If you are a fan of baseball, you may have noticed that the number of home runs hit in the Major League Baseball (MLB) has increased dramatically in recent years. In fact, 2019 was the most prolific year for homers in MLB history, with 6,776 balls flying out of the park. That’s a whopping 11% increase from the previous record of 6,105 set in 2017.
What is behind this surge in home runs? Some have speculated that it could be due to changes in the ball design, the swing mechanics of the hitters, or the launch angle of the batted balls. But a new study published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that there may be another factor at play: climate change.
The study, led by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, analyzed the relationship between atmospheric conditions and home run rates from 1998 to 2018. They found that warmer temperatures, lower air density, and higher humidity all contributed to an increase in home run probability.
According to the study, these changes in atmospheric conditions are consistent with the effects of climate change, which is expected to make the air warmer and more humid in many regions. The researchers estimated that climate change alone could account for a 5% increase in home run probability over the past two decades.
How does climate change affect home runs? The answer lies in the physics of baseball. When a ball is hit by a bat, it experiences two opposing forces: gravity and air resistance. Gravity pulls the ball down, while air resistance slows it down. The higher the air density, the more drag the ball experiences. Conversely, the lower the air density, the less drag the ball experiences.
Therefore, when the air is warmer or more humid, it becomes less dense and exerts less drag on the ball. This means that the ball can travel farther before gravity brings it down. Similarly, when the air is colder or drier, it becomes more dense and exerts more drag on the ball. This means that the ball can travel less far before gravity brings it down.
The researchers calculated that a 1°C increase in temperature could increase home run probability by 1.8%, while a 10% increase in humidity could increase it by 2.1%. They also found that these effects were more pronounced in stadiums located at higher altitudes, where the air is naturally thinner and less dense.
The study also looked at how wind speed and direction affected home run rates. They found that tailwinds (winds blowing in the same direction as the ball) increased home run probability by 3.3%, while headwinds (winds blowing in the opposite direction as the ball) decreased it by 3.4%. They also found that crosswinds (winds blowing perpendicular to the ball) had no significant effect on home run probability.
The researchers concluded that climate change could have a substantial impact on baseball performance and outcomes in the future. They suggested that MLB could consider adjusting its rules or equipment to account for these changes and maintain a fair and balanced game.
They also warned that climate change could pose other challenges for baseball players and fans, such as increased heat stress, dehydration, and health risks. They urged MLB to take action to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and promote environmental sustainability.
The study is one of the first to examine how climate change affects sports performance and outcomes. It adds to a growing body of evidence that shows how climate change affects various aspects of human society and culture.
As baseball fans gear up for another season of exciting games and thrilling home runs, they may also want to pay attention to how climate change is changing their favorite sport.
Final Thoughts: Climate Change and the Home Run Surge in MLB
The new study linking climate change to the surge in home runs in Major League Baseball provides a fascinating insight into the complex interplay between environmental factors and human performance.
By analyzing the physics of baseball and the atmospheric conditions that affect it, the researchers have shown how even small changes in temperature, humidity, and air density can have a significant impact on the outcome of a game.
What is particularly interesting about this study is that it highlights the ways in which climate change can affect our cultural and social practices, as well as our physical health and well-being.
Baseball is not just a sport but a cultural institution that reflects the values and traditions of a society. As climate change alters the conditions in which we live and play, it is likely to have profound implications for our cultural practices and identity.
The study also underscores the need for proactive measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change on sports and other aspects of human society.
It suggests that sports organizations such as MLB need to consider adjusting their rules and equipment to account for the changing environmental conditions and maintain a fair and balanced game. It also highlights the need for broader efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainability in all areas of human activity.
In conclusion, the study linking climate change to the home run surge in MLB provides a thought-provoking glimpse into the complex interplay between human performance and environmental factors.
As we confront the challenges of climate change, we must recognize the ways in which it affects not just our physical health but also our cultural practices and identity. We must take proactive steps to mitigate its impacts and build a sustainable future for all.