AT&T Park is a lovely baseball oasis. Where else is it possible to miss a bang-bang play at the plate because you were distracted by a container ship steaming toward the Golden Gate Bridge?
Unfortunately, it is now clear that the ballpark needs to be fixed. They didn’t know it when it was built, but AT&T is Death Valley for home runs.
This has led to the suggestion of bringing in the distant fences — 421-feet to right center — to make the team competitive. And that has triggered a vociferous reaction from those who love the wide open quirkiness and don’t want to change anything that will diminish Triples Alley.
Luckily, I have the solution. But first some background.
First, although it is clear that baseball has declared this the year of the dinger, the Giants are sitting it out.
The lads are hitting the fewest round trippers in all of professional baseball. And not by a little bit either. They are a good 20 behind their nearest competitor, and more than one team has nearly doubled the Giants’ total. In a year when the Giants have consistently been mired in the basement, the lack of pop is concerning.
Now, you’re going to say (as I would have) that the problem is slumping power hitters. But they were among the bottom three teams in home runs last year and they were a playoff team.
And really the numbers aren’t dramatically different. Buster Posey had 14 HRs last year and had 12 as of last week. Hunter Pence had 13 in 2016 and 11 as he went into the weekend. Brandon Crawford had 12 last year and already has that many.
It is the Giants’ formula for success — pitching, good defense and solid hitting.
However, the new baseball metric begs to differ. Players are clearing the walls at a remarkable rate. With nearly 5,000 homers hit already, baseball is on pace for more than 6,000 big flies this year, well beyond the 5,693 from the infamous steroid season of 2000.
So to keep up the Giants need to sign a power hitter, right? We know they’re thinking about it because USA Today reported that the Giants “have expressed the strongest interest” in free agent slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
Which would be both wonderful and a long, long, long shot. First, many teams would love to have Stanton. And you’d have to think they have more to offer than a team with an existing huge payroll and a slumping farm system.
But there’s also the local problem. Home run hitters don’t want to come to AT&T Park. After his assault on the home run record this year, do you think Stanton is going to want to play where his numbers will automatically drop?
That’s why we have to fix AT&T Park. It is statistically the poorest location for home runs in all of baseball — and not by a small margin.
We can further narrow it down by saying it is a chore to hit a home run to right field. In 2016 lefthanded hitters hit 58 home runs at AT&T. At Yankee Stadium (admittedly, with a short porch in right field) they hit 143.
What to do? I have the answer.
But first let’s go back to 2000, when the ballpark opened. The Giants, and everyone else, assumed that balls were going to be flying over the wall and into the cove on a daily basis. After all, it is a mere 309 feet to the foul pole.
In reality, the splash hits were all about Barry Bonds. In eight years Bonds hit 35 in the water. The next closest is the previous incarnation of Pablo Sandoval with 16. And, in the history of the park, no right-handed hitter has ever cleared the wall to plunk one in the drink.
It turns out the 25-foot brick wall is more formidable than expected. Combined with the prevailing stiff breeze — which isn’t blocked by the grandstands as it is in left field — it is a tough task to hit one out to right.
So here’s what we do: create our own right-field porch. Keep Triples Alley, but install rows of bleachers in front of the right field bricks.
There’s even a notch in the fence in right center. Extend that to the foul line and put risers behind it. You’d lose the out of town scoreboard and the free viewing areas, but you’d gain some of the coolest seats in the house.
And I’d make the barrier to the seats relatively low so there would be opportunities for dramatic, over-the-wall, homer-stealing catches. And of course home runs would increase — from both power-pulling lefties and opposite-field hitting righties.
Now you’ve got a ballpark everyone can love. Home run totals will rise, right field will become action central and power hitters won’t cross AT&T off their list.
And the best part? Inside-the-park home runs are still in play.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius.