Stuart Miller's editorial in the New York Times the other day advocated that baseball return to its golden era in one respect: push out the fences. Retreating the typical center field fence from 400 feet to 450 feet, as some center fields were into the 1960s, would cut down on home runs, Miller argues, and would have positive ripple effects on the excitement of the game.
Instead of home runs, Miller writes, we'd get more triples. Cavernous outfield dimensions would increase the premium on speed and athleticism in outfielders, making for more spectacular plays (instead of the whiplash play as an outfielder watches a jack sail over his head into the stands). Players who are faster in the field would also be faster on the basepaths, leading to more basestealing and more hit-and-runs. Pitchers would be more willing to challenge the best hitters. Batters, no longer swinging for the fences, would shorten their swings, putting more balls in play and increasing the emphasis on defensive fundamentals.
I think Stuart Miller is exactly right, and I've long pined for the 487-foot straight-away center field of Babe Ruth's Yankee Stadium even though I never saw anything remotely close to it myself. Pushing back the outfield fences will not necessarily cut down on scoring; but it would cut down on home runs, and return the focus from jacked-up sluggers to baseball fundamentals. This is something I would give my eye teeth to see.
Unfortunately, it will be a cold day in hell before this occurs. The baseball establishment is convinced that homers sell baseball. Even the Players' Association, the powerfully entrenched union of baseball players, would oppose this change, since home run prowess translates directly into the biggest payoffs come contract time. But it's a great loss for baseball. Instead of a spacious field with room for outfielders to roam and balls to travel, parks keep getting smaller and players keep getting bigger. I love baseball, but I long for a brand of baseball I never saw - an elegant interaction of ball and ballplayer, played on a field as expansive as the American imagination.