Newsday columnist Neil Best posed an interesting question on his blog the other day:
Why are baseball outfields deepest in centerfield and shallowest in left and right? Why not a uniform distance all the way around?
In fact, why not have centerfield be the shortest distance from home and the areas just inside the foul poles be the farthest?
This way you reward people for hitting the ball straight, and decrease the benefit for hitting a ball barely fair (home run) versus barely foul (strike).
How about a wall that simply follows a straight line connecting foul pole to foul pole?
Best’s readers have posted some good comments, especially the one pointing out that the Dodgers wanted to build a dome in Brooklyn that would have been 380 feet to all fields. I’ve known about this proposed stadium for many years (it would have been about half a mile from my apartment, right where Bruce Ratner is now trying to build the new Nets arena; at the time, though, Robert Moses vetoed it, which is why the Dodgers ultimately left for California) but didn’t realize until now that the outfield wall would have been the same distance all the way around.
And really, why not? Why should a 360-foot shot down the line be a home run (as is the case in just about every “normal” ballpark) while a 360-foot shot to straightaway center is a can of corn?
The primary effect of a uniform-distance outfield wall is that would de-emphasize the importance of a centerfielder. The CF would still have to cover ground to his left and right, but he’d no longer have to cover more ground behind him than the corner outfielders.
Best’s suggestion for a straight outfield wall running pole to pole is particularly intriguing to me, because there’s a small park near my house where I’ve occasionally played softball. Because the field is sort of wedged in between a few surrounding roadways that run at odd angles, the back wall runs in a straight line across the outfield, just like Best’s suggestion. Last year I hit a home run to straightaway center and felt like a real stud until I realized it would’ve been a routine fly ball on regular field. Then I thought to myself, “Yeah, but a ball hit that same distance down the line on a regular field would’ve done the job.” Something about this didn’t sit right, but I couldn’t fully articulate what it was.
The most interesting question raised by all of this is something we all know but rarely discuss, namely the fact that there are no official guidelines for configuring a baseball outfield. I’m not saying either of Best’s proposals is superior to the accepted format of ballpark design (in fact, I don’t think I like either of them), but I do think they’re good food for thought. Discuss.
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Bonus ESPN Coverage: I attended yesterday’s WNBA press conference, where the Phoenix Mercury’s jersey-sponsorship deal with LifeLock was officially announced. I whipped up a quick ESPN column for the occasion — look here.
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