When it comes to professional baseball stadiums, perhaps no arena is as cherished and as quirky as Boston's Fenway Park.
With a total capacity of 39,067 fans, Fenway Park is the smallest in baseball. Opened on April 20, 1912, Fenway is also MLB's oldest active stadium, and along with Chicago's Wrigley Field, is one of only two jewel box ballparks at the professional level.
Nestled in the heart of Boston's Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood, the park Red Sox fans call home contains some of MLB's oddest features. From the Green Monster to "The Triangle" in deep center field, Fenway Park is a hitter's delight and an outfielder's nightmare. Journalist and baseball fan George Will once wrote, "Fenway Park probably adds 5 to 7 points onto batting averages."
Though as tough as Fenway may be for outfielders, it is just as difficult for umpires. Officiating in any sport is all about getting in position to make the call, and in referee lingo, this means getting the proper angle with which to see the play.
Unfortunately, Monday provided further officiating woes, courtesy of that freakish Fenway Park.
With one on and two out in the bottom of the 5th inning of Monday's Orioles-Red Sox game, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz ripped a first pitch fastball from Orioles hurler Jeremy Guthrie into that pesky right field corner. First base umpire Mike Estabrook positioned himself atop the foul line in shallow right field, saw a ball hit a wall and decisively ruled the play foul.
After a brief visit from Red Sox Manager Terry Francona, Estabrook consulted with fellow umpires Mike Winters, Mark Wegner, and Mike Everitt, before deciding to uphold the original call of foul ball.
To ensure the call would remain controversial, Ortiz would strike out to end the inning, leaving a runner on third base.
Right or wrong, Estabrook's call in right field was complicated by two uniquely Fenway features.
First, the angle formed between the right field foul line, where Estabrook was standing, and the right field wall extended into fair territory is in excess of 145 degrees. Compared to most stadiums, whose corresponding angles measure in the 105-115 degree range, Fenway's pesky right field corner is clearly not an umpire's best friend. By contrast, Boston's Green Monster angle in left field is approximately 90 degrees.
Further complicating matters, the nexus point of the right field foul line and the wall do not coincide with the point in which the wall starts its curve towards deep right field, though they are tantalizingly close.
Second, Fenway's right field corner features a curiously placed advertisement banner along the aforementioned 145-degree wall.
To accommodate the full length of this banner, it appears the designers at Fenway actually moved the vertical yellow foul line about one foot to the right.
In other words, it appears the vertical yellow foul line in right field was placed completely in foul territory so that a small fraction of the advertisement banner is also positioned in foul territory.
Furthermore, there are three separate vertical yellow lines in Fenway's right field.
The first is a yellow line drawn directly onto the base of the concrete wall. The second is a yellow line painted onto the padding which covers the upper three quarters of the wall. The third is the right field foul pole itself, Pesky's Pole, aptly named for Red Sox hero Johnny Pesky.
Interestingly enough, a comparison of the positioning of these three vertical yellow lines in right field shows that none of these lines appear to share any vertical space with one another, making for a very difficult call.
Replays appear to indicate the ball hit some part of the advertisement banner in right field, which according to the placement of the vertical yellow foul line on the padding, is completely in fair territory.
For MLB, these questions might provoke yet another rules change as a result of a stadium quirk. For the Red Sox, however, it's just another example of that old adage:
Fenway giveth, and Fenway taketh away.