Can You Catch a Baseball Dropped Off the Empire State Building?

Don’t try it. The ball’s extra weight and shape would do some real damage. Not that it would necessarily kill someone below, but getting hit by a falling baseball sure wouldn’t do them any good.

There is, in fact, some data to back this up. In 1938, for a publicity stunt, some Cleveland Indians caught baseballs that had been lobbed off a skyscraper.

In response, the publicity man for the San Francisco Seals pro baseball team came up with an idea to go them one better. He figured that catching a baseball tossed out of the Goodyear Blimp would set a world’s record and make a great season-opening stunt for the San Francisco team.

Not that he was completely unaware of the dangers. Figuring that extra padding and paraphernalia would lessen the impact, he recruited Seals catcher Joe Sprinz to do the honors while in full regalia.

At the appointed time, the blimp lumbered into position about 800 feet overhead. After much fanfare and ballyhoo, a player in the blimp dropped a ball and watched it disappear into the field below. It missed its mark and landed in the bleachers, cracking a board as it hit.

A second ball at least landed within the playing field, landing outside the baseline and imbedding itself in the dirt. A lesser man might’ve quit, but Sprinz was determined to see the stunt through. Finally the blimp got into perfect position, and a third ball came rifling from the sky. Joe positioned himself underneath it and waited while the speck rapidly grew in size as it came screaming toward his outstretched glove.

It hit the glove squarely and with a tremendous thwack, but it didn’t stay there. Before Sprinz could close his hand and capture the ball, it bounced up and hit him in the face, splitting his lip, breaking his upper jaw, and knocking out several of his teeth.

The ball then dropped to the ground, and so did Joe. Still, he was triumphant as the guy who had attempted the highest catch ever recorded.

Over the years, other players have followed suit, but with better preparation, lower heights, and no significant injuries. Baseballs have been caught from tall buildings, hovering helicopters, and the Washington Monument—all from below a height of 700 feet.

Catching a falling baseball requires quick reflexes, luck, and being prepared for terminal velocity—a term that, despite its ominous sound, doesn’t mean “the speed that will kill you” but rather the fastest speed an object can attain in a free fall.”

The terminal velocity of a baseball is only about 95 miles an hour. That’s about the same speed a ball travels when thrown by a good fastball pitcher.

In other words, a ball that’s careening from a great height might be caught by a professional, but it can be dangerously unpredicable and potentially lethal if it hits the person’s head instead of the glove.

Fastballs can be lethal as well, which is why batters wear helmets.

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