Lynn Henning of the Detroit News threw out the idea Sunday that Miguel Cabrera would have five to 10 more home runs over the course of a season had he played at Tiger Stadium. His opposite field power would benefit from the shorter right field dimensions and the upper deck overhang, but 440 feet to center field could have robbed him of a few. Would the moon shots he hits into the bushes in dead center still be home runs, or would they land on the warning track and give us the joy of watching Miggy leg out a stand-up triple? Left field was not much different at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. The stadium felt small and intimate, but at 340 feet the left field wall was deeper than most.
What Tiger Stadium did offer was an upper deck around the outfield, with a roof in left and right field. This provided a reference point for the more glorious home runs. The last hit ever at Tiger Stadium, Robert Fick’s grand slam, bounced off the roof in right field. In most of today’s stadiums, it would have landed in the 20th row in right rather than a more typical home run only clearing the wall to the fifth row. Summiting the roof in right was a less-than-annual occurrence, so when I watched Reggie Jackson achieve that mark against Juan Berenguer in 1984, I knew I had really seen something. A Kirk Gibson home run was memorable not as much for going 450 or 500 feet, but by the fact that it came to rest in the lumberyard across the street. But only four sluggers cleared the left field roof, and surely Miguel Cabrera would have been the fifth.
Watching Cabrera try to clear the train tracks at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night brought back some of the feeling of home runs in the old ballparks, though the arched wall looks more like a Roman viaduct then traditional southwestern architecture. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has Tiger Stadium’s upper deck in right field to let you know when a home run is worthy of an extra measure of applause. Interleague play lets us see Cabrera hit the ball out onto Waveland Avenue. When the home run derby was at Fenway Park it was memorable for how many balls cleared the green monster into Lansdowne Street. Giancarlo Stanton cleared the scoreboard in left at Marlins Park last week rather than trying to explode it with a direct shot like last year, and the fans knew this was not just another dinger. Kauffman Stadium retained some fountains after renovations which provide a unique signal that a home run was worthy of respect, and Chase Field has a swimming pool in center field. But the best splash landing is provided by McCovey Cove in San Francisco. Not only is the race for the ball by kayakers and swimmers more entertaining than grown men jockeying for position as a ball bounces in the stands, but it is a natural condition of the location of the ballpark. The old parks had odd dimensions and upper decks because of the need to fit into the existing neighborhood, rather than a designer’s whim. McCovey Cove feels like it belongs, and provides more glory for the left handed hitters. A rematch of the 2012 World Series would allow Prince Fielder to test the waters.
The elder Fielder once cleared the left field stands at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. I suppose Cabrera could try to hit the water slide in left at Miller Park for an extra dose of respect. The old ballparks were not always smaller, and while the newer ballparks have asymmetrical dimensions, the old parks had some real outliers. The Polo Grounds in New York were 279 feet to left and would have gifted Cabrera some home runs to pad the total, but the 483 foot wall in center was only cleared four times. Would Miggy’s shots in Comerica that land in the bushes (or camera booth) in center field have been home runs at the Polo Grounds? Or would we be entertained with an attempt at an inside-the-park home run?
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