Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rule 1.04 Note (a): Minimum Field Dimensions

Baseball is a sport like no other. Football, basketball, hockey and soccer at a given level of play have playing uniform dimensions, constant from arena to arena. Baseball's playing fields, however, vary from stadium to stadium. The dimensions of ballparks are rarely identical, with different playing field area, distance of walls, height of walls, and even unique angles or materials that comprise the wall. Wrigley Field has ivy and bricks, Minute Maid Park has Tal's Hill and a flag pole in play, and Petco Park has the Western Metal Supply Co. building as its left field foul pole. These unique characteristics of baseball stadiums exist in both the new and old. Though the Official Baseball Rules hardly limit the more unique characteristics of ballparks, the rules specifically address one unique attribute of Major League ball fields, the minimum dimensions from home plate to the outfield wall (for playing fields constructed after June 1, 1958).

Official Baseball Rule 1.04 Note (a) states:
Any Playing Field constructed by a professional club after June 1, 1958, shall provide a minimum distance of 325 feet from home base to the nearest fence, stand or other obstruction on the right and left field foul lines, and a minimum distance of 400 feet to the center field fence.
Rule 1.04 Note (a) seems pretty clear; it requires the dimensions of any modernly built playing fields to be built at a minimum of 325 feet down the lines and 400 feet to center field. But what happens if this rule is ignored by a professional club in a newly built stadium? What is the penalty, if there is any? Is that penalty imposed by the game umpires or the league office? Before looking into what Rule 1.04 Note (a) entails, it is noteworthy to look at the basis for the rule's creation.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home of the Dodgers
from 1958 through 1961.
There is, of course, a reason Rule 1.04 Note makes specific mention of the year 1958. That season, the Dodgers began a new chapter in franchise history with a move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. With no baseball-specific stadium in Los Angeles at the time, the Dodgers moved into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home of USC Football. Not surprisingly, the LA Coliseum was hardly designed for baseball, having been built for football and track & field. Nonetheless, the Dodgers tried to convert the facility and engineers made it happen. While the field fit, the stadium possessed very odd dimensions, with a nearly non-existent foul territory down the first base line, but an expansive foul territory down the third base line.

With the left field fence just 251 feet from home plate, MLB Commissioner Ford Frick ordered Los Angeles to construct two screens—one up against the left field wall and another in the stands, some 333 feet away from home plate. Frick approved the adoption of a ground rule that would have made any ball clearing the first, but not second screen to be a ground-rule double, while balls clearing both screens would be a home run. The Dodgers agreed to construction of the first screen—a 42-foot high barrier designed to prevent pop flies from becoming home runs—though California earthquake laws prevented the second screen from being built.

It was this short, yet steep porch in left that Dodgers outfielder Wally Moon took advantage of, clubbing several fly balls over the tall screen and coining the phrase, "Moon Shot."

As Frick and baseball's rules panel passed Rule 1.04 Note later that season, most ballclubs abided by its terms, though some requested provisional exemptions:

  • Denied: Frick denied the Los Angeles Angels' request to use the Coliseum as their home park upon joining the American League in 1961. Instead, the Angels shared Dodger Stadium with the former Brooklyn club, calling the property Chavez Ravine so as not to confuse their fans.
  • Approved: The Baltimore Orioles were granted an exemption in the construction of Camden Yards along the right field foul line due to the constraint of building a stadium up against the established B&O Warehouse building. In exchange for a 318-foot right field wall, the Orioles constructed it to a height of 25 (now 21) feet.
  • Approved: PNC Park's right field wall is similarly just 320 feet from home plate due to the Allegheny River just beyond the facility's outfield. Similar to Camden Yards, PNC Park's right field wall is exactly 21 feet tall in a tribute to former Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente, who wore number 21.
  • Approved: After leaving Candlestick Park, the San Francisco Giants settled on a parcel of land adjacent to the San Francisco Bay and McCovey Cove. Due to such proximity, the Giants were authorized an exemption to their right field dimensions; the foul pole is 309 feet away from home plate.
  • Approved: When the Houston Astros constructed Minute Maid Park, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig authorized the construction of the Crawford Boxes, a seating area in left field just 315 feet away from home plate. In exchange, the left field wall is 19 feet tall.
  • Approved: San Diego's Petco Park features a right field foul line just 322 feet in length, three feet short of the requisite 325 dimension. With design elements calling for a spectator seating section known as the Jury Box in right field, the yard shortage was approved.
  • Approved: As the New York Yankees prepared to tear down the so-called "Old" Yankee Stadium and construct a new replica park in its place, Selig authorized an exemption to both the left and right field walls, which are just 318 and 314 feet from home plate, respectively, identical to the dimensions of the Old Stadium, though the heights of the new walls (8.5 feet and 8 feet) are actually lower than the heights at the Old Stadium (10 feet).
Several facilities, such as the Indians' Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field) have not requested exemptions to Rule 1.04 Note, instead designing their dimensions in compliance of regulations—the Cleveland left and right field fences are both exactly 325 feet from home plate, while the center field wall is 405 feet away.

Though several notable stadiums appear to violate the minimum dimensions requirement set forth by Rule 1.04 Note, MLB Rule 3.13 addresses the precise issue of enforcement during a major league contest, specifying that if ground rules, such as dimensions, are not objected to by the opposing manager, they shall be legal ("If these rules are acceptable to the opposing manager they shall be legal").


Josh7377 said...

Thanks for posting this it's much appreciated and quite educational and just makes the situation worse.
Every other team granted an "exemption" made some sort of concession during the construction of their ballparks. Everyone of course except the yankees who don't feel like they EVER have to abide by the rules. EVER. It's a f'n joke. An absolute joke that those worthless POS get away with doing whatever they want.

I was actually not aware of rule 3.13. So what would happen if an opposing manager did object? should I be placing a call to a few AL managers to tell them to register a complaint? Then what? It's not like they can rebuild the stadium in between ground rules and first pitch.

I remember being taught that a ground rule can never supercede a book rule. Why not just remove 1.04 from the book. It's obviously a joke that hasn't been enforced essentially since the Angels were denied in 1961. If you aren't going to enforce or care about a rule in 50 years, then get rid of it.

Anonymous said...

Odd about this rule. Looks like Ford Frick followed it to a t (well, he made it), but Selig seems to have no regard for it whatsover! Weird.

Anonymous said...

It really seems, as a comment noted above, that Yankee Stadium is the only recently built stadium that did not conform to the rule. There was no geographic/zoning reason to have the too short dimensions. If I were Crane - new owner of the Astros who were forced to move to the AL next year - I would have the manager protest having to play a game on an illegitimate/illegal field and demand that all games be moved to MInute Maid Park - or Miller Park if necessary until such time as the appropriate distances can be provided.

Anonymous said...

I do believe MLB would have a sh!t-storm if games at Yankee stadium were protested. And BP Joe Torre, as a former Bronx manager, almost certainly would overrule the objection and ignore the rule. Besides, I think any manager protesting on the grounds of Tour 1.04 would be summarily dismissed from the sport, ie: fired or banned ala Pete Rose.

gman47527 said...

Regardless of the history and tradition, having different dimensions in baseball fields invalidates the use of statistics as a comparison tool. It would be like having different dimensions in hockey rinks, basketball courts, football fields, etc., or different height basketball rims or goal posts. No other sport that I can think of at the professional level has this absurdity. There should be standardized dimensions for any part of the field that could affect the outcome of the game.

Gil Imber said...

To make matters worse - look at more than the "down the line" dimensions. Every stadium except Yankee makes concessions in some ways. As noted - Oriole Park and PNC a) are built that way to blend in with a pre-existing feature, and b) built a 20'+ wall to make up for the fact. AT&T also accommodates with a 20'+ wall in right plus it "gives up" quickly to a staggering 421' to right center. Petco is HUGE and SD recently moved the fences IN to 349' in right field (from 360') because - again - the field gives up quickly from 322' "jog" down EXTREME right. And Minute Maid also has a 20'+ fence, and then is cavernous in center - 435'. Only the Yankees can get away with the asshattery of lowering their fences to maintain the historic dimensions. And there is some airflow that appears to provide a boost to balls hit to right...

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