Ballpark quirks at their best

Only in baseball can outfield vegetation or a catwalk high above the playing field determine a game's outcome.

Originally Published: May 3, 2004
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

When you say "ground rule," people visualize a one-hopper over the fence. Two bases. But that's not really a "ground rule" because it's a standard rule that applies in every professional ballpark in the land. That's why Jon Miller (correctly) calls that sort of hit an "automatic double" rather than a "ground-rule double."

Real ground rules are a lot more fun, specific to particular ballparks, and here are four of my favorites:

Ivy = Double

Wrigley Field
The Wrigley Field ivy, a place where balls disappear forever.

Wrigley Field, which has been around since 1914, has all the quirks we would expect from a ballpark built before World War I, and with quirks come ground rules. The most interesting ground rule, by far, is related to Wrigley's famous ivy, which has been growing every summer since 1937. Bill Veeck -- later famous for owning the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Chicago White Sox (twice) -- was hired by Cubs owner Phil Wrigley as an office boy in 1933. And four years later, Wrigley told Veeck to add some vegetation to the ballpark. First Veeck planted trees. That didn't really work. Next Veeck tried ivy, and it's been there ever since.

Of course, an outfield wall covered with wild tangles of vines can present problems for the outfielders, and that's why there's a ground rule. From the 2004 Chicago Cubs Information Guide:

Baseball sticks in vines on bleacher wall ... Double

This occasionally gives the outfielder a (figurative) "out"; often, long drives to the wall become triples, especially if the batter's got much speed. But if the ball lodges in the vines, the fielder can raise his hands in surrender, even if he can see the ball perfectly well, and the batter is limited to a double. Generally, though, when this happens the ball's not only stuck; it's lost. On Aug. 3, 1982, for example, when Bill Buckner hit a ball into the ivy it took a three-man search party -- Mets outfielders Mookie Wilson and Joel Youngblood, plus umpire Lanny Harris -- quite some time to find the ball.

"Maybe I shoulda said DiMaggio?"

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome has been home to the Twins for more than 20 years, and it might reasonably be argued that the Metrodome has been the worst stadium in the majors for all or most of that time.

The Metrodome is the place where infielders and outfielders (temporarily) lose balls in the glare of the roof, where batters lose home runs to giant speakers, and where once everybody lost a baseball that just never returned to earth. As you might suspect, all these "quirks" necessitate a number of special ground rules, most of them relating to what happens if a batted ball hits one of the many speakers suspended from the Teflon-coated fiberglass roof.

Rather than list just one of the ground rules, let's look at all of them, since they're all about the same thing:

  • Ball hitting roof or speakers in fair territory; if caught by fielder, batter is out and base runners advance at their own risk.

  • Ball hitting roof or speakers in fair territory shall be judged fair or foul in relation to where it hits the ground or is touched by a fielder.

  • Any ball that hits the speaker or roof in foul territory is a foul ball; if however the ball is caught by a fielder, the batter is out and the base runners advance at their own risk.

  • A ball that hits speaker in foul territory and richochets back into fair territory is still a foul ball; if the ball is caught by fielder, the batter is out and base runners advance at their own risk.

    On July 5, 1992, Twins outfielder Chili Davis was victimized by one of those giant speakers suspended over right field. Davis hit what should have been a home run over the right-field wall, but instead became a "pop-up" to the second baseman after it struck the speaker.

    The most famous "roof incident" occurred in 1984, when Oakland slugger Dave Kingman hit a pop fly that went up, up, up ... and never came down. Kingman, who could hit a ball as far as anybody, had unintentionally discovered a drainage hole in the roof. After a while everybody got tired of waiting to see if the ball would return to the field, and so the umpires used their discretion and awarded Kingman a double.

    That's the Metrodome, where home runs turn into pop-ups and pop-ups turn into doubles.

    The ladder to nowhere

    For a long time there's been a story going around that Fenway Park is the home of baseball's only "ground-rule triple," but that's apparently some sort of urban legend. Fenway's Green Monster is the home of baseball's only in-play ladder, which extends from the upper-left corner of the old scoreboard to the top of The Wall.

    Interestingly, that ladder is now superfluous. For decades, it was used by the grounds crew to access the net atop The Wall that prevented most home runs from landing on Lansdowne Street. But with the construction of the Monster Seats last year, the net is gone and so's the need for a ladder. It's still there, but probably not for long. In the meantime, though, here's a rule about the ladder: "A ball striking the top of the scoreboard in left field in the ladder below the top of the wall and bounding out of the park is two bases."

    Has that ever happened? The record is silent.

    Another odd thing about Fenway is the yellow line that rises to the top of The Wall, just left of the center-field bleachers. If a ball hits the line or to the right of the line, it's a home run. If a ball hits to the left of the line, it's in play ... unless the ball bounces into the bullpen, in which case it's a home run.

    Who's walking the cats?

    You want to know what the future's going to look like? Just spend some time inside Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, which is hailed by the Devil Rays as "The Ballpark of the 21st Century."

    The Devil Rays talk up the similarity between Tropicana and Ebbets Field, and both certainly had/have their oddities. Tropicana's got something Ebbets didn't, though: catwalks, and lots of them. Here's the longest, and most confusing, of the five "catwalk rules":

    A batted ball that hits a catwalk, lights or suspended objects in fair territory shall be judged fair or foul in relation to the striking point on the ground or where it is touched by the fielder. If the ball hits the catwalk, lights or suspended objects in fair territory and lands in the field in fair territory or is touched by a fielder in fair territory, it shall be judged a fair ball. If the ball strikes the catwalk, lights or suspended objects in fair territory and is caught by a fielder in fair or foul territory, then the batter is out and the base runners run at their own risk.

    Other rules suggest that if a fair ball gets stuck on a catwalk, it's a double, but if a batted ball hits one of the two lower catwalks it's a home run. Just think how Roy Hobbs could have taken advantage of that one if Robert Duvall were sitting up there.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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