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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Non-uniform playing areas: charming or stupid?

From the primordial first document on Radical Baseball June 9, 2006:

2. The Real scandal of the last 16 years: propagation of non-uniform playing areas.
It’s not steroids. It’s the fences.,,  It’s considered cute, charming, traditional, blah, blah, blah. Here’s the real travesty: the non-uniform playing area perverts baseball’s most cherished event: the home run. It undermines the very integrity of the game that is supposedly threatened by steroid use.,,  in some cases a fly ball can travel 50% further than a home run and be an out. The distances to the barriers are not just different from park to park but they are different in some parts of the outfield in the same park.,,  allowed and even encouraged teams to replace parks that were in many cases at least symmetrical with parks that were irregular in the shape of the playing areas.

The single season and lifetime home run records are the most important sports records in America. Yet, they are subject to the greatest randomness of any records in team sports. Forget the steroids. Fix the fences.

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Juxtapose that with:

Does baseball make us stupid or are we interested in baseball because we are already stupid?
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Last week I went through this with a guy I know.  Nice guy.  He attends a lot of Yankee games and also drives around the USA polluting his way to other ball parks.  He was going on about how baseball must have non-uniform playing areas, although he didn't use that phrase.

I had all I could do to keep myself from calling him stupid.  I used just about every bit of logic but nothing penetrated.  Another guy we know agreed with him, calling 1970s symmetrical parks cookie-cutter.  That was the sum total of his argument: cookie-cutter, cookie-cutter, cookie-cutter.  Repetition was his most powerful attempt at persuasion.

A few days later I thought of another way to possibly penetrate this denseness.  Attending home games violates the position that variety is the spice of a baseball fan's life.  The home park, Yankee Stadium for instance, remains the same.  Day after day.  Year after year.  Where's the charm in that?

So if traditionalists require variety and randomness in their baseball lives, why not change parks on a regular basis?  How about changing them on an irregular basis?  Show up at the home team's park and be surprised.  OK, they're kind of boxed in to the physical configuration but, come on, let's spice it up a little.

At Yankee Stadium how about a screen atop the short porch in right field?  That would be easy to do.  And why not change it from inning to inning?  Screen up when opponents bat, screen down when the home team bats.  Cool.  Charming.  We could put some ivy on the screen.

Why stop there?  Let's adjust the distances between the bases.  Would that be charming?  You know, like teams actually do with the grass.  Cut the grass low and fast or let it grow high and slow.  Teams have been doing that all along.  They are even allowed to grow grass in the infield right to the foul lines or have that area with no grass at all.  They build up the foul line to keep bunts fair or have it slope into foul territory.  They watered down the area near first base to slow down opposing base stealers but that is frowned upon now.

The real issue is opposition to change.  A good way to test a proposed change is to reverse the chronology.  Suppose that the new way had been in effect for a hundred years.  How much sense would it make to switch to the old way now?  Not much, obviously. 

But that's still a test of logic.  We're dealing with emotion.  If parks had been symmetrical for 100 years and I suggested making them the mess that they are now, traditionalists would oppose.  They simply cannot deal with change.

That type of traditional attitude isn't charming.  It's just stupid.

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