September 19, 2007
Steroid Use Boosts Home Runs With Small Muscle Mass Increases

Enough balls reach near the outer edge of the playing field that a few percent increase in ball speed coming off the bat is enough to increase home runs by 50% to 100%.

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. -- Steroid use by a Major League Baseball slugger may produce only modest increases in muscle mass and bat and ball speed but still boost home run production by 50 percent or more, according to a new study by Tufts University physicist Roger Tobin.

Tobin, a specialist in condensed matter physics with a long-time interest in the physics of baseball, will publish his paper "On the potential of a chemical Bonds: Possible effects of steroids on home run production in baseball" in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Physics.

As Tobin's paper notes, Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a single season stood for 34 years until Roger Maris hit 61 homers in 1961. For the next 35 years, no player hit more than 52 home runs in one season. But between 1998 and 2006, players hit more than 60 home runs in a season six times. Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001—topping Maris' mark by an astonishing 20 percent.

According to Tobin, the explosion in home runs coincides with the dawn of the "steroid era" in sports in the mid-1990s, and that surge quickly dropped to historic levels in 2003, when Major League Baseball instituted steroid testing.

What happens once parents start genetically engineering their kids at the stage of embryos to contain genes that make them super athletes? One solution: create baseball leagues where everyone genes genetically tested and people with closely equivalent genetic potentials play each other. But will the audience want to watch any league aside from the top league?

A 10% increase in muscle mass produces a 4% increase in ball speed as the ball leaves the bat.

Tobin reviewed previous studies of the effect of steroid use and concluded that muscle mass, the force exerted by those muscles and the kinetic energy of the bat could each be increased by about 10 percent through the use of steroids. According to his calculations, the speed of the bat as it strikes the pitched ball will be about 5 percent higher than without the use of steroids and the speed of the ball as it leaves the bat will be about 4 percent higher.

To determine the ultimate impact on home run production, Tobin then analyzed a variety of models for trajectory of the baseball, accounting for gravity, air resistance and lift force due to the ball's spin. While there was considerable variation among the models, "the salient point," he says, "is that a 4 percent increase in ball speed, which can reasonably be expected from steroid use, can increase home run production by anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent."

The article also provides an estimate of speed increases of balls thrown by juiced up pitchers.

One way to cut down on home runs on juiced up or genetically enhanced teams is to just make the playing field bigger. But a higher rate of home runs might be a good idea for a sport that has a fairly slow speed of play as compared to many other sports. So the genetically engineered players of the future might increase audience satisfaction.

When people start genetically engineering highly athletic offspring this is going to create some pretty big disagreements between nations over international sports. Will the Olympics try to remain genetically natural? They'll have to get genetic samples from parents to prove whether an athletic as a particular combination of athletics enhancing genetic alleles naturally or not. But even such a test won't work entirely. Two prospective parents could choose the ideal combination of their chromosomes to have a child who has the most ideal combination of genes from the two parents.

Genetic testing of parents also won't be possible for offspring whose mothers used sperm donors. Johnny doesn't know who his Dad is. Should that fact rule him ineligible for going to the Winter Olympics as a skier? Of course some moms will choose sperm donors based on great genetic profiles for athletics. So the use of sperm donors will allow natural babies will be born with athletic abilities at a higher rate than is currently the case.

We are living in the end of the era of "wild type" humans. The people around you all carry genes that they got as a result of natural mutations. We are approaching the era where wild type gradually (or not so gradually) gets replaced with the engineered and chosen. This conversion will happen in a very uneven fashion across the world due to differing levels of affluence, regulations, and beliefs.

Not everyone will use offspring genetic engineering. Of those who use it not all will use it as extensively and different people will use it to achieve different goals. Even athletic goals will differ. People who want tall basketball players will chose different genetic alleles than those who want ballet dancers or tennis players or swimmers or golf players. Will more people choose the muscle type ideal for sprints or the muscle type ideal for long distance runners? Will more go for basketball height or defensive lineman solidness? What will be the most popular athletic forms for genetically engineering parents?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 September 19 09:56 PM  Biotech Athletics

Fat Man said at September 19, 2007 10:16 PM:

The problem with this theorization is that it ignores the most salient fact about baseball. It is not an athletic event, it is a contest between two sides. Batters may have taken steroids to bulk up, but pitchers can, and do use steroids as well. Because pitchers have a higher rate of injury, and are more debilitated by it, they may actually gain more from steroids anti-inflammatory and healing properties than do hitters.

Besides, as Bobby Valentine said: "He didn't shoot it into his eyes."

Go Tribe!

Wolf-Dog said at September 20, 2007 9:38 AM:

But genetic selection is already being done: someone who went to Stanford, is very unlikely to marry a less intelligent person without a similar background. And it is in the area of cognitive genetic selection or engineering that the main competition will be, not so much for the looks.

rsilvetz said at September 20, 2007 7:37 PM:

Yep -- whatever the criteria for performance are, we can expect a shift of the mean towards higher performance, and a tightening of the distribution, so that the spread between individuals will be much narrower.

What will be interesting is if maximal performance can be re-engineered. Frank Herbert had some humans in ChapterHouse:Dune initiating strikes from their spinal neurons as opposed to central cortex. This idea always intrigued me. Of course we have Heinlein's Friday as an example of a maximal human.

I would also expect that reactions to stress on the body will be re-engineered as well. Imagine blood vessels designed for higher tension-strength, so that prolonged excersize-induced hypertension could not lead to a stroke. Or change the resistance of cells to inflammatory cascades so that septic shock could be avoided...

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