Following the first game of the Yankees’ doubleheader against the Rangers on Sunday, Texas manager Chris Woodward had some choice words for the confines at Yankee Stadium. This has been well documented, but essentially, the game ended on a walk-off home run off the bat of Gleyber Torres to right field. Woodward claimed the ball would have been an easy out in “99 percent of ballparks,” calling it a “little league park.” This sentiment is not an uncommon one among fans toward Yankee Stadium or any number of other big league parks, but I think it’s wrong. At least, the negativity is — its part of what makes baseball unique, and can also signify some of the things we love the most about the sport.
Now, Woodward’s comments were obviously wrong. Torres hit the ball over 106 mph and it would have been a home run 26 of the 30 major league parks. Regardless of this, and of how weird it is to hear a manager say something like that, it is the kind of remark that is made all the time. Whether it’s about right field in Yankee Stadium, the Crawford Boxes in Houston, or the massive gaps in Detroit, complaints about the merits of a ballpark’s dimensions are a common and heated ordeal. Of course, these complaints often come from the visiting team, and only when they find themselves on the losing end of a dispute with the shape of a stadium’s walls.
I see no reason why this should be looked at as a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue it ‘s one of the cooler factors within a baseball game. When you think about it, it really is quite strange that a sport’s highest level is played within fields that can be wildly different from each other. It was initially caused mostly by the restraints of where a stadium happened to be located and where its walls could or could not extend to. More recently, it’s often just for the sake of being unique, but that’s okay too.
This unique aspect is one of the best things about baseball, and is one that isn’t shared by any other team sports. Every football field is 100 yards long and every basketball hoop is 10 feet high, and there may be unique things to see around the complexes that house other sports, but certainly none that can have direct and important impacts on the actual play of the game. Baseball is played differently, so much so that someone could go from a 314-foot right field in Yankees Stadium to a 353 foot one in Wrigley. It’s odd, but it’s a great thing too.
If you think about all of this in the right way, it can point us to some of the biggest reasons why we all like baseball, and why it’s so different from its peers. Perhaps the most question-raising aspect of Woodward’s statement is that the Rangers got to play their nine innings in the same confines. In a similar way that time can not run out for a team, or that it is impossible to run out the clock, each team gets their fair chance to take advantage of the dimensions they’re playing in. That, to me, is maybe the single aspect that distinguishes baseball from other sports, the fact that a game is never fully over until it truly is, and that a game or any event within it takes exactly as long as it needs to.
Complaints about ballpark dimensions occur all the time when they are exposed, often in a way that frames them as unfair or simply as a bad thing. In the heat of the moment, a reaction like this makes sense, but in reality there is no reason we should look at it like this. Each team gets their fair shot in the same place on any given day, and those differences that players and teams experience throughout a season are part of what makes baseball unique and recognizable above others.