The history of Comerica’s wide dimensions

Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have called Comerica Park their home since it opened in 2000. But some who have played there have had different names for it. Former Detroit outfielder Bobby Higginson called it Comerica National Park. Other frustrated sluggers referred to it in less friendly terms.

By now, the reputation is

The Tigers have called Comerica Park their home since it opened in 2000. But some who have played there have had different names for it. Former Detroit outfielder Bobby Higginson called it Comerica National Park. Other frustrated sluggers referred to it in less friendly terms.

By now, the reputation is long established. Even though some noted home run hitters in recent years have made it look small at times, Comerica Park is big, from a 420-foot distance to straightaway center field to larger dimensions on either side. But how — and why — was it built that way?

First, a historical note: Comerica Park used to be bigger. When the ballpark opened, the area currently occupied by the bullpens was part of left field, and the fence at the back of the bullpens was the fence hitters had to clear for a home run. It was 395 feet to the left-field power alley, rather than 370, as it is now. The flagpole in left-center field was actually in play, an homage to old Tiger Stadium. The fences were brought in before the 2003 season. The bullpens were brought over from the right-field corner, and the old bullpen area near the right-field corner became more seating.

As for why the ballpark was built so big, Tiger Stadium plays a role there, too. The team’s historic old home was known for its homer-friendly tendencies, despite its 440-foot dimension to center, thanks in part to an enclosed outfield and upper-deck seating that hung over the fence in right field.

When the Tigers went about designing their new home, they wanted it to stand out, rather than be another version of Tiger Stadium. The outfield was open with limited seating, leaving the downtown Detroit skyline visible from most of the park. Upper-deck seating down the lines and behind the plate was pushed back from the lower deck, allowing unobstructed views around the lower bowl. And yes, the fences were pushed back toward the middle of the field, while the dimensions down the lines were similar.

“As we were suffering through some years of pitching that wasn’t very good, all of us realized that very few ballparks penalize bad pitching as much as Tiger Stadium does,” then-Tigers president John McHale told the Detroit Free Press just before the ballpark opened in 2000. “So we thought it might be interesting to design a park where there was a dimension that would allow a pitcher — if he threw it in the appropriate place and could induce the batter to hit it — to be reasonably sure of a long, relatively harmless fly ball.”

For several years, that was certainly the case, and then some. The complaints from hitters have been noted over the years, most recently from former Tigers slugger Nick Castellanos in 2019. And a list of longest outs at Comerica Park stands out. As MLB.com’s Mike Petriello noted in ’18, however, the park has played more balanced in recent seasons as hitters and the game have changed.

Part of that, of course, was the result of better Tigers hitters, notably former American League Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. What was once a rare feat of seeing a home run hit into the shrubs beyond center field has become a more regular sight. It won’t change the observation of Comerica Park because, yeah, it really is a massive outfield. But aside from some long outs each year, it plays a little smaller than it used to.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

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1 Comment

  1. Back in 1999 they offered tours of Tiger Stadium of blessed memory and our guide said that the new facility was built for “pitching, speed, and defense.” There was no point in fussing with her, she was just saying what she was told to say as part of her job, but I wanted to mention that if the park was built for pitching, speed, and defense, it might have been a good idea to get some pitching, speed, and defense.

    The new stadium tends to be an attendance attraction for its first couple of years anyway, but if you decide you need a big star and you have a cavernous left field and a team that doesn’t walk much, it was not clear to me why you’d get Juan Gonzalez.

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