At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Minute Maid Roof Decision Should be Open-and-Shut

Am I the only one who has a problem with MLB’s involvement in the decision to open or close the roof in Houston for tonight’s World Series game? Never mind that it changes the rules under which the Astros have operated all season long; it also diminishes the psychological gamesmanship that has been part of the game for quite a long time, and this, to me, would be a shame.

I love that the only thing that is standard about baseball stadiums is the infield dimension, and I love how teams tailor themselves – or at least should if they don’t – to the configuration of their ballpark. Was it an accident that the Cardinals of the 1980s placed such a premium on speed? Of course not; Busch Stadium at the time was liberally carpeted with turf, and being fleet afoot was hugely advantageous both in the field and on the bases. No one suggest then that the field be overlaid with grass just because a post-season game was to be played there. So why is it fair now for a third party to decide whether Minute Maid Park is to be open to the skies, or not? Are the Astros suddenly unable to make that determination despite having done so all season long?

Centralizing such decisions also diminishes the behind-the-scenes ‘fun’ that teams long have had at one another’s expense. Are we really so far removed from the days when the degree to which an infield was crowned reflected the home team’s bunting ability? Or when the length of the infield grass was determined by its infielders’ range? Bill Veeck once famously – and legally, at the time – arranged to have a screen atop the outfield fence reeled in and out according to whether his Milwaukee Brewers or the opposition was at bat.

The latter stratagem, of course, really pushes the boundaries of sportsmanship, and was officially prohibited long ago. But the other two practices continue today, as do others like mislabeling the distance to the outfield fence, or sculpting the bullpen mound differently than the one at the center of the field. So why wouldn’t a modern-day decision to open or close the stadium roof be similarly left to the home team's discretion? Given that the two teams playing tonight are so closely matched, the psychological impact of a closed roof – and the monumental crowd noise that would be trapped as a result – could well have an influence the outcome, and I for one see no reason for this kind of home-field advantage to be legislated out of existence.

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