#Hot Corner

Two mysteries about the Braves' ballparks

I was going to post this video of the first game ever played at Turner Field and marvel at the flickering images of ballplayers long since departed, like ... Derek Jeter, but Spencer Hall beat me to it (and did it a lot better than I would have). Still, it's worth noting that this publicly-funded ballpark might not outlast the career of a shortstop who played in its inaugural game.

But what's interesting about the video, at least to me, is that Bobby Cox and Joe Torre predicted Turner Field would be a hitter's park (fast forward to 5:43):

It didn't turn out that way. Turner Field has favored pitchers relative to other National League parks, though not excessively so. Its dimensions -- 380 to left-center, 390 to right-center -- practically scream "pitcher's park," yet they aren't much different than old Fulton County Stadium, which was the best home run park in the league before Coors Field. How could a park with 385-foot power alleys earn the nickname "The Launching Pad"? That mystery was solved almost forty years ago. Here's Bill James:

Our capacity to NOT understand what we can't directly see is almost without limit. The Romans were fantastically sophisticated people in many ways, but they did not understand the circulation of blood through the body. I was reading about. ..the General Marius (Julius Caesar's uncle) had surgery on his legs for Varicose veins. This was 100 years before Christ. How in the hell do you suppose they did surgery for Varicose veins, 100 years before Christ? And how do you do surgery on the circulatory system without understanding that it IS a circulatory system?

And this is true, although people will have a hard time believing it now. When I started in baseball research, even serious analysts had NO understanding of the effects of altitude (elevation) on how the ball traveled. Although ball players had speculated periodically as far back as the 1920s that the ball traveled better at high altitude, there was no organized understanding of this, and, as late as 1975, most researchers totally dismissed the idea that altitude could have any significant effect on home run totals. A guy named Kingsley wrote a major paper in the mid-1970s on why there were so many home runs hit in Atlanta, and concluded that it was the psychological effect of people believing that it was a home run park--a self-sustaining mindset. He discussed the possibility that altitude effected the number of home runs hit there, but just rejected it without any real thought. It wasn't until about 1978, when a guy named Dick O'Brien did a study of Texas League home run totals, that people began to understand the issue.

O'Brien noticed that it happened the DIMENSIONS for the eight Texas League parks in that era were all almost identical, but that the ELEVATIONS of the eight parks varied widely. He thus compared the elevations to the number of home runs hit, and when he did that it was immediately obvious that the higher the elevation of the park, the more home runs there were--dramatic differences. It wasn't until that study was published (about 1978) that we really understood the effects of elevation. You look back on it. ..well, how could we have been so blind? But we were.

And it is possible that we're just as blind now, about something else. ..barometric pressure, or lunar phases, or something else that even meteorologists haven't seen yet, something that isn't detectable with the instruments that we're using. You never know.

The other mystery is this: How could two ballparks, on the same parcel of land, at the same elevation, with very similar dimensions, play so differently? This one hasn't been solved, as far as I know. Torre and Cox were wrong about Turner Field being a hitter's park, but maybe they were on to something. Maybe the wind was the difference. But without some compelling data, it's just a guess, and a not very satisfying one at that.

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