12/05/2002 6:59 pm ET
Tigers decide to bring in the fences
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
The news is out at Comerica Park, and the fences are in.
The Tigers announced their long-expected decision Thursday to move in the outfield fences at pitcher-friendly Comerica Park. The distance, however, is a surprise. The left-center field fence, listed at 395 feet, will move to 370 feet away from home plate, bringing the fence in closer than the warning track was located last season.
The difference is larger than what the Tigers tried out in September, when they erected a temporary fence 20 feet in front of the actual fence for batting practice before a game against the Twins. It didn't make much of a difference in BP, and the club didn't think it would do much in game situations either, so they went in a little more.
"To me, when you move it to 370 that's a pretty normal distance for left-center at most ballparks," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "In our research, the ball also hasn't carried to left field well."
The shift removes one of the most controversial outfield distances in baseball. Left-center was a nightmare for right-handed hitters and a haven for left-handed pitchers. Tiger southpaw starters such as Mark Redman and Mike Maroth said during the year they felt more leeway to challenge right-handed hitters in the strike zone because of the distances. Hitters have long complained about long balls they thought they had blasted, only to watch them fall into outfielder's glove near the fence. Of the 51 Tiger home runs at home last year, only 12 went to left.
Left-handed hitters, who normally pull the ball towards the more inviting right-field line, were also affected. Only one lefty, Minnesota's Jacque Jones, homered to left in Detroit in 2002. And that came in the season's final homestand.
While most Tiger pitchers enjoyed a lower ERA at home, the difference was most evident among lefties Redman (3.30 compared to 5.07) and Maroth (3.18 compared to 6.36). Yet Redman, who suffered from some of the lowest run support among American League starters, supported the idea of shortening the distances.
Hitters, understandably, were enthusiastically in support.
"I'm excited about it," said George Lombard. "I think it's going to make the playing field a lot more even and make the game a little more exciting. It's going to make the game play more true. When a guy hits a ball as far as he can hit it and he think it's going to be a home run, it's going to be a home run."
The move comes at a bit of a historical price. The new left-field wall will run from the left-field line to the 420-foot wall in center, running in front of the flagpole in left-center. It was put in play when Comerica Park was built in homage to its place at Tiger Stadium. The move leaves the flagpole out of play at Detroit's home park for the first time in recent history.
The fences in center and right field will not move. Nor will there be a change in the fence heights, which in left stands at 8 feet, 6 inches. The deep fence in right-center has kept its fair share of blasts in the park as well. Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run double high off the wall there in August, saying afterwards that was the hardest he has hit a ball without it leaving the park.
Don't expect Comerica Park to suddenly become a pitcher's enemy in left, either. Hitters and fielders noticed that the air flow usually comes in from that part of the park. That further changed, some said, once Ford Field rose across the street.
"You're still going to have to hit it to get it out," Lombard said.
Said Dombrowski: "Comerica Park will still be considered a pitcher's park. Center field remains big, thus giving our pitchers many places to pitch."
Detroit has ranked near the bottom of the league in home runs it at home over the park's three-year history, a stat that could also be attributed to a lineup in flux. Only San Francisco's Pac Bell Park saw fewer home runs last season than Comerica Park, 114 compared to 122.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.