Forbes writer laments the impending loss of Tal's Hill
August 06, 2016
Summary: Forbes Magazine contributor Jim Pagels recognizes that when Tal's Hill is removed from Minute Maid Park, part of what makes baseball unique among pro sports is going with it.
Tal’s Hill, the object of great polarization among baseball fans, is no longer a hill the Jim Crane is willing to die on.
The Houston Astros owner told MLB reporter Brian McTaggart this week that the team planned to bring in the center field fence at Minute Maid park in the offseason, removing the unique incline in front the wall known as Tal’s Hill as well as the in-play flag poles.
Tal’s Hill was certainly an oddity, but on-field oddities are not entirely uncommon in baseball. In the NFL, NHL, and NBA, the fields of play are perfectly uniform, set to specific lengths and widths for every stadium. Baseball teams, however, are given some leeway in how they design their outfields, foul territory, and other in-play landscaping, allowing the creation of unique and charming features that add character to certain ballparks.
Sure, a main feature of many individual sports (e.g. golf, motor sports*, skiing, running), are the uniqueness of their long course designs. But baseball is the only major American team sport in which things are allowed to get truly creative, not only around the stadium, but on the field of play.
*Yes, yes, I’m well aware motor sports are technically “team” events
This creative freedom is much welcomed in baseball, a sport that often seems anything but imaginative. The defenses, excluding shifts, always align in nearly identical formation with fielders rarely straying from their small radius of territory. Offensive players are only allowed to travel in a strict square path. Barring the rare hidden ball play, baseball doesn’t really any unique defensive schemes or creative plays to draw up.
Tal’s Hill, seen in the back corner of center field.
Oddities, though, like Yankee Stadium’s once in-play monuments, relatively common in decades past, have slowly been dying from the game as the sport has become more homogeneus. The impending death of Tal’s Hill will leave only a handful of significant on-field MLB oddities:
Fenway Park’s Green Monster in left field
Fenway Park’s Pesky Pole in right field
Wrigley Field’s ivy walls around the entire outfield
O.co Coliseum’s expansive foul territory
Tropicana Field’s hanging catwalks
Rogers Centre’s new ultra-slow turf
However, outside of Oakland’s foul territory (only in existence due to the stadium’s use as a football field), none of the quirks take up additional space that could be used for revenue-generating endeavors.
The distant center field fence in Minute Maid Park currently sits 436 feet away from home plate; Crane says the renovation plan would bring it in to 409 feet, and the team plans to use the added space for “fan friendly” areas (most likely open spectator areas or concessions). This is why the death of Tal’s Hill was probably inevitable. With such a deep center field, the Astros were needlessly allocating much of their scarce ballpark real estate to the field of play.
The news should render speculation that the NBA may need to expand the size of the court at some point in the future less likely. Some within the NBA feel the growing size and speed of players and the rapidly increasing rate of corner three-pointers, which are shorter as the arc is too large to extend in a continuous radius around the entire basket might require such a change. But as the Astros have shown, teams are unlikely to give up potential seating or other valuable in-arena real estate.
The commodification of Minute Maid Park also perhaps foreshadows another uniformity soon coming to baseball, in what what may consider to be the inevitable addition of the designated hitter to the National League.
Baseball is an extremely homogenized, routine sport. The loss of one the game’s rare unique, creative flourishes is unfortunate. At the very least, though, we will always have this amazing moment courtesy of Tal’s Hill:
Go to http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimpagels/2016/08/06/death-of-houstons-tals-hill-continues-demise-of-baseballs-on-field-oddities/#95b173d33738