60-Second Science

Baseball: Corked Bats Don't Help Power Hitters

What distance a power hitter gains using a lighter corked bat he loses in collision efficiency. But a singles hitter may get solid contact more often with the lighter, illegal bat. Steve Mirsky reports

Baseball players sometimes cheat! One popular method has been to cork the bat. You drill out some of the core of the bat, and replace the heavy wood with light cork. You can then swing the lighter bat faster, and thus hit the ball further.


Of course, most ballplayers aren’t physicists, so they don’t realize that by making the bat lighter, they’re reducing the collision efficiency. You swing faster, but get a limper contact. In theory, anyway.


So physicists led by the University of Illinois’s Alan Nathan tested corked bats under controlled conditions. The doctored lumber actually usually causes the ball to go less far, they found. The work appears in the online forum the Physics arXiv. [] So for a power hitter to cork his bat is a bad idea.


But the researchers note that, ironically, a corked bat might result in more homers from non-homer hitters. Who can watch a pitch slightly longer before swinging, make up for the lost time with a faster swing and achieve more solid contact more often. So a corked bat is a bad idea for Sammy Sosa, who got caught using one. But a good idea for, say, Bucky Dent.


—Steve Mirsky


[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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