Golf Balls Inspire MIT Instructor To Make a Better Baseball Bat

ONE baseball-bat-company executive says he thinks bats are pretty streamlined already. That hasn't stopped Jeff Di Tullio, however, who has gone searching for a ``faster'' bat. Di Tullio is a technical instructor in the aeronautics and astronautics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass.

Through his wind-tunnel research, he has come up with a patented bat design that increases swing speed by 3 to 5 percent, resulting in 10 to 15 additional feet for a fly ball hit by top-level players, according to Di Tullio's calculations.

This is achieved by using a dimple pattern much like that found on golf balls. The dimples, which Di Tullio pressed into ordinary wooden bats, ease the air flow over a bat's contours and cut down on the drag caused by the bat pushing through the air.

Dimpled bats may never be used in major-league baseball, whose officials are reluctant to do anything that would artificially alter the playing norm. The rule book states that a bat's surface must be smooth.

Di Tullio, however, isn't so sure this rules out his design. He points out that even currently acceptable smooth-barreled bats have a number of intrusions in the form of names and manufacturer insignias burned into the surface. The dimpled bat offers only what he calls a ``passive advantage,'' as opposed to bats made of metal or composites, or wooden bats with cork inserts.

Fast-pitch softball players might benefit most from increased bat speed. They often are handcuffed by high-velocity deliveries made from only 46 feet away, compared with 60 feet between the mound and home plate in baseball. Bob Knight wears mini `billboard'

The commercialism that swirls around all sports these days is certainly no stranger to college basketball. One small but telling example appears whenever Indiana University plays, which happens Friday night against Boston College in the East Regional semifinal of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. Coach Bob Knight has made a red sweater his trademark, and of late that sweater bears a Starter sportswear logo between Knight's shoulder blades, where TV cameras can't miss it. The entire IU men's basketball coaching staff has a contract to wear Starter apparel during games, practices, and press conferences.

Knight also has an agreement with Baden Sports Inc., a fast-growing ball manufacturer based in Washington State, to use Baden basketballs exclusively in the Indiana men's basketball program through his retirement.

Touching other bases

* Magic Johnson returns to the Los Angeles Lakers' bench Sunday, not as a player but as the team's new coach. The decision has ``test drive'' written all over it, since there is enough time left in the season to see what Johnson can do and decide whether he should stay on to help rebuild the franchise.

The club has fallen on hard times under coach Randy Pfund, who is being replaced even though he signed a one-year contract extension earlier this month. Johnson retired as a Laker player several years ago after he was diagnosed as having the AIDS virus.

Since then he has played on the 1992 United States Olympic ``Dream Team,'' made a short NBA comback, barnstormed a bit with his own touring team against minor-league competition, and been involved with a Toronto group that was passed over in the selection process to award Canada a National Basketball Association expansion team.

* President Clinton graced the cover of Sports Illustrated this past week, holding a basketball in front of the White House while wearing a University of Arkansas basketball jacket. As the headline says, the Chief Executive is ``high on the Hogs'' - the U. of Arkansas Razorbacks, that is. He reportedly might make it to Dallas this weekend to watch Arkansas play the University of Tulsa in the Midwest Regional semifinals of the NCAA men's tournament. Even if he doesn't attend, he will have all the relevant facts and figures at hand. The two universities have confirmed that the White House requested the game notes that the schools' sports information offices compiled for the media.

Earlier this season, Clinton attended an Arkansas home game in Fayetteville against Texas Southern University. It wasn't much of a game, as Arkansas held a 50-point lead shortly after halftime en route to a lopsided 129-63 win. Clinton's attendance presumably marked the first time a sitting president had attended a basketball game.

* Anyone convinced that Notre Dame is strictly a football school, with a dash of basketball thrown in, might revise his or her view upon learning that the Fighting Irish won the men's and women's national fencing championships this week in Waltham, Mass. Notre Dame was the only non-Eastern school among the top 10 finishers.

* Talk about going stone cold, the NBA's Indiana Pacers virtually hit rock bottom in the scoring department Tuesday night by making only 24 of 82 shots in a 93-61 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Indiana's point total was only four more than the lowest ever recorded since the 24-second shooting clock was introduced in 1954.

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