Parking it: Home yards not so sweet
By Josh Rawitch / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- For years, the question has been posed of how many home runs Willie Mays might have hit had he not played in Candlestick Park during the prime of his career. For more than a dozen seasons, Mays hammered balls into the wind, only to see them caught at the warning track, costing him -- by his own estimate -- at least 100 home runs over his career.
More than two decades after Mays played his final game in a Giants uniform, his godson, Barry Bonds, signed a contract that would pay him an annual salary of more than $7 million, making him the highest-paid player in the game at the time. And while San Francisco might have shelled out quite a bit of money, it could be Bonds who paid the higher price.
At the time, his highest home run total in any season was 34, established the year before changing addresses from Pittsburgh to the Bay Area. Most importantly, Bonds will say, is that he has not yet reached the World Series with the team he rooted for as a child. What he won't admit, though, is that the decision to play for the Giants might easily have cost him as many home runs as his godfather.
Consider the following: If the 12-plus seasons that Mays played at Candlestick cost him 100 home runs, could the decade Bonds has played in Candlestick (seven seasons) and Pacific Bell Park (2 1/2 seasons) have cost him almost as many? Could all the hoopla currently surrounding the Giants slugger be about approaching the 700 mark in home runs, rather than 600?
When baseball's first home run king went deep for the 600th time, he was playing his home games in a stadium referred to regularly as The House That Ruth Built. The short porch in right field of Yankee Stadium undoubtedly helped Babe Ruth en route to establishing the all-time home run mark. Thirty-eight years later, Hank Aaron hit his 600th -- as well as many others -- at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium, also known as the Launching Pad.
But Bonds, like Mays, has played the majority of his home games in pitcher-friendly parks. Even in Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, where the dimensions were neutral if not slanted slightly towards the hitters, Bonds hit just 80 homers in 484 games, an average of one every six games. In 2001, the record-breaking season in which he hit 73 homers, he was hitting one every 6.5 at-bats.
Of course, when Bonds was playing at Three Rivers during his first seven big-league campaigns, he was often a leadoff hitter and significantly skinnier than he is today. At that time, the thought of Bonds hitting 600 home runs was about as likely as him hitting breaking Roger Maris' then-record of 61 homers in a single season.
Earlier this season, the question was posed to several Giants players about how many more home runs Bonds might hit had he played his home games at Coors Field. Estimates varied, with Reggie Sanders and hitting coach Gene Clines both believing his career total would be about 100 more than where it currently stands.
Yet ironically, Coors Field is not one of the best parks for Bonds when it comes to hitting home runs. The slugger has played in 28 ballparks and homered in each, adding Yankee Stadium and Toronto's SkyDome to the list this season. Yet Coors Field in Denver ranks 11th among those 28 ballparks in total home runs hit.
Meanwhile, Bonds holds the all-time mark for home runs by an opponent in three stadiums -- Qualcomm/Jack Murphy in San Diego (37), Cinergy/Riverfront in Cincinnati (31), Olympic in Montreal (30), and Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium (27). His 22 round-trippers at Dodger Stadium is one shy of George Foster's record there.
No one will ever know just how many times Mays, Bonds or even Willie McCovey would have gone yard had they played in more hitter-friendly stadiums, but it sure is fun to imagine, isn't it?
Josh Rawitch covers the Giants for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.