Rob Muhlhausen wrote:
So, the Yankees new stadium, which is opening in 2009, is being advertised as having the same dimensions as the current Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium currently is 318ft. down the left foul line and 314ft. down the right foul line. Major League Baseball rule 1.04(a) says, “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.” Aren’t the Yankees breaking the rules here?
Yes. But the Commissioner allows them to do it. While many parks have their fences at the minimum required distance, the last wave of ballparks had many that violated the space requirements:
- AT&T Park
- Minute Maid Park is 315 feet down the left-field line
- Oriole Park at Camden Yards is 318 feet down the right field line
- Petco Park is 396 feet to center field and 322 feet to right field
- PNC Park is 399 to center and 320 to right field
In each case, the team went to the Commish and said “hey, we’d like to put the fences closer than the rules allow” and he waived the requirement. Presumably, that’s what the Yankees will do to have their new digs built with dimensions that violate the rulebook requirement.
This raises an obvious question: if the Commissioner regularly waives the requirement, why is the requirement in the rules at all?
I don’t know. The league’s argument would probably be that the rules are designed to prevent a team from building a field that’s too crazy, and that requiring the Commissioner to review plans that violate the rule ensures that they can be sure that the close foul lines (or whatever the other tweak is) aren’t egregious, and the outfield ground’s made up in the power alleys (or somewhere).
But that’s not what happens – Minute Maid Park’s played as a severe hitter’s park since its inception, dragging up the whole league’s run-scoring. If the rules are intended to ensure that the game’s played within certain general run-scoring parameters, the way this is implemented has failed.
Considered this way, there’s nothing wrong with letting the Yankees build a new stadium with the same dimensions as the old. We have decades of information on how the current park plays, and it’s obvious it plays normally. Yankee Stadium today isn’t an oppressive pitcher’s park or a band box. As long as the Commissioner’s granting exceptions, there’s no reason you wouldn’t let this by.
In another way, though, giving this discretionary power to the Commissioner is part of baseball’s long move during Selig’s reign to put more and more authority to Selig, and includes other actions like the abolition of the league presidents (which is also not reflected in the rules). All of that allows him to award or punish teams based on his own feelings about the franchise, which in turn allows him to wield a huge stick in forcing draft slotting, for instance. Andrew Miller didn’t drop to the Tigers because the other teams didn’t want him. But that’s another topic entirely.