Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Eighteen Foot High Fence

Yesterday a wire screen was put in place on the top of the cast fence of the Union grounds.  The screen is six feet high, the top being eighteen feet above the ground.  There are few players in any of the associations possessing the muscle enough to drive a ball over the top of this screen.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 8, 1884

What a great little detail.  The Union Grounds had a six foot high wire fence added to the top of the outfield wall.  You have to love stuff like that.

There was a lot of talk that the grounds were too small and it appears that, by this, they meant that the outfield walls were too close.  It appears that Lucas solution to this perceived problem was to make the outfield fence eighteen feet high.

Was the park really too small?  I don't know the answer to that right now but I suspect I'll figure it out as I go through the Maroons' games on a day to day basis.  B-Ref has the Union Grounds as a hitter's park in 1884 but as fairly neutral during the three years the Maroons played there.  There's probably a way to check the home/road splits but I haven't figured it out.

I did find the home run log at B-Ref.  Dunlap hit six home runs at home and seven on the road.  Jack Gleason hit two at home and two on the road.  Dave Rowe hit all four of his home runs on the road but Henry Boyle hit all three of his at home.  I'm not sure what that all really means.  The Maroons only hit 32 home runs as a team but they had four guys with over 30 doubles and another with 21.  Rowe hit 11 triples, Orator Shafer hit ten and Dunlap hit 8.  The club hit 41 triples and 259 doubles but only 32 home runs.

I would think that, if they played in a small park, the club would have more home runs and fewer doubles and triples.  Maybe they were just whacking balls off that eighteen foot high fence all day.  But right now, I'm leaning to the idea that the Union Grounds really wasn't that small a park.  We'll see.    


David Ball said...

Generally speaking, contrary to our own expectations, a large park was considered favorable to more extra base hits of all kinds, because out of the park homers were rare, but a line drive that got between the outfielders (who played close by our standards) would roll and roll and roll instead of being corralled by the fence. When a fence was exceptionally close, though, hitters could put the ball over the wall for home runs relatively frequently.

I think complaints that a ball park was too small were not indications that people didn't want to see offense, but rather that a ball out of play was considered no fun, even if it went for a home run, and they thought it more exciting to see batters run out long hits.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

If the playing field was small, I'd expect to see more homeruns (but fewer inside the park homeruns) and fewer doubles and triples. Balls that clear the fence in a small park go to the wall in a bigger park and allow for more baserunning. If it was small, I'd expect to see more offense, especially if the decrease in the playing field surface came at the expense of playable foul territory.

While my assumptions may be wrong, the real question is whether or not the Union Grounds was actually small or not. The idea that it was small kept coming up in the press but one of the old-timers (I forget who) visited the park, mentioned that he had heard it was small but then declared that it wasn't. Also, B-Ref doesn't find any statistical evidence that it played small.

I think that looking at the Maroons' home record will shed more light on this but I'm not certain. They were so much better than their competition that it probably skewed the numbers a bit. Everybody on that team hit 30 doubles and I'd say that was a function of league quality rather than park effect but we'll see.