Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
Playing it safe
Innovations in walls, warning tracks have appeared discreetly


By Roger Weber


A subject of once great debate with Wrigley Field for many years was lights. Lights were not installed in Wrigley until 1988. Wrigley opened for baseball in 1914 so lights were not even considered by architect Zachary Taylor Davis. In fact, Wrigley opened with just one deck of seating. In the 1920s the grandstand was moved back and the playing field was lowered. It wasn't until 1928 that the stadium was double decked. And it was 1937 before the famous hand operated scoreboard and the center field bleachers were added. It was around this time also that ivy was planted at the base of the outfield wall to protect outfielders from the hard brick.


While Wrigley's ivy may have been the first attempt to pad the outfield walls, real padding didn't start being common in major league parks until the 1940s. Some reports say Ebbets Field was the first to install padding in 1948 but Pirates fans may claim Forbes Field earlier in the decade. Now padding is mandatory in new parks.


In the popular 1984 movie, "The Natural," a character is killed crashing through an outfield fence. In actual baseball no events that extreme have occurred but players crashing into walls have been known to move the fence as much as three feet, sometimes even bending concrete supports. In many parks parts of the walls have been replaced. That may have happened in 1989 when Kevin Mitchell made a bare handed catch in the left field corner of old Busch Stadium and opened a door to an equipment room as he hit the wall.


To help eliminate such mishaps teams in the 1940s began thinking of ways to alert a player if he was nearing an outfield wall. Yankee Stadium had a running track around the outfield as early as the 1920s but it was not an official warning track. And Baker Bowl in Philadelphia had a similar feature that actually served as a bike track. The idea of lining the outfield wall with dirt to alert fielders of the wall first came about in 1935. The first warning tracks appeared in the late 1940s at parks like Wrigley, Braves Field, Shibe Park and Briggs Stadium (Tiger Stadium).


Crosley Field had an incline in left field for several years that not only warned players of the outfield wall but created a real home field advantage as opposing players who tried to back their way up the hill would often fall down while experienced Reds' players knew to go up the incline sideways to avoid tripping.


Today most warning tracks are made of crushed brick, which doesn't sound like the most hospitable warning surface but doesn't sound nearly as bad as the concrete that usually lay just an inch or so under Astroturf in ballparks that had that surface.


Enter supporting content here