The Irregular Outfields of Baseball
May 9, 2019 1:31 PM   Subscribe

"Baseball is a sport rooted in rules and regulations. Everything in the game is standardized, planned, and coordinated, based on a guideline or precedent. Everything, that is, but the park itself: outfield sizes and wall heights vary across the entire league. There are 30 MLB stadiums. No two of them are alike."

If you like this, here's every stadium from the article in one handy graphic. And check out Clem's Baseball for side-by-side comparisons of ballparks both past and present.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! (39 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have always found this to be quite odd. Other professional sports are so very regulated with regard to pitch/rink/field size, but baseball is just like 'there should be a wall somewhere? probably?'

There's a (super not professional) diamond near my office that is basically the infield, about 20 feet of grass, and a hill. The infield is carefully groomed clay. It has home and away benches with covers, indoor change rooms, even a few small bleachers. But practically no outfield at all. It's probably perfect for little kid leagues.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:38 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Dodger Stadium is the only remaining National League park with symmetrical outfield dimensions.

This is shocking! I love the quirkiness of baseball stadiums, but - being a Kansas City Royals fan, used to seeing a symmetrical park - it's never registered with me that Kauffman is a rarity.
posted by something something at 1:55 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


No mention of Tal's Hill, an actual hill in the outfield of the Houston Astro's Minute Maid Park? It made for some great plays and embarrassing bloopers. They flattened out Tal's Hill in 2015 but the memories live on: mostly of annoyed outfielders that not only had to sprint across the outfield to catch a fly ball, but then they had to climb a damned hill.

I'm all for having variety in ballparks - it's one of the things that makes the game fun - but I always thought that having an actual hill was kind of unfair. If Houston has a hill, what next? A pit between 1st and 2nd base in Pittsburgh? An outfield lake in Minneapolis? A slippery slope in Mudville? Who can say.
posted by Gray Duck at 2:00 PM on May 9 [17 favorites]


Other professional sports are so very regulated with regard to pitch/rink/field size
Are they though?

The pitch based sports I vaguely follow are cricket, rugby and football (soccer). Cricket pitches vary hugely in size. Rugby pitches can be 94 to 100m long and 68 to 70m wide, about a 9% range in sqm. Football pitches (probably the worlds biggest commercial sport?) can be long and thin or square. The rules say 45 to 90m wide, and 90 to 120m long. International matches have tighter regs but you could have pitches in a professional league where one is 4050sqm and the other is 10800sqm, about 270% the size. The shape of the pitch does influence the tactics too, its not unusual to see a reference to the "big pitch" in a match preview for example if a lesser level team gets to play a game at a big ground like Wembley.

Current Premier League pitches range from The Etihad Stadium - 116.5 x 78 yards - 8932 sq.yards to Upton Park - 110 x 70 yards - 7700 sq.yards. Personally I find this a bit disappointing. I miss the old days when there was more variation and going to certain away grounds came with lots of quirks and "home advantage". I can't find it now but I even remember one club narrowing their pitch one year because they thought a "tighter" game would suit their squad.

As with baseball, all these sports tightly define the size and relative position of sub-elements on the pitch. I imagine its a by-product of these being older, community based games. You set your game up on whatever space was available and the rules needed to allow some flexibility.
posted by samworm at 2:06 PM on May 9 [13 favorites]


what next? A pit between 1st and 2nd base in Pittsburgh? An outfield lake in Minneapolis? 

Tell us more about your plans for a baseball / ninja warrior mashup.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:19 PM on May 9 [8 favorites]


Are they though?

Maybe that's just my North American bias. Hockey arenas come in two pretty standard sizes. There are two sizes of football (hand-egg) fields. Lacrosse has a couple of variations, but field lacrosse is fairly standard and box lacrosse is because hockey arenas are. Basketball, tennis, volleyball courts are standardized. Curling ice is very precise.

I really only follow football (round) at World Cup time where things are more precise, and don't follow cricket or rugby at all.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:26 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


New York City FC supposedly suffers as a team because its pitch, built within the size constraints of Yankee Stadium, is the smallest in the league and makes it difficult to play well at home.
posted by The World Famous at 2:40 PM on May 9


what next? A pit between 1st and 2nd base in Pittsburgh? An outfield lake in Minneapolis?

Tell us more about your plans for a baseball / ninja warrior mashup.


"Multiball! MULTIBAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!! BLEEEEEERRRRNNNNS!!!!!"
posted by history_denier at 2:41 PM on May 9 [7 favorites]




The SF Giants' stadium has the lovely McCovey Cove to absorb well-hit homers. (Go Giants!)
posted by chavenet at 3:40 PM on May 9


"...but baseball is just like 'there should be a wall somewhere? probably?"

At least historically it was more like "We've got this plot of land, how best can we fit a baseball stadium in it?" After a round of more standardized stadia in the 1960s and 1970s, the style, beginning with Camden Yards in 1992, has been to intentionally produce non-standard dimensions.
posted by plastic_animals at 4:18 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


> No mention of Tal's Hill, an actual hill in the outfield of the Houston Astro's Minute Maid Park? It made for some great plays and embarrassing bloopers. They flattened out Tal's Hill in 2015 but the memories live on: mostly of annoyed outfielders that not only had to sprint across the outfield to catch a fly ball, but then they had to climb a damned hill.

At least they put the warning strip in front of the hill rather than on the hill. The real sadistic element is the flagpole on the hill about 4' on the wrong side of the wall
posted by ardgedee at 4:19 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


"...but baseball is just like 'there should be a wall somewhere? probably?"

Are... are there actually no rules about the condition of the outfield in major league stadiums? Clearly it doesn't have to be perfectly level turf, or Houston couldn't have put in a hill in theirs. Clearly the size and configuration of the outfield is variable. How deep does this go? I genuinely don't follow the sport, so I don't know, but I have so many followup questions. Can you add obstacles, as long as both teams have to deal with them in equal measure? How obnoxious can they be? Are we talking slight inclines of the turf, or sand traps, or tires strewn about the place? How often can you change your outfield configuration? Like, there's a team coming to town with a rookie center fielder who likes to make big leaps to grab deep fly balls that might clear the fence; can you add a moat in front of the center field wall?

Major League Baseball, I implore you: I am your target audience. It doesn't have to be American Ninja Warrior. All you have to do is add enough chaos to the game to make it palatable to sit through four hours of guys trying to hit a ball with a stick.
posted by Mayor West at 4:35 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


The outfield quirk of Rogers Centre in Toronto is lost in this information. The centrefield wall is 400 feet away from the plate, but the foul lines are 328 feet away - or exactly 100 meters . A little nod to Canada's metric measurements.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:42 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


How deep does this go?

Well, teams get to regulate the length of grass in their field, to slow or speed up ground balls. I believe they can even have different lengths in different parts of the field. Actual obstacles are mostly restricted to the extreme margins of the park -- rolled-up tarps, camera enclosures and the like.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:05 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


the Unpopular Opinion podcast just did a show on why baseball is the best. Among other things, they sited conservatively kept (if historied) rules set against crazy local customs and fields.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:15 PM on May 9


Major League Baseball, I implore you: I am your target audience. It doesn't have to be American Ninja Warrior

The bumper pool of baseball. Bumper baseball. ⚾️ 🎱
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:16 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Here's another deep variant: field orientation -- MLB Rule 1.04 says: "It is desirable that the line from home base through the pitchers plate to second base shall run East Northeast.".

Here's how all the parks are situated (not all satisfy the desire).
posted by buzzv at 6:16 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


That field orientation is how left-handed pitchers got to be called southpaws.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:25 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


Here's how all the parks are situated

Argh.

"The orientation of the field — like everything else about Major League Baseball — is proscribed by the rule book."

Is not. PREscribed, maybe, but not really even that. More like suggested.
posted by ctmf at 7:00 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Blernsball!
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:07 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


“No two of them are alike.”

I was reading a 2007 column by Roger Angell last night, written on the occasion of Barry Bonds’s record-breaking 756th home run, in which Angell says that baseball’s ‘most hallowed record’ is more “hollow, perhaps, since home-run totals are determined not just by the batters but by different pitchers, in very different eras, and, most of all, by the outer dimensions of the major-league parks, which have always varied widely and have been deliberately reconfigured in the 16 ballparks built since 1992, thus satisfying the owners’ financial interest in more and still more home runs... [If the owners] were in charge of the classic Olympic 100-meter dash, [they] would stage it variously at 106 meters, 94, 103, and so forth, and engrave the resulting times on a tablet.”
posted by LeLiLo at 7:43 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Gray Duck: "I'm all for having variety in ballparks - it's one of the things that makes the game fun - but I always thought that having an actual hill was kind of unfair. If Houston has a hill, what next? A pit between 1st and 2nd base in Pittsburgh? An outfield lake in Minneapolis? A slippery slope in Mudville? Who can say."

Eh, changes in height have been pretty common historically. I thought it was a nice throwback.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:58 PM on May 9


Mayor West: "Are... are there actually no rules about the condition of the outfield in major league stadiums? Clearly it doesn't have to be perfectly level turf, or Houston couldn't have put in a hill in theirs. Clearly the size and configuration of the outfield is variable. How deep does this go?"

You want to look at section 2 of the Official Baseball Rules [PDF]. As far as I can see, there's no reference to the field being level or, for that matter, about things not being in play (like old Yankee Stadium's monuments or Forbes Field's batting cage).
posted by Chrysostom at 8:04 PM on May 9


We all know that there's no rule that says a dog can't play
posted by emjaybee at 8:57 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


You think baseball has problems with playing field uniformity, take a look at golf.
posted by darksasami at 1:30 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]


Yeah, ballparks can have some pretty wild features. While it was just a college ball park, the number one choice on the list, Clark Field, was pretty great. Here's a brief article on a special game there with an even better photo of the park.

Some of the early 20th century major league parks were awfully weird too, but not quite so much as Clark Field.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:01 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]


No mention of Tal's Hill, an actual hill in the outfield of the Houston Astro's Minute Maid Park? It made for some great plays and embarrassing bloopers. They flattened out Tal's Hill in 2015 but the memories live on: mostly of annoyed outfielders that not only had to sprint across the outfield to catch a fly ball, but then they had to climb a damned hill.

Which had a couple of big-league antecedents.

The Terrace at Crosley Field in Cincinnati
Duffy's Cliff at (pre-1933) Fenway Park in Boston
posted by non canadian guy at 4:21 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


While I prefer the "retro-modern" of Camden Yards and Minute Maid to the old ashtray style that was popular when I was growing up, I don't like the way they just sort of glom quirky details cribbed from other parks onto a stadium built in the middle of a parking lot. I think Petco is the best of this style, and I absolutely love the way they incorporated the Western Metal Supply building into the field itself. I actually love Marlins Park. It is unique and has its own original personality. And that sculpture in center field is just *chef's kiss*.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:39 AM on May 10


Love this post. I have said that if a new team ever started in an area where altitude affected pitching, that a massive park would be awesome. 450 down the lines, 525 to center. You'd take away the homerun, see unique defensive set-ups, watch the evolution of hitting strategy, etc. The park would take the power and standard strategy utilizing power that every team employs out of the equation. That would shake things up.

I wonder how adjustable outfield walls (depth and height) would be taken? I imagine that as long as it is set for the whole game, it doesn't seem like it would be too much to manage. Green Monster one day, short shelf to McCovey Bay the next. It seems to fit with the retractable dome model.

I really like the idea of the physical space calling for adaptation of strategy.

Thank you for posting.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:02 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I wonder how adjustable outfield walls (depth and height) would be taken? I imagine that as long as it is set for the whole game, it doesn't seem like it would be too much to manage. Green Monster one day, short shelf to McCovey Bay the next. It seems to fit with the retractable dome model.

That was once tried by, no real surprise, the ever inventive Bill Veeck.

When Veeck purchased the team in 1947, the club played in the cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which measured 463 feet to dead center. So he built a fence to shrink the field, only with a little bit of a twist: The fence was portable -- the Indians could move it in and out by as much as 15 feet, depending on the opponent or anything else.

Cleveland's pitchers loved it, but alas, the rest of the American League did not. The movable fences lasted just one year, and were outlawed by the time the 1948 season rolled around.

posted by gusottertrout at 7:59 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]


Love this post. I have said that if a new team ever started in an area where altitude affected pitching, that a massive park would be awesome. 450 down the lines, 525 to center. You'd take away the homerun, see unique defensive set-ups, watch the evolution of hitting strategy, etc. The park would take the power and standard strategy utilizing power that every team employs out of the equation. That would shake things up.

The Colorado Rockies play at Coors Field in Denver, which is about as high as you could ever hope for a major league team to be situated in the US, and while there is an altitude effect, it looks like it has mostly been solved by keeping game balls in a humidor before they are used.

The problem with adjusting a field to one extreme or the other is that either your pitchers or your hitters hate it, because it fucks with their statistics, which is primarily how they demonstrate their performance come contract-signing time. A lot of pitchers didn't want to go to Colorado before the humidor thing because they thought it would make their numbers look bad to any other teams that were interested in signing them.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:29 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


They built Coors Field to be bigger than usual ballpark dimensions to compensate for the altitude, but it turns out all that space in the outfield opened up space for lots of singles and doubles, too.

Likewise, in the old Polo Grounds days, if you actually hit it over Willie Mays (or his less-talented predecessors) in center, you were still getting a homer, but you had to run for it instead of getting to jog.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:01 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Oh! And the other humidor team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, switched their infield to turf this year, because their grass was drying out and balls were zipping through there like it was 1987 AstroTurf.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:02 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


I was reading a 2007 column by Roger Angell last night

Here's the column. (New Yorker link, so don't click if the paywall's an issue.)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:54 AM on May 10


As far as I can see, there's no reference to the field being level or, for that matter, about things not being in play (like old Yankee Stadium's monuments or Forbes Field's batting cage).

From section 2.01, "Layout of the field": "The infield shall be graded so that the base lines and home plate are level." But it sounds like you can do whatever you want to the outfield. Not putting sand traps and old tires out there is a matter of custom, not law.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:00 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


And that sculpture in center field is just *chef's kiss*.

I have bad news for you - the sculpture has been moved.
posted by zempf at 11:06 AM on May 10


In most professional sports, the playing surface and goal size are the same everywhere the game is played. Hockey nets are 178 feet apart.

Although there were a couple of exceptions for decades. Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium were both smaller (I think Buffalo, too).
posted by Chrysostom at 7:56 PM on May 26


I have bad news for you - the sculpture has been moved.

And I thought Derek Jeter could sink no lower in my estimation.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:04 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


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