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Evolution of the Fastball

July 15, 2013

Human anatomy is uniquely evolved to throw spears – and baseballs.



Baseball and human evolution. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(SFX: “Take me out to the ballgame” instrumental)

Americans have been obsessed with baseball for over a century. But the ability to throw a fast pitch goes back millions of years, according to Harvard anthropologists Neil Roach and Dan Lieberman. Lieberman says the unique anatomical features that allowed early humans to hunt large game with spears emerged around two million years ago with Homo erectus, the first hunter-gatherer.

DAN LIEBERMAN (Harvard University):

When a pitcher throws, or somebody throws a spear, they cock their arm back, when you cock your arm that way, you store up an enormous amount of elastic energy like a catapult, and then you release that energy almost instantly and it’s the fastest motion in the human body.


Lieberman says the ability to hunt large quantities of meat this way helped drive the evolution of larger brains. In contrast, chimpanzees, lack the ability to throw. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society. 

Watch the Harvard video on the evolution of throwing

The Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay is master pitcher. But just about all humans have what it takes to throw well, they just don't get much practice. (SD Dirk/flickr)