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.
Uni Watch News Ticker: I called the Seahawks yesterday but didn’t get an answer regarding the lime green jerseys. Hang in there — I’m still on it. ”¦ Check this out — Bill Belechick in Boston Patriots gear (with thanks to Jack Krabbe). ”¦ Those new Boise State football uniforms look reallllly bad. ”¦ Lots of cool Dodgers memorabilia on view in this gallery. Accompanying article here (with thanks to Michael Vines). ”¦ No more Gatorade in the dugout for the Cubbies (with thanks to James Huening). ”¦ You know things are out of hand when the Islanders’ draft party has its own logo (with thanks to John Muir). ”¦ It’s possible I’ve linked to this before, but just in case: amazing home movie footage of the 1929 World Series (big thanks to Robert Ruszczyk). ”¦ Most of you are probably familiar with this famous photo of Paul Brown checking out Bengals helmet prototypes. Now gumball maven Bill Jones has created mini facsimiles of all the helmets in the photo. ”¦ XYZ! (As spotted by Elena Elms.) ”¦ Brian Kerr found this Iowa State helmet cart “on an abandoned tennis court on campus” the other day. ”¦ Also from Brian: EA has introduced a new team builder function for their NCAA football game. ”¦ And speaking of EA, they may have inadvertently leaked the new Washington State uniforms (with thanks to James Blethen). ”¦ Got a note from Phil yesterday, subject line “WTF?” Inside was a link to this. Anyone care to explain? ”¦ Additional info on the Washington Huskies’ new uniforms here (with thanks to Lee Ziegler). ”¦ New football uni set for New Mexico too: home goes from this to this, road goes from this to this (with thanks to Rob Montoya). ”¦ I’m visiting an old friend in New Jersey today — sort of. Details later. Play nice while I’m away.