz the master of the gyroball.

    And of all the questions, the one Carroll wanted answered most was the simplest.

    "Please," Carroll said, "just ask him if he even throws it."



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    At Japan's practice, I met Masa and Yasuko, two Japanese reporters who speak fluent English. Masa knew about Himeno and Tezuka's book, and he, too, seemed baffled by the gyroball. Yasuko had no idea what it is, but she found it interesting, plus she knew Matsuzaka from covering his team, the Seibu Lions.

    The three of us surrounded Matsuzaka and, with Masa translating, I asked if he knew about the gyroball.

    "Oh, yes," Matsuzaka said. "I'm trying to throw it."

    Turns out Daisuke Matsuzaka, the pitcher who would come to the United States and cause a revolution with his gyroball, doesn't throw one. He throws a fastball, a sinker, a changeup, a splitter and a filthy slider. He'd like to teach himself how to throw a gyroball, and Matsuzaka said he may trot it out Tuesday when he starts for Japan against Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

    "I have done it in a game," Matsuzaka said. "But not too much. Sometimes accidentally."

    Masa and Yasuko start telling Matsuzaka about the Americans' gyroball prophecies, and he's getting a kick out of it. With each question, Matsuzaka's eyebrows arch higher.

    He has never worked with doctors on his mechanics, and he doesn't think the authors of the book used him as a model.

    He has heard of Tezuka, who, it turns out, threw a gyroball himself when he played.

    He has not ever seen a true gyroball, though he thinks Nobuyuki Hoshino, a longtime left-hander with the Hanshin Tigers, might have thrown one.

    He has modeled himself after other sports, trying to apply the spin created by tennis players to a baseball and throwing an American football around before every start to keep his motion tight.

    In high school, Matsuzaka (his first name is pronounced DICE-kay) earned his reputation by throwing nearly 250 pitches in a 17-inning complete game. He twirled a five-hitter against a team of big-league ballplayers touring Japan. His earned-run average was the best in the league last season, his seventh. Eventually, whether it's after his 10th season in Japan or if Seibu uses the posting system to sell his rights before then, Matsuzaka would like to pitch in the major leagues – preferably with a mastery of the gyro.

    "I would like to make it my out pitch," Matsuzaka said. "But it's not a miracle pitch."

    The more Matsuzaka talked about the gyroball, the more people surrounded him. I asked one final question, about exactly how many times he has thrown it, but Masa and Yasuko didn't want to translate anymore. This was their story, too, and in Japan, Daisuke Matsuzaka learning anything is big news.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The news here is Matsuzaka does not throw a gyroball, which leaves Joey Niezer and Steven Brown, another Carroll protégé, as the teenage heirs to the pitch that's supposed to change baseball.

    "We always had questions of whether Matsuzaka did it," Carroll said. "Now to find out there's this guy with Hanshin, that's almost as cool. It's kind of like having a treasure map and being Indiana Jones in the Temple of Gyro.

    "It's still like it doesn't exist."

    No. Not after this trek. The gyroball exists like the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, and someone at Angel Stadium had to know how to find it.

    Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek?

    "The what?" he asked.

    Team USA manager Buck Martinez?

    "No," he said.

    In the Japanese dugout, a pitcher named Tsuyoshi Wada changed from his practice jersey into his game uniform. Wada is 24, and when asked if he knew of the gyroball, he gave one of those looks, like you've got to be some sort of fool not to know about the gyroball.

    "I don't know who can throw a gyroball," Wada said, "but I have seen it. It does exist."

    Finally, some proof. I was so relieved I cut off the middle of one of Wada's answers. Masa and Yasuko asked where Wada saw the pitch that didn't exist, where the search to find it would end.

    "I read comic books," he said. "And pitchers throw it in the comics."


    Yahoo! Sports' national baseball writer Jeff Passan previously was the national baseball writer for the Kansas City Star.

  • #2
    I think you are about 18 days early with this article.
    Buck O'Neil: The Monarch of Baseball

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by KCGHOST
      I think you are about 18 days early with this article.
      Um, er, okay, is this some kind of sabremetric code or something? Please translate for us mere mortal baseball fans?

      Comment


      • #4
        Comic book heroes

        Sidd Finch would be proud, but it is a wee bit early for April Fools jokes.
        Baseball is a ballet without music. Drama without words ~Ernie Harwell

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by KCGHOST
          I think you are about 18 days early with this article.
          This was exactly my thought (well, actually more like "Did I oversleep by about three weeks??"). If it is a gag though, Passan gets an A+ for restraint; he never actually says anyone throws it, and basically his conclusion (though somewhat open-ended) is that the pitch is mythological. Unless he's being really really clever, you'd think that, like in the Sidd Finch story, the author would try and get away with a more robust claim. Why pull a gag and say "I don't really believe it either"?

          I think the pitch is fake, but my guess is Passan's story is legitimate.

          Though the story was plenty entertaining, I can't help wondering how it would have been done by someone like Bill Bryson or Tom Wolfe (or even the late Plimpton himself)--now that would be a World Baseball Classic!

          Comment


          • #6
            Carroll had a blog post last year on his personal blog about some kid who throws it in high school. I don't think any pitch can be 'perfect' or its somehow unhittable. I'm sure its possible to throw but its not going to revolutionize pitching as we know it.

            Comment


            • #7
              I just found this

              This might legitimize this story
              Found it on wikipedia

              The gyroball or shooto is a breaking baseball pitch popular with players in Japan. The pitch was developed by Japanese researchers who created a new style of delivery intended to reduce stress on the pitcher. At the point of release, instead of having the pitchers arm move inwards towards the body (the standard method used in the United States), the pitcher rotates his arm so that it moves away from his body. The unusual method of delivery creates a bullet-like spin on the ball, or like a bicycle tire spins when facing the spokes. When thrown by a right hander, the pitch moves sharply down and away from right handed batters and towards left handed batters.

              In baseball, most pitches are thrown with backspin, like the fastball, or with a more forward spinning motion, like the curveball and the slider. Batters use the arm speed of the pitcher and the spin on a baseball, highlighted by the seams, to judge the speed of the ball. The gyroball is thrown with the arm speed of a fastball but goes much slower, and since it has a bullet-like spinning motion, on occasion (perhaps when the seams are hidden from view of the batter) it will make experienced batters swing wildly ahead or behind the ball.

              The gyroball is often confused with many other types of pitches, including the 2-seam fastball, the sinking fastball or the sinker, and the screwball. All three of these pitches, in differing degrees, will move down and in towards a right handed batter when thrown by a right handed pitcher, or in the opposite manner of a curveball and a slider. The gyroball is unique because it is a faster pitch with less downward break when compared to a screwball, and has less speed but more lateral break when compared to 2-seam fastballs and sinking fastballs.

              The gyroball is used by handful of American players, mainly in amateur leagues (although some argue that a variation on this pitch is also thrown by Chicago Cubs player Greg Maddux). Maddux often uses this gyro-like pitch to freeze left-handed batters, as the pitch starts inside on the batters, and then breaks sharply down and inside the strike zone as the batter shys away from the ball.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyroball
              Unlike most other team sports, in which teams usually have an equivalent number of players on the field at any given time, in baseball the hitting team is at a numerical disadvantage, with a maximum of 5 players and 2 base coaches on the field at any time, compared to the fielding team's 9 players. For this reason, leaving the dugout to join a fight is generally considered acceptable in that it results in numerical equivalence on the field, and a fairer fight.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by nascarfn5
                This might legitimize this story
                Found it on wikipedia

                The gyroball or shooto is a breaking baseball pitch popular with players in Japan. The pitch was developed by Japanese researchers who created a new style of delivery intended to reduce stress on the pitcher. At the point of release, instead of having the pitchers arm move inwards towards the body (the standard method used in the United States), the pitcher rotates his arm so that it moves away from his body. The unusual method of delivery creates a bullet-like spin on the ball, or like a bicycle tire spins when facing the spokes. When thrown by a right hander, the pitch moves sharply down and away from right handed batters and towards left handed batters.

                In baseball, most pitches are thrown with backspin, like the fastball, or with a more forward spinning motion, like the curveball and the slider. Batters use the arm speed of the pitcher and the spin on a baseball, highlighted by the seams, to judge the speed of the ball. The gyroball is thrown with the arm speed of a fastball but goes much slower, and since it has a bullet-like spinning motion, on occasion (perhaps when the seams are hidden from view of the batter) it will make experienced batters swing wildly ahead or behind the ball.

                The gyroball is often confused with many other types of pitches, including the 2-seam fastball, the sinking fastball or the sinker, and the screwball. All three of these pitches, in differing degrees, will move down and in towards a right handed batter when thrown by a right handed pitcher, or in the opposite manner of a curveball and a slider. The gyroball is unique because it is a faster pitch with less downward break when compared to a screwball, and has less speed but more lateral break when compared to 2-seam fastballs and sinking fastballs.

                The gyroball is used by handful of American players, mainly in amateur leagues (although some argue that a variation on this pitch is also thrown by Chicago Cubs player Greg Maddux). Maddux often uses this gyro-like pitch to freeze left-handed batters, as the pitch starts inside on the batters, and then breaks sharply down and inside the strike zone as the batter shys away from the ball.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyroball
                Can you trust an online source encyclopedia that criminally underestimates Weird Al Yankovic's importance to popular music?
                Dave Bill Tom George Mark Bob Ernie Soupy Dick Alex Sparky
                Joe Gary MCA Emanuel Sonny Dave Earl Stan
                Jonathan Neil Roger Anthony Ray Thomas Art Don
                Gates Philip John Warrior Rik Casey Tony Horace
                Robin Bill Ernie JEDI

                Comment


                • #9
                  I've heard about the gyroball for bout 3 years... there was an extremly good pitcher who threw it a few years ago when I read about it... probably the guy that is talked about in the article, because he was 21 or when I read about it... there was talk he might come to the United States, which hasnt happened yet obviously

                  They did a piece on ESPN a few years ago on it aswell

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Captain Cold Nose
                    Can you trust an online source encyclopedia that criminally underestimates Weird Al Yankovic's importance to popular music?
                    you mean his horrible mockery of music?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      From the explanation on how to do it, it doesnt sound practical. Also i highly doubt theres a "unhittable pitch".
                      go sox.

                      Pigskin-Fever

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by RedSoxVT92
                        From the explanation on how to do it, it doesnt sound practical. Also i highly doubt theres a "unhittable pitch".
                        its not that its unhittable, its that when the bat makes contact with the ball it just fouls off

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          its not that its unhittable, its that when the bat makes contact with the ball it just fouls off
                          If this was the case then why wouldn't whoever throws this in Japan now be throwing it and be undefeated with a 0.00 ERA?

                          It might be something to add to your arsenal but if it was THAT good why would any pitcher bother throwing anything else?

                          Its hyped up stuff. It exists but its been thrown crazily out of porportion.

                          This isn't Playstation

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Now there's an oxymoron, for sure

                            Originally posted by nascarfn5
                            This might legitimize this story
                            Found it on wikipedia
                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyroball
                            Anyone can pen nearly anything, no matter how preposterous, and have it taken as fact if it appears genuine and makes it known on wikipedia. Like it or not, gang, if you believe anything about the gyroball hoax, you've been had. Much like the Cardiff Giant, the H.M.S. Dreadnought boarding, and H.L. Menken's bathtub tale, elaborate, exotic, and detailed explanations always accompany these long lasting myths.

                            If you really want to see the original unhittable baseball, watch "It Happens Every Spring", starring Ray Milland. It will be showing on TCM, ESPN Classics, and old movie stations until opening day. If you want to believe there really is a gyroball, please don't let me spoil your dreams.
                            Baseball is a ballet without music. Drama without words ~Ernie Harwell

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              http://www.robneyer.com/book_04_gyroball.html

                              Comment

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