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Home runs are fascinating to everyone who follows baseball, and with Henry Aaron closing in on that record of records, there is no better time than now to take a calculated look at home-run parks, home-run teams and pitching staffs that are stingy with home-run balls—not to mention parks where home runs are difficult to hit, teams that tend not to swing for homers and clubs that do but should not.
As a consultant I have participated in the design or redesign of six major league ball parks; as a home-run analyst I have made a thorough survey of the National League for the past seven years. The results are summarized in the table below. In it are findings that probably will confirm some of your own beliefs, but there will be some surprises, too.
Three of the teams—the Pirates, the Reds and the Phillies—moved into new stadiums in the early '70s, parks whose home-run characteristics were different from the old ones. Many more home runs are now being hit in Pittsburgh, substantially fewer in Cincinnati and a few more in Philadelphia.
The plus figures in the table are percentages above average potential; the minus figures, percentages below. Thus it is quickly seen that the easiest home run in the league was to be had at Chicago's Wrigley Field (+45), where all games are played in daytime (the air is much less dense than at night) and the wind frequently gives a fly ball a lift. The toughest home run was in Pittsburgh, where spacious Forbes Field thwarted the long ball. The new Three Rivers Stadium is nearer the average, in a class with Busch and Candlestick. Aaron's liking for the Atlanta park is readily explainable: it is a smaller than average field with warmer than average temperatures and a relatively high altitude (960 feet), thus thinner air.
In the second column each team's basic home-run capability is assessed according to a formula as if they all played in the same park. On that basis the Pirates and Giants lead, followed by the Reds, Padres and Braves.
Now we come to a consideration that is highly significant and largely unappreciated: home-run emphasis. Let's call a team that goes for the home run consistently an overswinging team; a team that does not, an underswinging team. "Overswinging" is measured by means of six different assessments involving actual home runs. A power team in a power park should be an overswinging team, you say, and vice versa. But this is not always the case. Furthermore, visiting teams tend to play the same kind of game as the home team, regardless of power potential and park dimensions.
As overswingers the Mets are the most amazing. Shea is not a good home-run stadium (-10), and the Mets' home-run capability is very low (-18), but they are the overswingingest team (+23)—and their opponents have gone overboard even more (+26). It is also surprising that there has not been more overswinging by the Reds in view of the home-run potential of Crosley Field and now Riverfront. Underswinging makes sense for the Dodgers in a difficult home-run stadium, but here the opponents tend to overswing, possibly because distances are the same for large parts of the outfield and a well-hit ball can go out anywhere.
The Giants and the Cardinals offer the greatest overall contrast. Nearly every number derived from Candlestick is positive, nearly every one from Busch is negative. The Giants are big home-run hitters, they overswing at home and their pitching allows plenty of home runs. Conversely, the Cardinals do not have a lot of power, do not swing for the fences and their pitchers allow few home-run balls. This accounts for the difference in home runs hit at the two parks—963 at Candlestick and 598 at Busch—despite their similar home-run potential.
Pitching to deny the home run is obviously good for morale and the box score, and the Cardinals have been best. When you combine the teams' basic home-run capabilities with their pitching effectiveness, the Pirates emerge way out in front with a +19. The Reds, Braves and Giants come next, but far below the Pirates. The Padres, Cardinals and Cubs are in the middle range and down at the bottom of the chart the Expos are lowest with a -19.
But remember, these statistics represent only what the home ran has meant to each team. Some, like the Pirates and Reds, have pennants to show. Others, like Aaron's Braves, have little more than the home run itself. They currently lead the majors with 99, but trail the Dodgers (54 home runs) by 15� games in the West.