Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sanctity of the Home Run - CORRECTED

In 36 games, 60 home runs have been at Citi Field, the NY Mets' new stadium. In one less game, 119 home runs have been hit at the new Yankee Stadium. It's true that the Mets have had lots of players hurt and the Yankees are more a home run team and the American League more a home run league. Still, it's undeniable that different stadiums, with wildly different measurements, account for a substantial part of the home run discrepancies.

In a sport that reveres the home run and home run hitter above all else and that treasures statistical continuity, home run disparities attributable to different playing fields go largely unmentioned. The integrity and continuity of statistics (chiefly home run statistics) has motivated national outrage (including, inexplicably, Congressional hearings) over steroids in baseball (nobody seems to care about steroids in football). But no one cares that simply playing for the Yankees instead of the Mets increases a player's home runs in ways at least comparable to steroids. Imagine if some basketball courts had shorter baskets or larger rims or if some football fields were 10 yards shorter. Yet it is baseball, arbitrary by design, in which records and historical continuity are cherished.

All of which brings me to the most important point, stressed by my father since before I can remember: if Willie Mays had played in The Launching Pad instead of the Polo Grounds, he'd have more home runs than Hank Aaron.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I messed this up, sorry. My Dad writes:

"Willie only played in the polo grounds until ’57 (after serving in the Army 52-53) when the Giants moved west. The Polo Grounds was ridiculously deep in center field (witness Mays's famous World Series catch of Vic Wertz 440 ft fly) but a bandbox in left.

Candlestick, otoh, was located on the bay and had a brutal wind blowing in from Left field. WM actually altered his swing in response over the years. Difficult to say but MANY fly balls would have become homers if not hit into that wind."

I love that my Dad got in Willie's missed time in the Army.

(photo credit: Citi Field, Chris McGrath/Getty Images, via cnnsi.com)