Something great and unique about the sport of baseball is that nearly every ballpark can be different.
The dimensions of the actual diamond are standard, but after that, teams can pretty much design their home as they see fit. They can stretch their center-field wall out 550 feet, they can construct a giant wall in left field, they can build seemingly endless foul territory down the first- or third-base lines.
And teams have taken advantage of this opportunity — probably more so in the past than in today’s game. Here are some of our favorite (and, frankly, weird) stadium features from history.
Stone monuments in center field
Nowadays, Monument Park is located beyond the center-field wall at Yankee Stadium. But for years — from the 1930s to the ’70s — the first three monuments were on the field. The memorials for Miller Huggins, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were located 460 feet from home plate. Batters rarely reached that distance, especially back then, but when they did, it caused some issues.
It’s said that after one bobble by a Yankees center fielder among the monuments, manager Casey Stengel yelled from the dugout: “Ruth, Gehrig, Huggins, somebody get that ball back to the infield!”
Eventually, owner George Steinbrenner moved the park beyond the wall and out of play. Probably for the best.
Where’d this hill come from?
As an ode to Crosley Field’s funky sloped outfield in the mid part of the 20th century, Astros executive Tal Smith urged his team to erect a 30-degree slope in center field of the new Minute Maid Park. And they did. From 2000-2016, there was a 90-foot-wide hill leading up to the outfield fence. It made for some, um, interesting photographs.
It humbled some of the greatest center fielders to ever play the game.
But it also allowed some other subpar outfielders to make miraculous catches.
The hill was flattened after the 2016 season to allow for more seating and concession options. Many fans were sad to see the fun little ballpark quirk go, but then again, they weren’t the ones trying to climb it/making a fool of themselves on a nightly basis.
Renovations to Briggs (later called Tiger) Stadium in the 1930s brought the right-field fence in by 42 feet, but new owner Walter O. Briggs also wanted to add more seats. He wanted more people inside to see his World Series-contending team.
So, he had a new set of seats constructed in the second deck of right field, jutting out 10 feet above the outfield grass. Right on top of the right fielder. Look at where the old foul pole was in relation to the new one.
The stadium was mostly torn down in 1999, but the field (and the flagpole that stood in center field), are still used in recreational games today.
And you thought Fenway Park’s 37-foot-high Green Monster was tall …
The Baker Bowl, home to the Phillies from 1887-1938, had a distance of only 280 feet to right field. Because the Phillies couldn’t build out the park any farther with railroads and other businesses in the way, they did the only other thing they could do: They constructed an enormous 60-foot wall — a height Mordor’s army probably couldn’t even breach.
Because of Baker’s bandbox dimensions, the Phillies routinely led the league in home runs during their time playing there. In 1929, Philadelphia’s Lefty O’Doul had an incredible 144 hits in 318 at-bats at Baker — leading the NL with a .398 batting average. Pitching, though, proved difficult for many. Hugh Mulcahy, who lost 20 games in 1938 and never once won more games than he lost, earned the brutal nickname of “The Losing Pitcher” — mostly because of his time at Baker.
Red Smith summed up how close everything seemed at Philly’s downtown ballpark in a story for the New York Times: “It might be exaggerating to say the outfield wall cast a shadow across the infield, but if the rightfielder had eaten onions at lunch the second baseman knew it.”
The weirdest outfield fence
After a fire burned down their first ballpark in 1911, the Washington Senators built a new one that would later become known as Griffith Stadium. The outfield dimensions were pretty normal, except for center field: Five homeowners wouldn’t sell their land to the team and the wall had to be built in and around them — resulting in some bizarrely angled features.
The houses were so close to the field that one of them had yellow paint on the front as part of the field’s ground rules. Owners also apparently built high enough bleachers so they could hold viewing parties with friends and family.
Let’s get back to National Park, the original stadium for the Senators that burned down. Here, outfielders had to deal with one of the strangest obstacles ever placed inside a ballyard: A doghouse. Seriously.
It was put out there as a place to store the stadium flags. And yes, there was at least one time that a live ball, hit by a Senators batter, went into it. The Philadelphia Athletics’ Socks Seybold went in to try and retrieve it and apparently became stuck. By the time his teammates pulled him out, the Senator had made it all the way around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
The deepest center field ever
The Polo Grounds is widely known as having the deepest center-field fence in history at an astounding 483 feet. But when Braves Field was originally built in 1915, it stretched even farther. The right-center-field corner was reportedly 520 feet away from home plate. Look at this madness:
Ty Cobb, who famously said he could hit a homer anywhere he wanted if he tried, said nobody would ever hit one there. And he was right … at least for the beginning part of the ballpark’s existence. Paired with a stiff breeze blowing in off the Charles River (outfielders were said to choke on train fumes from a nearby railyard), no player hit an over-the-fence homer for the first seven years.
Fans became annoyed by the offensive struggles and the fences were moved in and out and back in again at various points throughout the years — even sometimes changing distances midseason.
The ballpark that ate baseballs
Just three years after the Metrodome opened, Yankees manager Billy Martin said: “This place stinks. It’s a shame a great guy like Hubert H. Humphrey had to be named after it.”
That’s a little harsh from a guy that seemed to always be a little harsh, but the Twins’ home from 1982-2009 definitely had its oddities. The roof was almost like a balloon — supported by positive air pressure. Because of harsh Minnesota weather, it deflated more than a few times during its tenure. And before the ground rules were changed in 2005, any batted ball that hit the roof or the giant speakers hanging from the roof and landed in fair territory was in play. Fielders had to try to catch popups as they took wild deflections off the dome. The ceiling was also the same color as the baseball, so fielders sometimes just lost high line drives altogether.
There were also a few times when fly balls got caught up in the ceiling. Those were ruled as ground-rule doubles, no matter how much of an easy out the hit would’ve been in a dome-less ballpark. Back in 1984, Dave Kingman hit one straight through the top out into the sky.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana put it well during his Twins Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a few years after the park was demolished in 2014: “It’s the same setup, but it’s missing that perfect place that we used to call home. A lot of people don’t like it. We loved it.”