ESPN and the GyroballThe ESPN "E-Ticket" piece on the gyroball is now available on-line. In my conversation with Will Carroll a few weeks ago, he mentioned that he was excited about the piece and I've been making daily checks of late to find the link. This morning as I drank my coffee it appeared. Finally, something to sink my teeth into from the Sports and Entertainment leaders....
The piece is written by Patrick Hruby and is called "Chasing the Demon Sphere" and notes that Hruby will be searching for "sports' Loch Ness Monster". I had a feeling that I was going to be disappointed in it as soon as I saw that headline. Nevertheless, I gave it a read. The writing is interesting, written in a semi-diary style with loads of e-mail exchanges to trace each step in search of the correct story behind the pitch. He makes all the right moves.
Checked out the Japanese presentations on the science behind the pitch. Contacted Wayne Graczyk of The Japan Times to ask about it. (Wayne and I have traded a few e-mails, and he's a good read. Keep an eye on the link to his work.) Hruby makes the mistake of contacting Bobby V. to ask about it. I kid. Bobby V. is a great source of info about the sport over here, but he contradicts himself repeatedly if you go back and trace his comments over the years, and sounds like a crackpot on occasion. Contacted Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Will Carroll in the house! Anthony Montefusco, who throws gyro-pitches. Bought the gyroball book. Talked to Mark Allen. Attempted to meet Joey Niezer. Went to the Japanese Embassy in DC to ask for a translation of the book (which is a bit bizarre). Worked with an English-speaking Japanese sportswriter out of Seattle to get more info from the laboratory that developed the pitch. Tried to set up a physics experiment to test everything out. Gave up.
The only criticism I have about the article is that all that information is available on the dear old internet. I've taken almost every step that Hruby did to research the pitch, and I didn't have to go nearly as far to get exactly the same info, and exactly the same conclusion. He does the journalistic due diligence, and finds out for himself, though. Good move.
The pitch exists. It's not a Bugs Bunny Looptie-Loop ball. It's a nice breaking pitch. No one ever claimed that it broke 3-feet sideways, because it doesn't. It's not a big deal, except that it's new and has potential to save a few arms, add a little wrinkle to some pitchers' arsenals, and is a triumph of sports science in its commitment to innovation. I was looking for a lot more from ESPN, frankly. I hoped to see some discussion of a test. The network failed to provide Hruby with a single videographer, and couldn't pull any strings to even work with a single Major League pitcher. Hruby does a very nice job and I give him a lot of credit for showing the ESPN readership the many important voices that need to be heard in researching the pitch. Nice entertainment, but Baseball Prospectus would have done it more scientifically, in my opinion. Hruby deserves kudos. ESPN, not so much. Give it a read and judge for yourself.