At long last, we're here. The end of our series exploring where home runs look the best. It's going to be a total letdown. It turns out the ballparks were dead the whole time, and the twist is going to annoy you. Sorry.
Here are the three best ballparks for homer-related majesty. Two are absolute classics. One is an airplane hanger without a soul. But all three turn dingers from merely neat into something transcendent.
3. Wrigley Field
When MLB.com started opening up their video vaults, it was an American triumph. But all they really needed to do was put this video up. When the people responsible got into work the next morning, all they would need to do is make sure the video is still up. If it was good, they could leave for lunch. From now until the end of the Internet, this is all they had to do.
They were not obligated to put more videos up, not after giving that video back to the masses. That might be my favorite home run ever, at least from an aesthetic standpoint. If you believe a human can hit a ball harder than that, the burden of proof is on you.
The home run left the ballpark. It sailed across a city street and landed on a rooftop. The only way it could have been better is if it hit a stork carrying a baby, which made it drop the baby, which was picked up by a speeding Leader-1, who landed safely with the baby and gave everyone in the stands bags of Werther's toffee. If that's not possible, then a rooftop was a heckuva second choice. It's gorgeous before the camera cuts to the ball in-flight; the in-flight shot is just as gorgeous.
That's an old home run, so it's not the exact setup that's at Wrigley currently. But even if there are myriad ways now for a rooftop to part you from your money, there are still buildings to hit and windows to break. It isn't as hard to hit/break them as it is in Camden, and there's more to hit/break than in Petco. There's still the potential for a murderous scrum in the streets for a cork-stuffed souvenir that Amazon could have delivered to your door by the next business day.
Wrigley is more than buildings beyond a street, though. The best feature isn't that hitters can hit the ball out of the ballpark with ease and aplomb, nor that you get to watch the ball sail over leaf-slathered walls. It's the unfettered space above, the white ball against the day or night sky all around the park.
Here's one of the longest home runs at Wrigley last year:
Please move past the cringe-demanding Caddyshack quote to about 0:46 for the best angle to show what I'm talking about. Or watch this one from Paul Goldschmidt, in which you can see the ball much better:
When the ball is in the air, all that's above it is sky. All that's below it is an ancient cathedral of the game. And below that are buried corpses, enemies of Charles Weeghman, who continue to haunt the Cubs and their ballpark to this day. But focus on the juxtaposition of park and sky. I've been complaining about the boring fate of baseballs hit into bleachers, but that doesn't apply here. The ball doesn't have to leave the park to be special; the bleachers do the homers justice in Wrigley and almost nowhere else.
Here's one of the more famous homers in Wrigley, and the bleachers accept it perfectly.
Of course, it also helps that hitters can leave the ballpark completely. It really, really helps.
Park-ejected home runs are the best home runs, even better than upper-deck home runs and home runs that hit people who aren't expecting them. When a baseball leaves the stadium, it makes you feel like a kid again, like the ball went into a neighbor's yard that it wasn't supposed to go into, and that even though it's never coming back, it was worth it. Let's see if I can find a left-handed hitter … wait, hold on, I think I remember one …
Some home runs stay in the park. The crushed ones, though, leave with great urgency. It's not like that in every park. Wrigley has something that beats almost every other feature, so it's an easy top three.
2. Chase Field
There are going to be people who hate this ranking. As someone who's spent the last decade making fun of the pool, I hate this ranking. But the more home runs I saw hit at Chase, the more I realized they got it right, at least when it came to homers. The longest of the season at Chase Field:
Here's a screenshot of my fetish:
It's a gigantic outfield that stretches out to 413 feet in the power alleys. Then the designers had the audacity to make the outfield wall super high for no apparent reason. The Green Monster is huge, but it's also two Randy Johnsons from the infield dirt. Putting a mini-monster out in center field seems cruel, at best.
Yet hitters reach it regularly. Bruce's homer pummeled something in an extremely satisfying manner. Here's another one, this time from Paul Goldschmidt, who is good at this.
I'm almost a sucker for ground rules making the difference between a homer and a ball in play. Here the ball hits a yellow line. Above it, homer. Below it, double or triple. It reminds me of the one-on-one baseball game I used to play as a kid, in which the parts of the fence surrounding the basketball court helped determine what hits became what.
The high fence isn't just an optical illusion for the viewers at home. I'd imagine that sitting atop one of those decks gives one a sense of invulnerability.
There's no way that baseball is coming right toward me, she thought. Even though it sure looks like it's coming right toward me.
She was okay! Heath Bell was not.
Left field does well with the high, arcing home runs, too. Mark Reynolds is always a good test subject for these rankings, and here he is channeling his inner Canseco with an upper-deck homer down the left-field line:
If you agree that the center-field wall is a Grade-A dinger asset, something that matches up with the best features in baseball-- which might be something only Larry and I think -- then it's hard to find flaws with the rest of the park.
This is a high-resolution image for your perusal. Start from the left-field line. Upper decks? Yep, yep. Funky angles too, including a little nook down the line for just-enough cheapies. Move to the right, and you'll see more funky angles. There's a bleacher section that's small enough to bypass with a long homer, but large enough to make it something of an event.
Then that center field. Really, it's just the best. It wouldn't be if, say, a homer a year went over it. But it's a regular feature in Chase Field's day-to-day existence.
Move to right field. More angles. Another upper deck. Dorks hanging out in a pool, just waiting to get hit with a baseball. Stands that wrap around the foul pole, always a good sign.
But back to the pool. I used to hate it, just like I hated the thought of a 75-foot-tall representation of Miami Beach's id in Marlins Park. It's all growing on me, though. Getting soft in my old age, but it's growing on me. It's the part of a skee-ball machine that should shoot out 100 tickets, good enough for exactly one eraser. I looked for the first homer into the pool in the park's history.
And it broke Google. So hopefully you'll be okay with this as a substitute:
Add it up, and Chase Field is excellent. It's underrated. It's never rated. But the next time you watch a game there, pay attention to how the home runs look just a little more home-runnier.
1. Fenway Park
When this series started, people kept asking me if I was rigging it so AT&T would win, or if Marlins Park would win as some combination of mea culpa and goof.
The questions stunned me. Because you knew it was Fenway the whole time, right? I struggled with a lot of these rankings, agonizing over which park to demote if I felt another park wasn't getting enough love. But I thought about #1 for exactly zero seconds. It's like ranking all-time third basemen. You write down Mike Schmidt's name, and then you start the rest of the debate.
You could probably splice the Green Monster into the left field of Olympic Stadium and make a top-five ballpark. You wouldn't even have to match the colors or make it look organic. Literally just build a green wall close to the infield and leave the rest alone. It's a feature that goes beyond a typical ballpark quirk. It makes for a different game, one that rewards glorified pop-ups, but punishes low 2-irons that would go out of almost any other park.
More importantly, baseballs look awesome when they go over it.
It sailed over the Brobdingnagian fence, and it made Napoli seem like the strongest man alive. That wasn't the longest home run by a Red Sock this year. According to HitTrackerOnline.com, that was the 192nd-longest home run hit in the majors in 2013. But it made the announcers say "wow." It made you say "wow." It was a scintillating home run. Yet it was a totally average home run. This is the Fenway Paradox, which states …
Every home run over the Green Monster is a special home run.
Every one. Even the ones that would make you swear at the Crawford Boxes. Other walls aren't that high in the other parks. Therefore, baseballs that go over the wall are better home runs. Empirically better home runs. They go over a wall that extends into the heavens, people. If you're disagreeing, you are awful
It's not just left. Center field has the high-wall thing going on like Chase, where it seems even more impressive for a batter to get a ball that far and that high at the same time. Remember A-Rod's middle finger to the world?
And that was when A-Rod proved us all wrong, and we started liking him and respecting him as a person. Still, in another park, that would have bounced off a batter's eye, or maybe rattled around in some bleachers. In Fenway, though, there's some difficulty. There's an extra hurdle, an unnecessary and huge extension on top of the normal center field fence. And the stands are usually full these days, so there's usually some good, old-timey jostling for the baseball in the stands, too.
Left field is a homer-aiding god. Center field is stellar. Right field is … remember that bit where I complained about bullpens? That's null and void if the fence is low enough to qualify as a boobie trap.
That's a feature that would make a homer-friendly ballpark by itself. It adds an is-it/isn't-it element to the process. Here's an isn't-it:
Those last two happened in the same postseason. This stuff happens all the time in Fenway. Also, before we move on, recognize that was an excellent call by Joe Buck. I regret that I didn't pay enough attention to it at the time, but it was a truly splendid call for one of the most exciting moments in the playoffs.
We've established that every field is stellar. Then we get to Pesky's Pole. It has an adorable name. And it's one of those cheapy-rare home runs that every park should have. How many times does it come into play in any given season? A couple. But it's always there, waiting to annoy/excite you.
I'll listen to arguments for the rest of the list. I'm still nervous about Wrigley and Chase making the top three at the expense of PNC and AT&T, and there are a bunch of parks in the bottom half that were much better than expected. I totally neglected Travis Hafner ruining someone's meal at Kauffman, for example.
But Fenway is the best park for home-run-related appreciation. You know the Giants fans who mumble things about how Vin Scully isn't so great? That's what you're like if you're a Yankees fan and you disagree. Don't be that fan. It's settled.
Finding where home runs look best