It's time for a what-if scenario involving Barry Bonds and his infamous 2001 season. This scenario shall be particularly fun, for it involves time travel.
Bonds, as you'll well remember, hit an MLB-record 73 home runs in 2001. Given his timeline, it can be safely assumed that he hit those home runs with the help of some witchcrafty chemicals, for which many fans will never forgive him.
What often gets lost in the shuffle is that Bonds didn't have it easy in 2001. He hit one more home run (37) at home at AT&T Park than he did on the road (36), an impressive feat seeing as how AT&T Park had the second-lowest home run Park Factor in the league that year, according to ESPN.com.
But here's where we go to our time machines (mine is a TARDIS, but you can pick a DeLorean or whatever if you want). What if, instead of at AT&T Park in 2001, Bonds had pursued Mark McGwire's single-season record of 70 home runs at the Polo Grounds in 1957, the last year the New York Giants played there before packing up and heading west?
AT&T Park has some odd dimensions, but it's got nothing on the Polo Grounds. According to Baseball-Reference.com, it was 279 feet down the left field line and 258 feet down the right field line, roughly 440 feet to left and right-center and about 480 feet to straightaway center.
To boot, the Polo Grounds had upper decks that hung over the outfield wall that would occasionally catch home runs that would have otherwise fallen short of the outfield wall.
To give you an idea of how the Giants' current home in San Francisco compares to their former home in New York, here's the Polo Grounds overlaid on top of AT&T Park, with images courtesy of BaseballFieldDimensions.net and AndrewClem.com:
Now you know something about my Photoshop skills. This is not exactly a piece of modern photo-manipulation art, to be sure, nor is this likely a 100 percent accurate comparison of the fair territory of the two parks. But for the sake of idea-getting, it'll do.
Now, in case you're wondering whether the Polo Grounds was a pitchers' park or a hitters' park, it was really both. Baseball-Reference.com's Park Factors show that it was largely neutral to both pitchers and hitters. AT&T Park, by comparison, has consistently been a tough place to hit, especially for power hitters.
As such, Bonds may have done just as well, if not better, at the Polo Grounds in 1957 than he did at AT&T Park in 2001. But you can see just from looking at that overlay that he wouldn't have had much luck hitting the ball out of the yard to center field. Even with chemical help, that's a long way.
Thus, the big question: How many of the home runs that Bonds hit at AT&T Park in 2001 would have left the yard at the Polo Grounds in 1957?
To this end, the publicly available data is unfortunately lacking. It seems Bonds' home run bonanza in 2001 happened several years before specific locations of hits started to be tracked. The best we can do is the record of Bonds' 73 home runs kept by Baseball-Almanac.com, which notes which direction they went in and how far.
Here's a look at each of the 37 homers Bonds hit at AT&T Park in 2001, complete with educated guesses as to whether they would have been gone at the Polo Grounds.
|No.||Distance||Direction||Gone at Polo Grounds?|
There are only four clear-cut home runs that wouldn't have left the yard at the Polo Grounds: Nos. 28, 30, 64 and 72, all of which traveled about 410 feet to straightaway center field. That was the big part of the yard at the Polo Grounds, and 410 feet would have been well short of the outfield fence.
There are plenty of other home runs Bonds might have lost to the Polo Grounds' odd dimensions, of course. He hit a lot of balls out to left and right-center, and those were dicey areas at the Polo Grounds. Some of those may also have fallen short, in which case Bonds would have lost a lot more than four homers to the Polo Grounds' odd dimensions.
But even if we just focus on the four that surely wouldn't have gone over the fence, the elementary math is that Bonds would have hit 69 homers instead of 73, one short of McGwire's record.
Ah yes, but what about the home runs Bonds could have gained by hitting balls down the foul lines, where the fences were closer than 300 feet and there were seats hanging over the field waiting to catch pop-ups?
That there's an unknown variable. But what we do know is that Bonds' main home run power alley in his record-breaking season was more up the middle than to either right or left field.
|Pulled to Right||58||1.556||29|
|Up the Middle||80||1.111||40|
|Oppo to Left||16||.405||4|
Makes sense. Bonds had more than enough strength to hit for power up the middle of the field, and in 2001 that would have been the direction he was going most often because of how pitchers were pitching him.
When it became clear in 2001 that Bonds was in the middle of no ordinary season, pitchers knew that anything on the inner half of the plate was the danger zone. It was best for them to stay away, but Bonds was good enough to, as they say, hit the ball where it was pitched.
That's a testament to Bonds' insane skills as a hitter. To give you an idea, Baseball-Reference.com shows that McGwire pulled 42 of his 70 home runs out to left field in 1998, with 17 going out up the middle and 11 going out to an "unknown" location (apparently there was a rift in space and time following Big Mac around). McGwire was more pull-happy in 1998 than Bonds was in 2001.
All the same, up-the-middle power wouldn't have helped Bonds all that much if he had gotten into the TARDIS, traveled back to 1957 and been pitched the same way then that he was in 2001. Had he taken what he was given back then like he did in 2001, he may have lost more home runs to the Polo Grounds' deep center field fence than he would have gained from its short porches.
Can a definitive conclusion be reached about how many home runs Bonds would have hit had he swapped AT&T Park circa 2001 for the Polo Grounds circa 1957?
Not in the slightest. As I've noted, there's data that would be very helpful in this instance that either doesn't exist, is hidden in the darkest corners of the Internet or isn't public at all. And even if that data did exist for the world to see, it would still be impossible to reach a definitive conclusion.
But based on the vastness of center field at the Polo Grounds, the home runs Bonds hit up the middle of the field at home and his power production up the middle of the field in general in his record-breaking season, there's at least a reasonable doubt that he would have fallen short of McGwire's record in the end. He would have hit many, many home runs, but probably not 73.
Now then, since we have these time machines for a while longer still, what's say we do some more time travel? Methinks the best idea would be to travel to Chicago in 2003, find Steve Bartman and tell him, "Dude, stay away."
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