A simple change of direction at Oriole Park at Camden Yards – a shift of 15 minutes, maybe even less, in a clockwise direction – would alter the course of the ballpark’s history and with it much of the local lore.
Here are four considerations of what might be different had HOK and the decision makers responsible for our jewel of a stadium momentarily lost their senses and favored parking-lot and on-ramp vistas over a center field view of Baltimore’s fair cityscape.
We’d Remember Gonzalez Rather Than Griffey
It’s easy to forget that Juan Gonzalez won the 1993 All-Star Home Run Derby because Ken Griffey Jr. walked away with the more memorable prize that July day, namely a 465-foot blast off of the Warehouse brick. No batter has accomplished the feat in game action.
Griffey was, and one assumes always will be, a key part of Camden Yards history. No matter that Gonzalez out slugged The Kid 12-11 in two overtime sessions to claim back-to-back Derby titles. No matter that Gonzalez hit a longer home run to left – an estimated 473-foot shot off of the upper-deck facade – than Griffey’s Warehouse blast to right. Griffey was the story that day and has been ever since.
But if Eutaw Street, and the Warehouse, were in left field rather than right field, Gonzalez would have walked away with a bigger prize and the associated piece of history. Instead, he’s a footnote in the Camden Yards story.
Which brings us to our second observation.
Righties Would Displace Lefties in the Camden Yards History Book
Memorial Stadium’s most prized long-ball legend belonged to Frank Robinson, a right-handed batter and the only player ever to put a ball completely out of the park. He did so on May 8, 1966. The spot was marked with an orange-and-black flag in left field that read simply, “Here.”
Less well-remembered are the near-misses of the left-handed batters who took the ball deep, but not quite deep enough, to right. Those hits are flagged only in the memories of the individuals who witnessed them. Consider Jason Jubb’s recollection – with video evidence – of Eddie Murray’s April 25,1985, home run that landed in the far reaches of the right-field bleachers, or my own less-evidenced memory of a prodigious foul ball off of Sam Horn’s bat.
Because of the newer ballpark’s design, Camden Yards’ long-ball legends belong instead to the lefties – the Mickey Tettletons (first Eutaw Street home run), Henry Rodriguezes (longest Eutaw Street home run), and Kevin Basses (first Eutaw Street home run by an Oriole) of the baseball world.
Cal Ripken, the Orioles’ all-time leader in home runs, who played 10 years and several hundreds of games at Camden Yards, doesn’t have a bronze baseball on Eutaw Street. There’s little doubt that he would have one if Eutaw Street were in left field rather than right. He may even have parked one there during his three-game home run streak in the days leading up to and including his record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game.
It seems hard to believe, but those memorable September nights at Camden Yards in 1995 could have been even more memorable if Eutaw Street ran behind left field.
Center Field Would Still Rule the Roost
Ultimately, Camden Yards is the political spectrum of baseball stadiums. Left and right get most of the attention, but the majority still rest closer to the middle.
A review of longest home runs in Camden Yards’ history reveals that the biggest blasts tend to take flight toward center field.
I actually had nightmares (sad, I know) after the Yankees’ Daryl Strawberry sent a Mike Mussina offering 465 feet to center field on June 17, 1998. No ball has been hit farther during game action.
The second-longest Camden Yards home run, by Pedro Munoz (yes, you read that correctly: Pedro Munoz), traveled 463 feet to … center field.
Overall, four of the five longest home runs in Camden Yards history have traveled to center field. In addition to Strawberry and Munoz’s efforts, Russell Branyan homered 459 feet to center this season, and Mo Vaughn drove a ball 457 feet in the same direction on July 7, 1996.
(Baseball Reference doesn’t indicate the direction of Vaughn’s home run, but deductive reasoning suggests that it was center field. An earlier home run that day by Vaughn traveled 419 feet to right field and landed on Eutaw Street, and Vaughn has only one bronze marker to his credit. He surely didn’t go 457 feet the opposite way.)
The only roundtripper among the top five on Camden Yards’ list of longest home runs that may have traveled to left field (again, Baseball Reference does not indicate the direction of the hit) was Jeffrey Hammonds’ 460-foot shot off of Eric Plunk on Sept. 15, 1997.
Which leaves us with one final question …
Would the Warehouse Still be Untouched?
This is perhaps the most fun (or “funnest,” depending on your grammatical flexibility) inquiry of this whole “What If?” exercise: If Eutaw Street ran behind left field, would a right-handed batter have hit the Warehouse by now during game action?
Given the shifting distances it takes to reach the Warehouse depending on where the ball leaves the yard, no two Eutaw Street home runs are created alike. The best chance of accomplishing the feat comes with a shot straight down the line, but the approximate distance and location required to accomplish the feat is difficult to measure accurately.
On the day of 1993 Home Run Derby, newspapers estimated that a ball would have to travel 470 feet to hit the Warehouse; Griffey’s home run is marked with a plaque that reads 465 feet.
The best baseball arguments are hypothetical rather than concrete, which makes this final question all the more intriguing. So who would fare better in the Warehouse chase: a lefty or a righty?
A review of multiples lists of home run leaders (from this season, the all-time list, etc.) shows a fairly balanced mix of right-handed and left-handed batters. However, there is evidence to suggest that ballpark dimensions and the preponderance of right-handed pitchers favors lefty sluggers, which translates to more home runs but not necessarily longer home runs.
Were the Warehouse in left field rather than right field, my money says that a batter would be more likely to hit it with a home run in game action.
Feel free to disagree. After all, that’s in part the beauty of the exercise.
Image source: Flickr.