Rookie of the Year
Set In: 1993
Sport: Major League Baseball


12-year old Henry Rowengartner breaks his arm after slipping on a rogue baseball and during healing the tendons inexplicably fuse to the bone. This causes Henry to be able to throw a baseball as few can. And when he does so for the first time, returning a homerun ball from the center field bleachers back to the catcher behind home plate (giving the finger to physics entirely), the losing Cubs decide they need him on their team. In true family film fashion, the events that follow require some serious suspension of disbelief but even with the medical logistics aside, the film raises a multitude of questions. So we consulted the 1993 Official Baseball Rules.

A Minor in the Majors
Can Henry, at 12 years old, even play in the major leagues? The rulebook itself states nothing about those types of league laws, but if today’s rules are any indication they clearly state that in order to be eligible to play you cannot fall under certain categories. The MLB website states (at least about the draft):

Certain groups of players are ineligible for selection, generally because they are still in school. The basic categories of players eligible to be drafted are:
• High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
• College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
• Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed

They don’t even talk about middle schoolers because, well, they’re just really young. So the short answer is no, Henry is far too young to actually play in the major leagues.

You’re (Randomly) Hired!
Let’s assume for the moment that being 12 wasn’t an issue. Can a person just get randomly hired as a player during the season? From what I found, no, they can’t. There are 2 ways to make it into the major leagues: you can be drafted, at which point every team has a shot at you, or you can go through a scouting camp. Assuming you attend a scouting camp, even at the behest of a person (like the general manager in the movie whose idea it was to hire Henry), you can’t be signed until you actually complete the camp. And those camps don’t generally happen during the season.

Pitcher’s Got a Big Butt
During a National League game Henry, as a pitcher, is forced to hit. Having almost no real strike zone because he’s so small, he is easily walked. While on first base he begins to harass the pitcher with schoolyard taunts by saying he has a big butt and other quips until out of frustration the pitcher throws a wild ball toward first to try and tag Henry out. Instead it goes past the first basement and Henry manages to advance to second. Can you do that?

It may not be the most adult thing to do, but I’ve heard this happens in various scenarios during real life games. Good-natured ribbing is something I picture to be a staple of sports in general, but if you go too far with the language you could get ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct.

4.06 (a) No manger, player, substitute, coach, trainer or batboy shall at any time, whether from the bench, the coach’s box, or on the playing field, or elsewhere-
(2) Use language which will in any manner refer to or reflect upon opposing players, an umpire, or any spectator;

A 12-year old telling a pitcher they have a big butt and other fairly childish insults is something I could realistically see an umpire looking past but I guess it all boils down to the umpire that hears the taunts. It doesn’t say anything about getting a warning or not first, but I have to believe that stuff like this is so harmless as to go unnoticed.

The Hidden Ball Trick
Near the end of the film there is a meeting at the mound, after which the first baseman returns to first with the ball tucked into his glove. Rowegartner appears as if he has the ball and is in the beginning of his pitching stance, after which the runner on first takes a nice lead. Rowengartner relaxes his stances and casually tosses the rosin bag he’s been holding into the air. The runner realizes what happened, turns to go back to first and is tagged out. The game’s announcer (played by John Candy) calls it the Hidden Ball Trick. Is this a real play and is it really legal?

The answer is yes to both, however the film incorrectly executes it. Major League Baseball’s current official rules actually reference the Hidden Ball Trick in the index and while the 1993 rules don’t specifically, the text is still the same for the rules:

8.05 If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when—
(a) The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery;
(i) The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch;

In actuality, Henry appears to be in violation of both of these. The film shows him at the top of the mound after the meeting via an aerial shot and they never show him move from that. We don’t ever see a close-up of his feet to see whether he is touching or straddling the pitching rubber, but he does go into his pitcher’s initial stance of reading the catcher’s signals. After this he relaxes and tosses the rosin bag in the air which, given the rule above, would have amounted to a balk. In real life if he had not attempted to feign his pitching stance to draw the runner off first base, it could have been a legal move but this is precisely why runners in the major leagues don’t lead off until the pitcher has entered his stance or has his foot on the rubber.

Giving the Finger to Physics
Last but not least, I went a little beyond the normal search of rules and employed my friend and resident math expert Tom Starling to see whether something was even remotely possible by a human being.  When Henry is “discovered” it is when he throws the ball back to home place from the middle of center field.  By the estimation of the commentator, he threw the ball approximately 425 feet.  I clocked how long the movie showed the ball traveling to get to the plate and posed the question to Tom.  This was his response:

“Based on my calculations the ball would have had an initial velocity of 280 MPH (the release point of the baseball at which the ball is at its fastest speed), which is obviously ridiculous. This is based on his release point of the baseball being 20 feet and then factoring in gravity and how the speed will decrease with air resistance. This would be characterized as a pitch which the ball is not thrown vertically to get there. If it is thrown vertically at all the MPH would most likely be consistent with the 103 MPH that was shown in the movie.

The fastest pitcher in the game in comparison is Aroldis Chapman who was clocked at 105 MPH. So there is someone can theoretically throw faster than him. But it would take an act of god for someone to throw a ball 280 MPH to get it from the edge of the outfield to home plate.”

Gravity = 32 feet per second per second. Distance = 20 (Height at which the ball is thrown) = 16 * t^ 2. 20/16 = t^2. t = 1.118 seconds to fall to the ground.
XMPH * 1.118 = 450 feet
X = 402.5 ft/sec
YMPH = feet per second (1 mile = 5280 feet, 1 hour = 3660 seconds, Y * 5280 / 3660 = 402.5 )
Y= 279.5 MPH