In addition to the distance, the time of flight is also needed. Again to do this, I counted frames of the videos, as well as used a stopwatch. Once those two parameters are found, we can determine the entire flight of the ball. Once again, I plugged the distance and time values into Alan Nathan’s trajectory calculator to determine the initial speed and angle of the throws. As before, the same assumptions were made regarding the drag coefficient, spin rate, and release height. They were assumed to be 0.350, 1500 rpm, and 6 feet, respectively.
Onto the throws. In these plots, the red dots show the position of the ball in half-second intervals and the bar on the right shows the location and height of the ball when it was caught.
Roberto Clemente, October 16, 1971
Roberto Clemente was one of the best players of his generation, collecting 3,000 hits being a 12-time Gold Glove winner. A main factor in his Gold-Glove-winning-ways may have been his arm which helped him lead the league in putouts three times. One of his most famous throws occurred in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1971 World Series. The game was played at the Oriole’s old stadium, Memorial Stadium. That field was 309 feet to right, and Clemente threw it from the warning track to just in front of home plate, freezing the runner at third. I estimate that the throw traveled 295 feet in 2.79 seconds. After using the trajectory calculator, I find that Clemente released it at 98.6 mph and at an angle of 9.7 degrees.
Joe Ferguson, October 12, 1974
Joe Ferguson was a catcher and right-fielder for the Dodgers in 1974 when they fell to the Oakland A’s in the World Series. However, his memorable play of the series came in Game 1 when he cut in front of centerfielder Jimmy Wynn on a fly ball to throw out Sal Bando at home. I estimate that his throw traveled 280 feet in 2.47 seconds. From these values, I find that he released the ball at an angle of 7.5 degrees with the ball travelling at 103.2 mph.
Dave Parker, July 17, 1979
Dave Parker had a memorable night at the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle as he threw out two runners and was named MVP of the game. On this play, Parker fields the ball in deep right field and fires a strike home to nail Brian Downing. The game occurred in the Kingdome where the right field foul pole is 316 feet from home. Parker is certainly away from the wall and the track and the ball travels on the fly to home, so I estimate the throw to be 260 feet and have a hang time of 2.10 seconds. From there, I find that the ball was released at 109.6 mph and at an angle of 5.3 degrees.
The throw in question occurs at 3:14.
Ellis Valentine led the major leagues with 25 assists and received a Gold Glove in 1978. His manager Felipe Alou praised his strong arm. His arm strength is on display on this throw as he throws from the right field corner to third base on one hop. The right field line measures 325 feet in Olympic Stadium, and I estimate that the ball bounces 15 feet from third base, giving a total distance of 320 feet. I also estimate that the time of flight is 3.14 seconds. Therefore, Valentine had to have released the ball at 98.7 mph and an angle of 11.8 degrees.
The throw in question occurs at 0:08.
Jesse Barfield led the American League in assists three years in a row (1985-87) and was well known for his arm in the 80s. On this throw, he guns out a runner trying to advance to third on a single to right. I estimate the he threw the ball from 200 feet away and that it only took 1.80 seconds for the ball to get to third base. From these values, I find that Barfield released the ball at 92.6 mph and at an angle of 5.7 degrees.
Bo Jackson, June 5, 1989
Bo Jackson burst onto the baseball scene in 1987 after winning college football’s Heisman Trophy in 1985. A two-way star at Auburn University, he became the only athlete to be named an All-Star in both MLB and the NFL. A legendary moment from the 1989 season was when Jackson threw out speedster Harold Reynolds at home plate (Reynolds had 25 stolen bases that season). The throw from the left field warning track to home plate measures in at 310 feet in the Mariners’ old home, the Kingdome, with the foul pole being 316 feet from home. I also find that the ball was in the air for 3.15 seconds. I find that Jackson had to have released the ball at 96.2 mph and an angle of 12.3 degrees.
Bo Jackson, August 31, 1993
Bo Jackson was an incredible athlete and physical specimen, but a hip injury in 1991 derailed his potentially illustrious career. In 1993 while playing for the White Sox, he delivered a strike to third base off a fly ball to right (My favorite part of this video is when his teammates come over to congratulate him and Bo’s arms are twice as big as Tim Raines’). Old Yankee Stadium was 385 feet to right center and 314 feet down the right field line, but Jackson was not near the wall. Estimating the distance on this throw was tricky, but I find it to be 285 feet. Also, I estimate the time of flight to be 2.60 seconds. From these values, I find that ball was travelling at 100.5 mph and came out at an angle of 8.2 degrees.
Vladimir Guerrero, June 3, 1997
Finally, we finish with another throw by Vladimir Guerrero. This throw occurred in the spacious Shea Stadium which was 341 feet to the right field pole. Guerrero throws the ball from near the right field corner to home on one hop to get Todd Hundley out. I estimated that the ball bounced 15 feet from home, thus giving the throw a total distance of 310 feet. I also find that the ball was in the air for 2.73 seconds. Based on these values, Guerrero released the ball at 106.7 mph and at an angle of 7.8 degrees.
The table below summarizes all of the information presented above for easy comparisons. Note that the average horizontal speed is just the distance divided by the time.
|Comparing the Great Throws|
|Player||Date||Ballpark||Distance (ft)||Time (sec)||Avg Horiz Speed (mph)||Catch off ground (ft)||Release speed (mph)||Release angle (degrees)|
|Roberto Clemente||10/16/71||Memorial Stadium||295||2.79||72.1||0||98.6||9.7|
|Joe Ferguson||10/12/74||Dodger Stadium||280||2.47||77.3||2||103.2||7.5|
|Ellis Valentine||?||Olympic Stadium||320||3.14||69.5||0||98.7||11.8|
|Bo Jackson||8/31/93||Yankee Stadium||285||2.60||74.7||0||100.5||8.2|
|Vladimir Guerrero||6/3/97||Shea Stadium||310||2.73||77.4||0||106.7||7.8|
Also, the graph below overlays all the throws onto one another for quick comparisons.
What I find surprising is the speed at which Dave Parker released the ball. 109 mph is very fast and he did it at such a low angle of 5.3 degrees. He was able to get his whole body around the ball and get a crow hop though, which certainly helped him. Bo Jackson’s throws are impressive as well because it doesn’t appear that he steps into the throw that much. His throw in Yankee Stadium happened after his hip surgery and delivered a strike after being flat-footed.
As with the last article, I do not wish to declare a winner, only to present the metrics of these outstanding throws and hope that these numbers can offer a new direction to analyze throws over word-of-mouth arguments.