The Differing Dimensions of Ballpark Outfields

Mandatory Credit: baseballpilgrimages.com

Mandatory Credit: baseballpilgrimages.com

An NBA court is 94’ long and 50‘ wide. An NFL field is 100 yards long, one end zone to another, with each end zone 10 yards deep.  An NHL hockey rink is 200 feet by 85 feet.  All courts, fields and rinks are identical. Everything else within the field of play is standard as well.  The height of basket and distance to the free throw line, the width of a hockey goal and, height of the cross bars, everything is the same.

Of course, as every reader here knows, most measurements of a big league baseball field are standard as well. It is 60’ 6” from the pitcher’s mound to home plate and the distance between the bases is always 90 feet.  The size of home plate is always the same, as is the strike zone (OK, well the enforcement of THAT is the topic for a different story).  Even the placement of coaching boxes by first and third base is mandated (although no coach seems to stay in them).  However, all this uniformity gets blown to bits when you leave the infield dirt and head off into the outfield expanse.  Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting and renegade outfields, specifically what is necessary to hit a ball over the fence.  Or wall.   Or ivy.  Or whatever marks the distinction between a fly out and a home run.  And before I get started, there are only two parks in the majors that are symmetrical, in terms of having the same distances to left and right, and left and right center.  Can you name them?  Bonus Question:  One park actually has a right center field distance 22 feet deeper than CF.

Mandatory Credit: patspulpit.com

Mandatory Credit: patspulpit.com

Starting with center field, with 30 major league parks, there are 15 different lengths to straightaway center. The longest, by a wide margin, is the Astros’ Minute Maid Park at 435 feet.  The shortest is Fenway at 390.  That’s a pretty wide variance for a ball to clear the center field wall, 45 feet to be exact.  The most common length is exactly 400 feet, where nine parks paint that number on the wall.  The average distance is 403.5 feet, and 24 parks are within five feet of that distance.

In left there are 18 different lengths to the wall. The furthest is in Wrigley Stadium, 355 feet and Fenway once again has the distinction of being the shortest at 310.  Ironically, the biggest variance is again 45 feet.  Seven parks mark off 330 feet to the wall with the average 331.5 but here only 18 parks are within five feet from this average.

Finally, in right field, 16 different distances exist for a round tripper.  The Triple Crown goes to Fenway having again the shortest fence at 302 feet.  The longest, Wrigley is 353 followed closely by the Rockies’ Mile High Stadium, fittingly, as it is the stadium least in need of making it easy for sluggers, given the thin air.  Here the biggest discrepancy is a whopping 51 feet.  The average is 328.5 feet from home.  The most common distance is again 330 feet and 16 stadiums are within five feet from the average.

Let’s skip left and right center. Your mind may already be swimming with these stats, especially if you are in the right-center swimming pool in Phoenix.  But wait…..there’s more.

It isn’t just the distance to the outfield fence that produces so many differences. The height of the fences themselves also varies considerably.  Boston lures you with that short left field wall, but the kicker is that this wall, The Green Monster, is 37 feet high.  That results in a lot of long singles, but not that many big flies. The highest center field wall is at Arizona’s Chase Field: 25 feet.  San Francisco’s AT&T Park, and Camden Yards in Baltimore have the highest right field wall at 25 feet.  It isn’t that far out to right, but it sure is high.  However, there are also some startlingly low walls.  Most fields have at least one outfield dimension in which someone who can jump even an inch higher than me might have a chance of taking away a home run.  Some, like Dodger Stadium and San Diego’s Petco Park, have two distances as low as four feet, pretty much the height of the letters on the front of the uniform (which used to be called a strike – I had to go back to that point, didn’t I?)  Fenway is 5 feet short in right field, a dramatic and bizarre contrast to the Monster.

That’s a lot of statistics to make the point that probably could have been made in several sentences, so why go on this way? First of all, baseball fans are stat-lovers.  Citing different dimensions of parks makes people think about their own home-away-from home, where they go to many games each year, as well as think about the parks they have visited.  Second, it leads to the questions, unanswered in this article, about whether certain players were helped or hindered by the dimensions of the parks.  Did Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris benefit from the short right field porch?  Was Willie Mays hurt by Candlestick (probably yes, but perhaps more by the wind than the dimensions of the field)?  That, too, is for another story.

For me, it is interesting enough to just ask why baseball has always allowed and perhaps even encouraged stadiums to be built with different dimensions.  It adds color and individuality to the ballparks, but is that what should be desired?  In a game so driven by statistics and comparisons, this will always lead people to complain about the factors that affected Player A’s stats when they KNOW that he was far better than Player B.  Teams can build fields beneficial to the type of team they have (speed, power), but dimensions aren’t changed (too often) after a couple of trades and free agent losses and acquisitions alter the character of the team.  So, why does baseball allow it?  Is it because it has always been that way, and the game is conservative by nature (let’s not invoke the DH discussion here)? Baseball has always allowed different dimensions, so it just seems normal, it is understood that is simply how it is done. No one blinks an eye about it. It is a quirk of the game, standard infield dimensions and random outfield dimensions.  That won’t change.

By the way, to answer the questions posed at the beginning, the Dodgers and Royals have the only two symmetrical five distance point outfields. San Francisco is the park where right center is longer than center field.   That is the home of Triples Alley.

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