High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Go Balls to the (Outfield) Wall - Rolling Stone
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High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Go Balls to the (Outfield) Wall

Tom Morello, George Thorogood, Ken Casey and other rock star fanatics sound off on our national pastime

green monstergreen monster

The Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston.

Winslow Townson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Ever since the very first outfield fences were built, idiosyncratic ballpark dimensions have been an intrinsic part of baseball. No two major league ballparks ever looked, played or were laid out in exactly the same way, and many of the early 20th century ones (including now-vanished stadiums like Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and New York’s Polo Grounds) were shoehorned into less-than-spacious urban lots, resulting in such memorable quirks as Fenway Park’s fabled “Green Monster,” a 37-foot-high left field wall created to keep ticket-less Boston fans from peering in from the street, and to compensate for the wall’s relatively close proximity (i.e., approximately 304-310 feet down the line) to home plate.

While ballpark dimensions have become somewhat more uniform over the last 50 years, there have been some notable exceptions. After moving to Los Angeles in 1958, the Dodgers played their first four seasons at the L.A. Coliseum, home of the USC football team; cramming a diamond into the Coliseum’s oval shape resulted in a left field foul pole located a claustrophobic 251 feet from home plate. Even with the temporary addition of a 42-foot-high left field wall (and a cavernous right field power alley) it was a set-up that gave lefty hurlers nightmares, and had right-handed hitters (and enterprising lefties like Wally Moon) adjusting their swings to take full advantage of the situation.

Up until its renovation in the mid-1970s, the old Yankee Stadium boasted a right field corner that was only 296 feet from the plate. In 1964, Kansas City A’s owner Charlie Finley – convinced that the Yankees’ continuing dominance was due to their short porch in right – rebuilt the right field wall at Municipal Stadium to the exact specifications of “The House That Ruth Built,” and dubbed it his “pennant porch”. When the MLB authorities forced him to move it back to its original position (citing a rule passed in 1958 that no new fence could be shorter than 325 feet), the irascible Finley instructed the ballpark’s P.A. announcer to tell the crowd “That would have been a home run at Yankee Stadium” every time an A’s player flied out to the warning track.

Outfield walls have again become a hot topic in the last few years, with Detroit’s Comerica Park, San Diego’s Petco Park and New York’s Citi Field all bringing in their fences after their original dimensions were deemed too unfavorable for power hitters. (Whether the down-sizing in San Diego actually worked is open to debate, considering that Padres reliever Mike Adams actually got into a clubhouse fight with several of his teammates last year, after he suggested that they stop bitching about the distant fences and concentrate on trying to win games.)

And now, Miami’s new Marlins Field has come under fire from players and fans alike for being too much of a pitcher’s park – which is kind of ironic, considering how much money and PR the team spent on the park’s light-up “home run feature”. So this week, we decided to ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: Do you believe that today’s ballparks should be more hitter-friendly, or at least more uniform in their dimensions? Or should some ballparks be hitter’s parks, some be pitcher’s parks, and everyone can just deal with it?

Name: Steve Earle
Position: Vocals, Guitar

One of the best things about baseball is, was, and always will be that every park is different and that great pitchers have to pitch in hitter’s parks and great hitters have to hit in pitcher’s parks. It’s part of the game.

Name: Scott Ian
Band: Anthrax
Postion: Guitar

I grew up in the Seventies, when ballparks were more individual and had a lot more character than they do now. No two parks were alike, and I think that is better for the game. A great team will adapt to their surroundings, and find whatever small edge there is to take advantage of.

alice cooper

 Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

Personally, I do like the idea of a “hitter’s park” to make the game more on the offensive side. A 9-8 game is much more fun to watch than a 1-0 game. A pitcher is able to pitch in any park, but hitters do have an advantage in some fields. I feel like that gives pitchers some incentive to come alive when a slugger capable of hitting it over the wall comes to the plate – it gives them a chance to be a hero. I think it all evens out in the wash.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Position: Guitar, Vocals

I enjoy the fact that some ballparks are hitter’s parks and some are pitcher’s parks. I think it adds an interesting leveling effect to the league.

Name: Pete Yorn
Position: Vocals, Guitar

It’s a tough one. Americans love scoring. The NFL, with all its scoring, is practically made for TV. The NBA is similar. Sometimes I wish they would widen the goals in hockey and in the Euro Football League – more action – but not really. With baseball, I like the idea of having every ballpark be its own special thing. Some are hitter-friendly, some should be pitcher’s parks. I love the walk-off grand slam as much as a 1-0 game… I guess.

joe pernice

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

I am cool with some parks being hitter-friendly while others are pitcher-friendly. Both teams have pitchers, and both teams have hitters. Those facts seem to nullify any advantage. Winning comes down to the usual ten-thousand other factors. 
All that said, it would be great if there was natural turf in all the parks. I’m selfish. I hate watching games played on the fake stuff.

Name: Greg Dulli
Band: The Twilight Singers, Afghan Whigs
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Baseball is unique, in that it has no clock and the dimensions of individual parks are left to each team to decide. If I’m an owner or GM, I will put together a team based on what kind of field I’m going to play half my games on. I think it lends to the artistry and imagination of baseball to keep things individual.

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

 Name: Joshua Epstein
Band: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Position: Vocals, Keyboards

I think that part of what has made the game so interesting historically is the inconstancy in ballpark size and the strike zone changing from game to game. I’d like to see more teams changing their park’s dimensions each year according to their strengths. Home field would be a bit more of an advantage that way. It makes no sense to me that the Tigers would go out and get the game’s premier sluggers and put them in the most difficult park to hit a ball out of.

Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Position: Vocals, Guitar

I don’t think for a second that ballparks need to be more uniform. I do question the logic of building giant parks in places like Miami, San Diego and Seattle, where the ball already doesn’t travel very far. The Mariners have had a bitch of a time attracting free agent power bats, due in large part to the reduced offensive numbers that come with hitting in such a large park. Therefore, if the Mariners were to bring in the fences, I would be there in a pair of work gloves, ready to help out. This notion of hitter’s park vs. pitcher’s park has gotten a little out of hand, in my view. Good pitchers will be effective in any park. One doesn’t have to look any further than the numbers Roy Halladay has put up over the last few years at Citizen’s Bank Park to see that. Seeing as even the best hitters fail seven out of 10 times, it’s hard to have sympathy for pitchers.

Name: Scott McCaughey
Band: The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Position: Guitar, Vocals

Variety is the spice of life, and all that. Old-timers will wax poetic about the bizarre angles and dimensions of Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl. If hitter-friendly parks present a disadvantage for the pitcher, then I suppose it evens out with parks like AT&T in San Francisco, Safeco in Seattle, and Petco in San Diego. Dodger Stadium is supposedly pitcher-friendly (or have the Dodgers typically just had good pitchers?), yet I never heard much in the way of complaints from players or fans about games at Chavez Ravine. The down side of this is that a park’s reputation does certainly influence the players that can be lured to or kept on a given team. For example, Ken Griffey Jr. did not see eye to eye with beautiful Safeco (the ball did fly out in the abominable Kingdome), and left for Cincinnati (that didn’t work out well). Sluggers the Mariners were able to bring in to the new ballpark suffered down years, with Adrian Beltre being a prime example. And yet this year’s biggest free agents, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, both ended up signing with teams that play in pitcher-friendly parks. So, I guess money talks. Go ahead, bring in the fences — I honestly don’t think it’ll make that big a difference.

Name: Ken Casey
Band: Dropkick Murphys
Position: Bass guitar, Vocal

I think it’s great that ballparks are unique and have their own quirks and differences. It’s really the only major sport that has that now. The old Boston Garden was awesome because the ice dimensions were smaller, so teams had to be prepared for a physical game and many teams didn’t enjoy coming there. And then Fenway having the Green Monster and “Pesky pole”… lots of home runs that would have been outs in other parks – but also lots of line shots that would be home runs elsewhere but are singles off the monster at Fenway. It’s great…it’s what makes baseball great.

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba
Band: Manitoba
Position: Vocals

The answers to most questions in life lie in some sort of grey area. Rarely are the answers in black and white terms. This question? BLACK AND WHITE, NO DOUBT ABOUT IT. Each park should vary, and the team should be built around the 81 home games they play. Uneven dimensions – like the Green Monster in Fenway, 310 feet down the line, or the right field corner in Yankee Stadium, 296 feet from home plate when I was a kid! – are part of what makes baseball so unique and exciting. Football, basketball, hockey, soccer, all exactly the same dimensions the world over. BAH! BORING!

george thorogood

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

I believe all the parks should be uniform; that way there will be no more complaints. Everything the same, for pitchers and hitters.

Name: Steve Wynn
Band: The Baseball Project
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Yes, I think that all baseball stadiums should have the exact same dimensions.  So, let’s see – How about (1) the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium and then, while we’re at it, let’s add (2) the ridiculously short 250-foot LEFT field porch at the LA Coliseum when the Dodgers used to play (more “Moon Shots”!) and then, just for kicks, let’s go with all parks having (3) the Green Monster at Fenway Park and cover the whole damn thing with (4) the ivy at Wrigley Field, and then if the ball doesn’t easily clear one of the fences or get stuck in the massive wall of ivy, we can make sure it gets caught in the (5) excessively large foul territory of the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. And to top it all off, let’s toss in some (6) actual monuments in playable center field like they had at Yankee Stadium until the mid-Seventies. Got all that? If we’re going with uniform stadium dimensions, that’s my vote. Otherwise – and this is probably the better solution – we may as well let all stadiums be their own idiosyncratic weird unique selves and stop worrying about it.


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