Mr. Ford Christopher Frick, a right-hander, has gone on record as refusing to panic over baseball's newest playing ground, the Los Angeles Coliseum.
"I see no reason to get hysterical," the commissioner said, after taking one look and then fleeing the scene. "I feel the situation has been over-exaggerated."
It is easy for the commissioner to say this, because he merely bosses baseball and does not have to play it. If Walter Alston picked him as a starting pitcher some day he might change his mind.
As everyone knows by now, the Coliseum, new home of the Dodgers, has the shortest left field line in the civilized world, of which Los Angeles is often considered a part. It also has the most capacious right field. This is because the Coliseum is designed for football and track but not for baseball—especially not baseball of the big league variety.
Be that as it may, both the Dodgers and the hapless National League pitchers are stuck with the place for the 1958 season and almost certainly the 1959 season as well. By 1960—unless the Los Angeles voters, in a referendum on June 3, decide that Chavez Ravine would look better filled with tin cans and goats than with Dodgers—Walter O'Malley will have his shiny new baseball park and the problem will be solved. The only trouble is that 1960 is an awful lot of home runs and tainted base hits away.
As the young season progresses, it is daily becoming more evident that 1958 will be a year which baseball fans must recall with a mental footnote, like *war year or *introduction of the rabbit ball. This one will be remembered for *O'Malley's screen.
The screen is a 42-foot-high woven wire mesh monstrosity which stretches along the Coliseum's left field wall, suspended in a manner startlingly reminiscent of the Brooklyn Bridge, between two poles 140 feet apart. The screen begins at the foul pole, 250 feet from home plate (the legal minimum), and ends at a point out toward left center some 320 feet from the plate. Although this comprises the main body of the screen, there is also a section slanting down toward the ground outside the second pole at about a 30� angle, finally touching the fence in right center field at approximately 340 feet from home plate.
Since the entire structure is almost 100 feet closer to home plate than the average for a National League park, the over-all effect is guaranteed to bring a happy leer onto the face of even the weakest right-hand hitter and to leave the strongest pitcher quivering like the Cubs' Gene Fodge. Asked how he felt about pitching in the Coliseum last week, Gene smiled weakly and explained: "I'm all right as long as I don't look out there."
In the first nine games, 28 home runs were hit in the Coliseum, and every one of these was to left field. Of the 28, 20 went over the screen, and the other eight were hit just to the right of it, some barely clearing that part which angles down to the ground. Four of the homers, it is true, would have been home runs anywhere, tremendous smashes deep into the stands. Twelve others were of the so-so variety. They might have cleared the left field fence in Milwaukee (320 feet), Cincinnati (328) or Philadelphia (334) but almost certainly would not have reached the seats in St. Louis (351), Chicago (355), San Francisco (365) or Pittsburgh (365).
The remaining 12 were nothing but pop flies, balls which plunked into the crowd while outfielders, who had arrived in plenty of time, could only stand at the base of the screen and claw at the mesh in unbelieving frustration. A Los Angeles State College mathematics major named Paul Kern busied himself with the problem and figured that a ball hit along the hypotenuse of the right triangle formed by the playing field and the screen would have to travel 253 feet 6 inches to become a home run. National League hitters do not hit many hypotenuses, it is true, but they sure are death on pop flies.