Winds of change unlikely at Ballpark
In My Opinion
ARLINGTON - There was no question which way the wind was blowing at The Ballpark in Arlington on Wednesday. The fact that I couldn't feel the end of my nose or my ears as I walked from the parking lot told me that quick enough.
Inside his mercifully much warmer office, Rangers team president Jeff Cogen knew almost exactly what that northerly breeze would mean to a towering Mark Teixeira fly ball hit toward right-center field.
He paid the price -- about $100,000 in fact -- to find out.
In mid-February, of course, it's a moot point. How that same fly ball is affected when the wind is blowing out of the south in mid-July is what makes a difference.
The Rangers spent that hundred grand on a wind study to determine just how much fly balls are affected. A little? A lot? Did the building of the infamous Gold Club -- or Cuervo Club as it's now called -- seven years ago make a major difference?
The answers are all there on Cogen's desk in a 400-plus-page document that arrived in late September and details almost every nuance of the wind effects at The Ballpark. But let's cut to the chase.
Are the Rangers going to do anything about it?
The answer: No, probably not.
I don't say that sarcastically. Really, I don't. Things are changing too rapidly around The Ballpark these days for the Rangers to be certain that, whatever they might do, the wind effects wouldn't change again a year from now. A 27-story football stadium just to the southwest of The Ballpark seems certain to have its own effect on the prevailing wind currents.
Even more important, there's been a change in baseball operations and in philosophy inside the Rangers' front office since this issue first began getting play on the sports pages. And that, Cogen admitted, was what initially led the Rangers to decide to try to quantify the effects of the wind at the park.
"It's a chicken-and-egg thing," Cogen said. "Somebody talked to somebody; somebody wrote about it; it moved up the food chain. It was a clubhouse conversation that got some pop and caused us to do a little more diligence."
It's no secret that former manager Buck Showalter and, more indirectly, former general manager John Hart, occasionally wondered aloud if a ballpark more balanced toward pitching might help attract more premier free-agent pitchers, or at the very least wouldn't work against the Rangers.
Having looked at the statistical data, which says that home runs are up about a quarter of a homer per game (from 1.28 to 1.56) since the Gold Club was built, and the wind study, which says that under "perfect storm" conditions (winds at 20 mph from the south-southeast), a ball will fly 11 feet farther than it would without the Gold Club, new Rangers GM Jon Daniels has shrugged and basically said "play ball and no more excuses."
"At this point, I think baseball operations is comfortable with 'this is who we are and let's go,'" Cogen said.
While the study attempts to quantify the effects of the Gold Club, there are so many nuances and variables involved, the numbers can be mind-boggling. For instance, under the same wind conditions, a ball hit to right center -- into the known jet stream on a normal summer day at The Ballpark -- flies out at 80 feet above the ground, but gets blown back at 120 feet or higher.
If you're not confused yet, just let Cogen show you the complete study. You will be.
"I think this is as empirical a data as can be achieved with current technology," he said. "Our goal was to understand the effect on the club, and to see if the anecdotal [newspaper] commentary was accurate, or myth or somewhere in between."
Turns out it's pretty accurate, but the fact that one more home run every four games -- or about 20 more per season -- is hit than would have been otherwise isn't going to make the Rangers rush to deconstruct the money-making Gold Club.
Seven options that would likely neutralize the wind effects were suggested in the study, in fact. Removing the club was the most obvious. Pulling out the museum behind Home Run Porch to allow for additional wind flow was another, but that's not going to happen either.
There were other, less radical possibilities, but one that wasn't there makes the most sense to Cogen: Simply push the fences back in right-center, near the Rangers' bullpen, five or six feet, splitting the difference on that 11-foot carry. That's not going to happen anytime soon either, though.
"Are we a little more hitter friendly than before the Cuervo Club was built? It appears that way," Cogen said. "Is it material? Both statistics and the study suggest not, but materiality is in the eye of the beholder."
The eye of this beholder sees it a bit differently, and certainly The Ballpark in Arlington is a lot closer to Coors Field than it is to RFK in Washington as far as being hitter friendly. But if Daniels isn't going to use it as an excuse for not being able to sign free-agent pitchers, why should I?
"Pretty soon there are going to be other buildings sprouting up around here," Cogen said, talking about the new Cowboys stadium and Glory Park, complete with two-story shops and at least one four-story parking garage. "With this study and what we have now, we can create a model effect to see what the ramifications of all this will be.
"Rather than take out the museum, or change this or that, we are who we are. We're going to go with this park, with our 1-through-9, and our 1-through-5 and our top-of-the-league bullpen, and see what happens."
And how would that 20-mph northerly wind have affected that Teixeira bomb if he'd hit it Wednesday?
It would have carried it a good 18 feet farther over the wall in right center.
And it would still only count for one run.
Amazing what you can get for $100,000 these days, isn't it?