In 2002, a humidor was put in the baseball storage room in Coors Field, artificially depressing the ridiculous offense that was primarily a result of the dry mountain air. The Arizona Diamondbacks front office decided against making the same change at hitter-friendly Chase Field for the 2011 season. In light of this, an interesting point was raised in Sweetspot’s David Schoenfield chat yesterday on ESPN.com. Why is it acceptable to rail against chemically inflated numbers while encouraging similarly unnatural deflation of batters’ statistics?
A product of the altitude, of the thin air, whatever the case may be, a trip to Colorado to play either for or against the Rockies was a hitter’s dream. From 1996-2001, the Rockies AVERAGED 5.67 runs a game, batted .290 as a team and hit 207 homers a season. Andres Galarraga, Ellis Burks, and Vinny Castilla were all good players, but they just weren’t supposed to each hit over .300, with at least 40 homers and 110 RBI in the same season. Dante Bichette, a slightly above-average hitter, hit .316/.342/.540 in his seven Coors years. The rest of his career, he batted .269, never hitting more than 23 home runs or driving in 90 in a season. Bud Selig and the powers that be decided that such gaudy offensive statistics weren’t a real representation of the game, and felt it within his power to take action.
Even given the tangible shrinkage and hardening of the baseballs due in Denver’s mile-high altitude, they still consistently measured within MLB’s regulation parameters. Coors field was approved as a major league facility, and every game played there was subject to both the laws of Major League Baseball and the laws of physics. Neither team gained a competitive advantage over another, and baseball has long been defined by the individuality and quirks of its ballparks. The Oakland Coliseum trends as a pitcher’s park because of its vast expanse of foul territory, turning foul balls that would be out of play in most stadiums into outs. On the other side, Fenway Park has favored hitters — the Green Monster sits a mere 310 feet from home plate, inviting right-handed sluggers to pull the ball over the wall, and begging lefties to go the opposite way and drive doubles off of its face all day long. It would be a logical fallacy to use the slippery slope argument here, but purposely doctoring the baseballs at certain parks to achieve a level of offense that “feels right” is no different than moving the Monster back 30 feet.
Baseball is a numbers game, and a game steeped in history — I get that. I really do. But this paranoid obsession with depreciating the achievements of this generation’s greatest players is beginning to border on absurd, and treats baseball fans as if we are shallow-minded, memoryless simpletons. Barry Bonds hitting 762 home runs doesn’t detract from the grace and class of Henry Aaron. He’s still enshrined in Cooperstown, right there for all to see, and putting an asterisk next to Bonds’ name will not make a single person suddenly wake up remembering what a great player Aaron was. Vinny Castilla’s six 30-HR seasons in a Rockies uniform doesn’t knock Mike Schmidt off of his perch as the greatest third baseman of all time.
The only reason I take such a hard-line stance against the way that the baseball community deals with steroids is because of the sheer hypocrisy and selectivity of it all. This chemical alteration to the game is OK, but this other one isn’t. Andy Pettitte admits his use, while throwing his supposed good friend under the bus, and is already beginning to drum up significant Hall of Fame support. Bonds never failed a drug test, but on pure speculation and scrutiny of his own success, he’s thrown around the federal court system and has Hall voters clamoring to see who can write the most morally elitist column about how he will never see his way onto their ballot. There is no black and white — there are subtleties and shades of gray to everything in this world, yet baseball fails to see that. Somehow, we live in a world where artificial performance-enhancers are bad, yet it is acceptable to actively curb the natural successes of men whose only crime is playing in a certain ballpark or two. You can’t have it both ways, Bud.