Baseball is a quirky game. There isn't a clock with which to keep time. Games, theoretically, can last forever. The other major sports (football, basketball, soccer, hockey) all have clocks that can tick upward or downward. Sports can manipulate time, and they don't care how. Baseball is also a sport in which the defense is in control of the ball. The pitcher pitches, the defense fields, and the batter can only swing and hope. In the other sports, the offense controls ball movement. No matter. We love our humble game anyway.
Another quirky aspect is the playing field. In baseball, not every stadium has the same field dimensions. Some parks are pitcher-friendly, such as SafeCo Field in Seattle. Some parks are hitter-friendly, such as the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Baseball teams can actually design their stadiums to fit their current personnel, or they can acquire personnel who fit their stadium design. In some cases, stadium design is so extreme as to alter the game fundamentally, like the Green Monster in Fenway. How that thing ever became an accepted, legal part of baseball is beyond me.
"It's not about tailoring the ballpark to a particular player or a particular composition of team," Alderson told reporters. "It's about making Citi Field as fan-friendly and as exciting as we can make it."
This article details the specifics of the fence changes. A wall in right-center field that used to be 390 feet will now be 380 feet, and some other portions will be pushed in a little bit to 370 feet. The image below is from that article, courtesy of the New York Times*.
*The text of the image from the original article did not translate, so the image below has text added by me.
Some other interesting nuggets from the article: about 27 balls in play last year would have been affected by these new changes. Those 27 would become home runs instead of whatever they actually were; 17 of them were hit by the Mets. So clearly the Mets benefit from this change because of their personnel.
The article also mentions David Wright as someone who would benefit from the change. Overall, the Mets do hit the ball in that area more than their opponents do. Basically, the Mets are being allowed to change the game within their own stadium to be more advantageous to their own team. Home field advantage has perhaps a different meaning in baseball.
There has been some work done comparing the parks to each other visually and spatially. This article looks at acreage. There is a third of an acre difference between the smallest field, Fenway, and the largest field, Coors. This great visual overlays all the stadium outlines on top of each other. Not only do the outfield sizes differ, the fence heights are also variable. Fenway simultaneously has the tallest wall, the Green Monster, and the shortest wall, that little thing in right field. The massive differences between Fenway and Coors ensure that a completely different game is being played, and that's not accounting for the elevation difference, which puts Colorado in another unique situation.
So, baseball essentially plays a different game in each stadium. That's not the case in the NFL. That's not the case in the NBA. There are some small variations among NHL rinks in terms of glass, and the NHL size rink is different than the IIHL size rink, but the sizes are the same in the NHL. Not quite all soccer fields are exactly the same, but there are definite rules governing the size of the field. The variations are small. In general, those sports have pretty standard rectangles. Despite different cities, the same game is played.
I'm no historian. So why is baseball different? Why is it allowed in baseball to have such drastic differences in field dimensions? Since teams can modify the field to fit their personnel, or find personnel specific for their field, this is important. Even if this has been "part of the game" for as long as it has existed, is that a justification for the variation? Is retaining the "charm" and "quirkiness" of baseball a justification?
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