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Yankee Stadium has shadowy reputation in earliest games of the season

Late-afternoon shadows disadvantage fielders and hitters’ ball-tracking ability.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After the Yankees’ home opener Thursday, Aaron Boone commended the Blue Jays’ pitching. He then told reporters how, in the later innings of the game, “we couldn’t break through with the big hit. It got pretty challenging for the hitters with the shadows, but we had our chances.”

Throughout the game YES Network color commentator Paul O’ Neill described the way the angle of the sun and shadows put hitters at a disadvantage in Yankee Stadium, particularly during games early on in the season and then again in October, during the postseason.

Of course, that outdoor stadiums have issues with sun and shadows isn’t a new development. Rule 2.01 in the Official MLB Rulebook, which deals with the layout and orientation of the field, stems from concerns about how the sunlight and corresponding shadows would affect visibility in MLB ballparks:

It is desirable that the line from home base through the pitcher’s plate to second base shall run East-Northeast.

In other words, the official baseball rules recommend ballparks be designed and constructed so that the sun sets behind third base and shines in the direction of right field, where balls are hit less frequently. Therefore optimallyaligned ballparks (by the standards of the rulebook) will be oriented in a northeast direction, in order to keep the sun out of hitters’ eyes for as long as possible during afternoon games.

How well does the current Yankee Stadium align with the proscriptions laid out by the rulebook? The line from home plate to center field points directly east in the Bronx, though that wasn’t always the case. The new Yankee Stadium that opened in 2009 is not oriented in exactly the same manner as its predecessor was. In the late-afternoon shadows in old Yankee Stadium, the sun used to shine in the eyes of the left fielder. At the current ballpark, the sun sets into the eyes of the center fielder and right fielder.

So, for a game in the summer that begins at 1 p.m. and ends around 4 or 5p.m., the late-day sun typically floats low in the sky behind home plate. For the bulk of the season, shadows slowly creep onto the field from that direction, leaving pitchers in sunlight and batters in the shade in the late innings. In this situation, fielders are facing the setting sun, which makes it harder to play defense and track the ball as it travels in and out of shadows.

Because many baseball games are now played at night, Rule 2.01 is less of an issue than it used to be when the game of baseball was created. But there are other factors, too, that influence a ballpark’s unique shadow patterns beyond time of year and the stadium’s physical orientation. Factors such as the height and shape of the stands, the construction of surrounding buildings and a stadium’s geographical location all affect the way shadows shift over a particular park, as well.

At the end of the day—pardon the pun—the extent to which shadows affect players’ performance and game outcomes has yet to be quantified. Still, when the postseason rolls around, there will surely be talk of shadows, game start-times and unfamiliar shadowscapes. Along with Yankee Stadium, players have been known to complain about the shadows at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Angel Stadium in Anaheim and—as American League teams learned in 2020—Petco Park in San Diego. As the upcoming labor negotiations draw closer, it will be interesting to see if the Major League Players Association brings the issue of afternoon playoff games to the table.