"In the absence of dingers, we have no recourse but to close our eyes and dream of dingers."
- Benjamin Disraeli, probably
It's January. Aside from the stray Winter League videos, you probably haven't watched too many baseballs sail over fences recently. Your soul is cold. You might think everything is cold because you live in some godforsaken part of the country where birds are freezing mid-flight and plummeting to the ground like little, adorable, feathered hailstones, but no. Your soul is cold. There are no dingers to warm it up.
So let's spend the next week or so talking about home runs. Specifically, let's debate what makes for an aesthetically pleasing home run.
It's a truism that left-handed swings are generally prettier than right-handed swings. Why? There are a few theories. One, that the lefty's swing naturally carries him toward first base. Two, that lefties are more likely to see down-and-in pitches, which make for higher arcs and more majestic home runs. Three, it's a trick of perception played on us by cruel camera placement. Whatever the reason, there aren't a lot of folks who dissent from the original claim.
That written, here's one of my favorite home runs ever:
It isn't one of my favorites because I had any partisan rooting interest in that game. It's one of my favorites because good god look at that thing. It was hit about as hard as a baseball can be hit, an example of physics as an art form. I hadn't seen it for over a year. I just watched it 13 times, and I'll probably go back in after a few minutes.
But there's something more than the violent swing and flight of the ball that appeals to me with that home run. It's something that transcends the lefty/righty differences up there. My favorite part is how the ball disappears into an area where they didn't think to put seats. There were 40,000 people at that game, sitting all around the perimeter of the ballpark. But that ball went so high, so far, it cleared a gigantic wall out in left-center where nobody was.
In other words, the park made a huge difference with the aesthetics of that home run. Minute Maid Park played a huge part in the overall appeal of the homer. Would it have been a majestic, memorable homer in AT&T Park, where it probably would have sailed halfway up the left-center bleachers? Certainly. But it wouldn't have been as majestic or memorable.
This is the start of a series ranking which parks are best for the aesthetics of a home run. Or if you want me to dumb it down a bit, the parks that make homers look real pretty. Can you remember a single home run in Three Rivers Stadium? Don't answer that, Pirates fans, this is for the rest of the old-timers. Maybe you can, maybe you can't. But you probably don't remember one for how it looked sailing into the concrete night. The parks matter.
How do they matter? Some factors to consider:
Odd dimensions/ballpark features
This is an important one. The tall left field in Fenway and the low left-field fence in Dodger Stadium each contribute positively to how homers look in those parks, which seems counterintuitive. If a tall fence makes a homer look good, should the reverse be true? Except, it's more about extremes making them look good. And in some cases, the absence of extremes makes for an even better home-run experience. It all depends.
But, more often than not, put a building, body of water, or unusual fence out there in the outfield, and home runs will look better.
Degree of difficulty
Here's one where extremes seem to hurt. When a pop fly sails out of right field at Yankee Stadium, it doesn't make you fall in love all over again with baseball's perfect design. It makes you laugh or throw things, depending on your rooting interests.
On the other end of the spectrum, there aren't many bonus points awarded for clobbering a ball just over the fence in an extreme pitcher's park. You know, instinctively, that it's tough to do what the hitter just did. Think Petco Park before they moved the fences in. It took gunpowder and faerie wings to get a ball out to right-center, and when someone like Adrian Gonzalez did it, you knew he got all of the pitch. But the park didn't make the homer look better. To the contrary, it probably hurt the overall majesty of it.
There's nothing that burns my cornbread like hurt majesty, let me tell you what …
This is an extension of the dimensions/features up there, but it deserves its own section. Upper decks are home-run gold. The old Tiger Stadium would have been a contender for top-five status on this ranking, in part because of the upper decks hanging over the lower decks, just waiting to snatch a ball out of the air. Why are home runs better when they're hit in seats that hang over other seats? We'll leave that for the philosophers and scientists.
Can you hit the durn thing completely out of the park?
Sweet, sweet Tiger Stadium, how we miss you so.
Even better than ripping a baseball into the upper deck is making it disappear entirely onto a street, into a river, or out to the parking lot. Why? That's like asking why people make a big deal about Mona Lisa's smile. I'm not smart enough to answer that. Maybe when baseballs fly over stadium boundaries, it takes us back to when we'd hit the ball into Mrs. Quach's back yard, and someone would have to get it. We have a romantic attachment to the out-of-park experience.
Or maybe it meant the baseball went really, really far. Because that's cool.
So start thinking about all 30 ballparks and how home runs look in them. Or, better yet, let me do all the thinking. Because my rankings are pretty much right, and there's no way anyone will possibly complain about them.
A toast. To dingers!