clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ballpark dimensions are an ode to baseball tradition

Many aspects of baseball are regulated and consistent, but that does not apply to the unique playing dimensions of each stadium.

Yankee Stadium, New York, 2019 Photo by: Memo Garcia / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Rules and regulations are at the heart of every sport. Baseball in particular is deeply rooted in tradition, and typically the rules of the game have been standardized in a way that creates even playing terms for everyone involved. This has become clearer in this era of baseball, where the implementation of instant replay, crackdown on sticky substances, and the testing of robotic umpires is an attempt to keep the game consistent. However, there is a glaring inconsistency in baseball, and that is the ballpark itself.

We all have numbers in our heads that represent different sports. A basketball hoop is 10 feet high, a football field is 100 yards, and a pitcher’s mound is 60 feet, six inches away from home plate. In all the other major sports the playing surfaces are the same, so why are baseball stadiums allowed to have different outfield dimensions? The answer lies in tradition, where original stadiums such as Wrigley, Fenway, and the earliest version of Yankee Stadium had to fit within a city space, often creating quirky dimensions. Some of these unique features have become iconic, such as the Green Monster, but certain modern-day stadiums, such as Camden Yards and Citi Field have adopted a modern adaption of the old “jewel box” style. Allowing modern stadiums to mimic the uniqueness of the past is an interesting leniency that is not seen in any other sport.

MLB does have a few guidelines regarding their ballpark dimensions. The minimum distance from home plate to the right and left-field foul lines is 325 feet, and a minimum of 400 feet to center field. These regulations are not strictly enforced, including at Yankee Stadium, as long as the stadium dimensions do not fall well outside the norm. With slight wiggle room down the lines and no regulations regarding the outfield gaps, there is an opportunity to create extremely hitter or pitcher-friendly ballparks as a team sees fit. With this lack of regulation it seems to open up the conversation every year about the short porch at Yankee Stadium, the Crawford Boxes in Houston, or the expansiveness of the Oakland Coliseum.

It feels like MLB has been flooded with data in the modern game, so you would think that the best way to eliminate all this ballpark talk would be to take the information we have and produce ballpark dimensions that create a neutral playing environment. Last offseason the Orioles altered their ballpark dimensions in an attempt to create a more neutral field, particularly when it came to home runs. According to park factor data, they overshot their mark, dropping from the most homerun-friendly ballpark in 2021 to 26th in home run park factor in 2022.

There is also a human variation from year to year, as the Orioles team was significantly better this past season, but it is still a stark contrast in how the ballpark plays. Other stadiums have made similar changes, altering their outfield dimensions to change the type of play. This isn’t a knock on the Orioles or any other team for making changes to their fields when they deem necessary, it’s just an example of the types of alterations that can be made, and the impact it can have.

In the end, maybe the human element is too much to overcome in attempting to make a “perfect” ballpark (you’d probably have to ask someone a lot smarter than me), or maybe teams aren't even attempting to do so. And the reality is that MLB doesn’t seem to care too much about what the ballparks look like as long as the stadium falls somewhat within their regulations. In this instance, it seems that tradition over consistency has won out, and I think that is for the better.

I admire the quirks, irregularities, and alterations to stadiums. It makes baseball different during a modern time in sports where everything has become uniform.