THINKER’S ALMANAC – February 6

Subject:  Sports Psychology – Babe Ruth visits a psych lab

Event:  Birthday of Babe Ruth, 1895

How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball… The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. -Babe Ruth

Baseball great Babe Ruth was born on this day in 1895.  Twenty-six years later, sports psychology was born when a sportswriter took Ruth to visit the Columbia University Psychological Laboratory.

The writer was Hugh S. Fullerton, who was curious to know the secret behind Ruth’s unrivaled athletic ability.  Not only was Ruth the best hitter in baseball, but his numbers also dwarfed those of all other players.  In 1920, for example, Ruth hit 54 home runs, which was more than the total number of home runs hit by 14 of the 16 major league teams.  Ruth still holds the Major League Baseball record for slugging percentage at .6897; Ted Williams is in second place at .6338 (1).

Babe Ruth2.jpg
Babe Ruth in 1920 (Wikipedia)

Based on Ruth’s visit to Columbia, Fullerton published the article “Why Babe Ruth is the Greatest Home Run Hitter” in Popular Science Monthly in 1921. In the article Fullerton details the battery of tests administered to Ruth.  In the following passage, Fullerton describes a test that revealed Ruth’s superior vision:

For instance, they had an apparatus with a sort of a camera shutter arrangement that opened, winked, and closed at any desired speed. Cards with letters of the alphabet on them were placed behind this shutter and exposed to view for one fifty-thousandth of a second. Ruth read them as they flashed into view, calling almost instantly the units of groups of three, four, five, and six letters. With eight shown he got the first six, and was uncertain of the others. The average person can see four and one half letters on the same test.

Summing up the conclusions of all the test, Fullerton said the following:

[The scientists] 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 . . . . (2)

Fullerton’s vision for combining sports and psychology was way ahead of its time.  Sport psychology would not become a psychological specialty until the 1960s. 

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  How did the tests administered to Babe Ruth in Columbia’s psych lab identify what set him apart from other players as a great hitter?

Challenge:  Where There’s a Will There’s A Win:  Successful athletes frequently attribute their success not just to their physical abilities but also to their mental abilities.  Do some research on quotations by athletes, talking about their mental approach to their sport.  Identify one quote that you particularly like, and explain why it stands out to you.

ALSO ON THIS DAY:

-February 6th Each Year:  On this day the people of Switzerland celebrate Hom Strom, the ceremonial burning of a straw man that symbolizes the approaching end of winter.  This event reminds us of how flimsy the straw man argument is, and how we should construct our arguments with the much more sturdy steel man.

Sources:

1-Baseball Reference.  “Career Leaders, Slugging Percentage

2-Fullerton, Hugh S. “Why Babe Ruth is Greatest Home-Run Hitter.”  Popular Science Monthly, 1921.