Get Your Geek On: Pi Day with the Hall

Baseball has always been a game about numbers. There is a special relationship between the sport and its statistics, and no numerical element too small for further examination. March 14th will present a unique opportunity for stat geeks and number nerds. Why, you ask? Well, March 14th is National Pi (π) Day, the date when we recognize the magical and mystical mathematical constant of 3.14.

National π Day is celebrated by a number of organizations across the nation, and we are pleased to join with them. A list of helpful websites can be found at the end of this page.

Let the celebration commence.

Baseball Pi-volities

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A pitcher’s Earned Run Average (ERA) is calculated by dividing the number of earned runs allowed by innings pitched, and multiplying the amount by 9 [(ER/IP) x 9]. This is a basic statistic in measuring a pitcher’s effectiveness.

3.14 is considered to be a respectable ERA and only a handful of pitchers have a career ERA of 3.14 (rounded to nearest 1/100th):

Bert Gallia 1912-1920
Tug McGraw 1965-1984
Mike Cuellar 1959-1977
Mike Marshall 1967-1981

Mike Marshall comes the closest to π with a 3.141, so let us designate him as the lead pitcher for the all-time, all-π pitching squad.

On a seasonal basis, close to one hundred pitchers have earned a 3.14 ERA for the year, and from that list, Hall of Fame inductees only appear three times:

Stan Coveleski 1927
Warren Spahn 1954
Tom Seaver 1979

This is a very exclusive club.

Baseball’s Pi-Babies

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For those lucky enough to have been born on March 14, they carry the designation as being π-babies, and only 48 major league players can claim this moniker. Here is our selection for the all-time, all-π-baby team:

Pitcher Kevin Brown 1965
Catcher Butch Wynegar 1956
First Base Billy O’Brien 1960
Second Base Brent Gates 1970
Third Base Marty McManus 1900
Shortstop Candy Nelson 1849
Leftfielder Jud Daley 1884
Centerfielder Kirby Puckett* 1960
Rightfielder Jack Rothrock 1905

*HOF Class of 2001

Fun Fact - Who is the most famous π-baby?

Albert Einstein, born on March 14, 1879.

Considered to be one of the smartest men of science, he found baseball a difficult sport to understand. Einstein once said, "You teach me baseball and I'll teach you relativity...No we must not. You will learn about relativity faster than I learn baseball."

Baseball’s Pi-Died Team

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Another select group of 22 baseball players have passed away on π-day, and they should also be recognized. Here is the all-time, all-π-died squad:

Pitcher Nat Hudson 1928
Catcher Mike Hines 1910
First Base Lena Styles 1956
Second Base Lee Magee 1966
Third Base Heinie Zimmerman 1969
Shortstop Zeb Terry 1988
Leftfielder Al Gionfriddo 2003
Centerfielder Danny Hoffman 1922
Rightfielder Al Wickland 1980
Executive Alex Pompez** 1974

*HOF Class of 2006

Baseball Pi-challenges

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Challenge No. 1: Diameter of a Baseball

The diameter of any circle can be calculated by dividing the circumference by π (D = C/π). According to Major League Baseball Rule 1.09, a baseball must measure “not less than nine nor more than 9 ¼ inches in circumference.”

Therefore, if a baseball is nine inches in circumference, what is its diameter?

Answer

Challenge No. 2: Differences in the Diameter of Baseball Bats

Baseball bats are also regulated as to size and weight, but the bat handles have varied greatly over time. Today’s bats tend to have thinner handles. For example, let us compare a Honus Wagner bat from 1903 and an Ichiro Suzuki bat from 2004. Measuring the circumference of the bat just three inches up from the knob, we get the following:

Honus Wagner 4.8 inches
Ichiro Suzuki 3.1 inches

Using the D = C/π formula, calculate the diameter of both bats.

What is the difference?

Does this help explain why bats seem to break more often in today’s game?

Answer

Challenge No. 3: Baseball π -Ku

In literature, haiku is a form of Japanese poetry totaling 17 syllables in three lines, with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern. π-ku consists of eight syllables in three lines, with a 3-1-4 pattern.

Here is an example of baseball π-ku:

Baseball is
our
national game

Can you write a baseball π-ku?

More Pi Resources

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Teachers and students are encouraged to discover more about π and its importance to math and science. Like π, the possibilities are infinite.

Here is a list of web sites where further examinations may be conducted:

National Pi Day
San Francisco Exploratorium
Harvard University Mathematics Department
National Pi Day Organization
Joy of Pi
National Public Radio

Thanks to Dave Smith and Retrosheet.org for his assistance in locating player data for this article.