“Your mind might think it’s flying, baby
On those little pills
But you ought to know it’s dying, ’cause
Speed kills”

– Amphetamine Annie, Canned Heat

Let’s face it:  We want speed with our internet connection.

Of course, we have a lot of fast food places to choose from.

We hope planes can be even more advanced so flights don’t take so God awful long.

We often want to be in the fast lane on the freeway, or to qualify for the lane that allows us to escape the gridlock.

Anything but gridlock!

Fast, faster, fastest!

Oven takes too long – microwave it!

Truth be told, the radar gun has changed the game of baseball.  Velocity is a big deal.  Scouts have a form.  One item they check is pitching speed.

In fact, velocity of the pitch is posted on the score board.  At Dodger Stadium if a pitch is fast enough the speed-number has flames coming out of it.

My one cents:  There already are enough guns!  This is another we don’t need everywhere and with everyone. Pitching is an art. It isn’t only about blowing someone away, like Bob Welch with Reggie Jackson whiffing in such great dramatic fashion during the 1978 world series.

If speed is a key to pitching, then the fastest, hardest throwing pitchers would be so dominant, you could — to at least an appreciable degree — do away with thinking.  Who cares about inside or outside, sinker or change-up, knuckle ball or even a sneaky slider?  Just shoot the canon matey!  Well, that’s ball-pucky (yes, an expression I just came up with).

Baseball is, has been, and will remain, quite cerebral.  That said, there are occasions of apparent historical significance when effort was made to measure pitch speeds in the most distant past.  Here’s a video of Bob Feller’s fast ball being measured against a motor cycle, and said to be over 100 miles per hour!

Research indicates quite a few years earlier, Walter Johnson’s fastball was timed against a speeding motorcycle also, and approximated to be 97 miles per hour. Johnson’s fast ball was also tested  on another occasion against, of all things, a ballistic pendulum (whatever that is!).

In fact, here’s an article about the “Big Train” for historic perspective.

So how did this radar gun became such a thing?

Danny Litwhiler was the baseball coach at Michigan State in 1973.  He observed campus police using radar to time cars that might be exceeding the speed limit.  He thought “Hmmmm, that might be useful in baseball!”  By the time it played out, he went from renting the radar equipment from the officers to buying some, and then got with John Paulson the inventor of the JUGS Pitching Machine.  It took some time to get the “radar gun” in order. The device made its first major league appearance in 1975.  The cost early on was $1,500 or so, but you can find less costly versions on line today for less than a hundred bucks.

Earl Weaver of the Baltimore Orioles was an early proponent, but it took years for the radar gun to catch-on.  Today it seems passe’ as in very ordinary. I got one, you got one, he has one, they have some, point, click, point click, point click…

Some express real concern the emphasis on speed is one of the reasons pitchers are having more arm injuries. There in fact may be far too much emphasis on “throwing hard”.
But a nagging problem is just about everything is measured:  Speed of the ball off the bat.  The incline of the hit. The length of the home run.  On base percentage.  Batting average against lefties.  Batting average against righties.  Percentage of sliders he throws, compared to fast balls, compared to change ups, compared to four seamers, and how many first pitch strikes…. Just go to BrooksBaseball.net on line to get a sense of the details details details…

You know, some of us (me included) long for the time when we sat on the front porch, sipped our Mint Juleps, took our time, and actually didn’t keep the time. Slow was good.  You listen to the birds, wink at the passers by.

Even if I made up the part about Mint Juleps… There’s just so much hullabaloo nowadays.  Thankfully there isn’t a radar gun to measure how slow you stand up, walk into the house, grab a cool one from the frig, saunter back out to the porch, and plop back down and crinkle your nose. Can you imagine?  “Folks, it was 175 seconds from start to finish, notice the hand going into the refrigerator, and how he grabs the bottle…  Clearly well done!”

Maybe the pendulum will swing — no not that contraption mentioned above that measured the speed of Walter Johnson’s fast ball. Maybe just maybe the pendulum really will swing, back to laying-off so much of the data, not obsessing about the velocity, not keeping tabs on this, that and the other.  Just playing ball.  Just taking a swipe at it.  Just rounding the bases, waving to the invisible crowd, and taking your damn sweet time to cross the plate.  Just pitching smart to the batter.  Baseball in its natural form.  Like going to the Galapagos Islands, seeing nature as it is meant to be, and only grimacing when you get back into town, get into your car, and start up that contraption to drive home to your garage door that automatically opens.

Baseball in its natural form, where we play on a diamond and think nothing of it, where we play under the sky, be it day or night, and razz each other a bit.  You know, that baseball game… the one like hanging out on your front porch.