The Sports Revolution: The Wall-Less Stadium

Let me set the scene for you: A very strong, and fairly slow, man is at the plate. He swings his bat and breaks it as the ball flares out to left field. It goes over the fence for a home run.

Let me reset the scene for you: That very strong, and fairly slow, man is at the plate. He swings his bat and breaks it as the ball flares out to left field. The ball is either caught by the left fielder or keeps rolling, because there is no fence in left field.

Take a trip back to baseball’s past. The game was first played on large, boundary-less fields. Home runs were achieved only when you could circle the bases before the defense got the ball back in. Every home run was an inside-the-park home run.

Teams started installing fences in order to give fans closer access to the game. At first, these fans were very far away; they got closer and closer as time progressed. People today might argue that the fences are located at a logical position, at the distance from home plate at which the outfielders couldn’t catch the ball.

This is untrue.

I believe Willie Mays proved as much in one of the game’s most memorable plays; if it happened today, Vic Wertz just would have had a no-doubt homer to center field.

Further, Neil Best of Newsday raises another point: What is the logic behind an asymmetrical fence? Why is a ball that travels 330 feet down either foul line worth more than one struck 380 feet to straightaway center field? Does it take more skill to hit the ball on that angle?

So here’s what I’m proposing: Eliminate outfield fences (or, more reasonably, move them back to distances where we can be sure an outfielder wouldn’t make a catch—say, 480 feet all around).

Think of how this changes the game: Now the outfielders would determine what they can and can’t get to. A premium would be put on speed and defense—code words for athleticism.

It also rewards distance. Adam Dunn becomes more valuable than, say, Raul Ibanez because his 500-footer does clear the wall while Ibanez’s 380-footer is either an out or a double.*

*It also gives Dunn and other sluggers an excuse to slim down and get faster so they can run the bases instead of, you know, clogging them up.

And here might be the biggest advantage of moving back the fences: It would clean up the game. Steroids become detrimental after awhile when they prevent you from being able to run (see: former Gold Glover Barry Bonds in left field, ca. 2001-2006).

Furthermore, it makes no sense that home runs are hit five times more frequently than triples. When something like this gets out of whack, the league changes it. It’s why the NBA and NCAA moved their three-point lines back.

The only disadvantages have to do with the fan experience. But you can make up for this by moving fans as close to the action as possible along the foul lines. Impose the stands on foul ground instead of fair.*

*Think of how ludicrous it is for stadiums to play differently in the outfield. Imagine it in football: Expect more offense today; the field is only 60 yards long here in Buffalo. Or basketball: It will be a tough day for three-point shooters, as the line here in Memphis is 36 feet from the basket. Or even in other parts of baseball: Well, that’s a fair ball and an extra-base hit anywhere else, but the foul lines here in Detroit turn in on a 15-degree angle past the infield dirt.

And sure, fans “dig the long ball.” They also dig the wave, T-shirt launches, and voting in unqualified players to the All-Star Game. The point is that fans rarely, if ever, know what’s best for the game.

Some will claim you lose a sense of ballpark aesthetics by eliminating the idiosyncrasies in the outfield. But nobody goes to Houston and thinks the best part of the stadium is how the wall in left field goes straight back at one point. They like the train or the brick façade. Ballpark designers can still be as creative they want in crafting the fan experience around the foul lines.

So, in one move, you eliminate two of baseball’s biggest ills: steroids and home run inflation. The game starts to resemble baseball again, and statistics start to have a standardized and real meaning.*

*Sure, the costs of retrofitting current stadiums with much larger outfields would be astronomical–probably in the trillions. But, you give a little, you get a little…

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by James Schneider on June 16, 2009 at 10:52 PM

    Why doesn’t Pierre post more, I mean john posts a lot.

    Reply

  2. […] Now, I often ask a lot on behalf of my readers: a suspension of traditional thinking, a very creative imagination, the willingness to spend trillions of dollars to solve otherwise fickle problems. […]

    Reply

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