Sunday April 29, 2012

Q: When baseball statisticians really get going, how far afield can they take things?

A: Check these out from the 2006 major league season, says Craig Robinson in "Flip Flop Fly Ball": Pitchers of all teams threw a total of 716,083 pitches, whose cumulative distances from mound to batter would have totaled just over 8,205 miles, or roughly the distance from St. Louis, to Mumbai, India.

"Non-triskadekaphobic" players who clearly were not afraid to wear the No. 13 on their uniforms for at least part of the 2011 season numbered 25, including Willie Randolph, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ozzie Guillen, Alex Avila, Omar Infante, Alex Rodriguez, Clint Hurdle and Gerald Laird.

And for a different angle on "stolen bases": During 2008, if all 2,757 of those bases had literally been stolen, at $90 per base, it would have cost major league baseball a quarter of a million dollars. That year, Willy Taveras of the Colorado Rockies led the ma jors with 68 stolen bases, for thievery of about $6,100 total value (un der Colorado law, a Class 4 felony).

Finally, while there’s no evidence that any particular surname makes for a better ballplayer. If history repeats itself, you’re most likely to make the majors as a Smith (145 from 1871-2009), Johnson (104), Jones (95), Miller (84), Brown (82), Williams (73), Wilson (69), Davis (63), Moore (49) or Taylor (47).

Don’t despair if your name begins with "Z." There have been more than five of these, though according to reference.com, surnames beginning with "X" have struck out.

Q: What remarkable classic device underscores the brain’s mysterious ability to generate a sensation of depth from the eyes’ two different images?

Maybe you were enchanted by one of these as a child.

A: After World War II, the little plastic hand-held View-Master was quite popular, taking reels of tiny Kodachrome transparencies that you flicked through by pressing a lever, says Oliver Sacks in "The Mind’s Eye."

As he recalls his own childhood, "I fell in love with faraway America at this time, partly through View-Master reels of the grand scenery of the American West and Southwest."

Known as a "stereoscope" from the Greek for "solid vision," it got its name in the 1830s from Charles Wheatstone, a physicist fascinated by the idea that the difference be tween the eyes’ two retinal images was crucial to the sense of depth.

To test this out, he designed a stereoscope with two flat drawings and found that when a person looked into it, the two drawings fused together to produce "a single three-dimensional drawing poised in space."

Q: Out of flashlight batteries? Then go get a lemon from the fridge and...

A: Insert a galvanized (zinc) nail and a copper penny, being careful they don’t touch inside, then string wires from these electrodes to hook up a small bulb and watch for it to light.

Linking several lemons in series may be necessary to get enough juice flowing, which works due to the chemical reaction between the zinc and the fruit acid.