This article was written by Ron Selter
This article was published in 2003 Baseball Research Journal
The first ballpark on the site (Grand Boulevard and Dodier Street) of what would later be known as Sportsman’s Park was Grand Avenue Grounds. That park was first used for major league baseball as the home of the American Association St. Louis Browns in 1875. The next ballpark on this site, Sportsman’s Park I, was used in the 1882-92 time period by the St. Louis franchises in the American Association and the NL. During its seasons of use by the American Association St. Louis Browns, the park was noted for its Beer Garden in RF. Until the 1888 World Series the Beer Garden, in addition to being popular, was also in play!
The AL had a franchise in Milwaukee during their 1901 inaugural season. The franchise, upon moving to St. Louis for the 1902 season, became the St. Louis Browns and acquired the site of Sportsman’s Park l. For their first season in St. Louis, the Browns built a new wooden ballpark (denoted as Sportsman’s Park II), replacing the existing rundown stands with a new grandstand and bleachers. The field was oriented with home plate in the northwest corner of the plat (or land parcel). The stands consisted of (1) a single deck covered grandstand that curved behind home plate and stretched between first base and third base, (2) bleachers that ran along the RF and LF foul lines and converged with the foul lines in the LF and RF corners, and (3) a separate set of uncovered wooden bleach ers in LF that ran from the LF foul line nearly to the clubhouse that was in CF. The RF fence was parallel to the LF foul line and ran until meeting the clubhouse in CF. There was no seatii1g beyond the RF fence – in fact, this area was a peach orchard and not part of the ballpark at all.
The playing field (fair territory) was nearly exactly rectangular in shape – the only exception being the diagonal CF scoreboard, which masked most of the clubhouse from the playing field. The estimated dimensions of the park were: LF 330, CF at the scoreboard 430, RF 315, and the backstop 60 ft from home plate.1
In its third incarnation (Sportsman’s Park III) the ballpark was drastically altered after the 1908 season. The playing field was reoriented, with home plate and the infield now in the southwest portion of the site. In addition, the southern boundary of the plat was extended towards Dodier Street. The site now amount ed to 6.3 acres – roughly typical in size for the classic era ballparks. The Browns used this extra area on the south to build a new state-of-the-art (for 1909) double deck steel and concrete grandstand. This involved removing the prior park’s 1B bleachers to make room for the new grandstand. Never ones to waste money, the Browns’ management retai11ed both the former 3B and LF wooden bleachers as well as the curved covered grandstand (which had faced the infield) from its previous layout. The former LF bleachers became the RF bleachers in the new park, the former curved grandstand became the 3B-LF pavilion, and the former 3B bleachers became the new LF bleachers. The LF bleachers were angled at less than 90° to the LF foul line.
For the 1912 season, the curved pavilion in LF and the angled LF bleachers that were carryovers from Sportsman’s II were replaced by a new 3B pavilion and a single rectangular set of LF bleachers. At the same time, a new 1B pavilion was built. Now the LF fence and bleachers were 90° to the LF foul line. Contemporary newspaper game accounts contain references to a roof in RF during the 1912 season. In the first game of a doubleheader played on September 27, 1912, and again in the second game of another doubleheader the next day, Gus Williams of the Browns hit homers onto the roof in RF.2 However, several other game accounts during the 1912 season mention homers hit into the RF bleachers.
One question immediately comes to mind: how could homers be hit both into the (uncovered) RF bleachers and onto the roof in RF? SABR’s Robert Tiemann supplied the answer.3 The 1B pavilion (which, in the correct use of the term pavilion, was roofed) built for the 1912 season faced towards second base and extended about 15 ft. into fair territory near the 1911 RF corner. Thus, while a small portion of the stands in RF was roofed, the RF bleachers, which accounted for the large majority of the RF seating, remained uncovered.
In RF the intrusion of the 1B pavilion reduced the estimated RF distance to 295 feet.The RF bleachers remained at 90° to an extension of the RF foul line. The 295-foot RF foul line distance is misleading, as the distance in RF at a point 3° from the foul line was a more substantial 325 feet.
During the Deadball Era (1901-19) in both Sportsman’s II and Sportsman’s III, home runs to RF were nearly all of the over-the-fence type, including bounce home runs. Inside-the-park home runs, while common to CF, were rare to RF.
The next change to the RF stands occurred in the off-season of 1925-26. The principal change to the park was the extension of the double-deck grandstand down the LF and RF lines to the foul poles, replacing the 1B and 3B pavilions. In the same 1925-26 expansion, the outfield wooden bleachers in LF, CF, and RF were rebuilt in steel and concrete. The RF stands, now 40 feet deep and 300 feet wide at the back with a seating capacity of 3,290, were completely covered. The RF stands, now being completely roofed, were thereafter referred to as the RF pavilion, and no longer as bleachers. This 1925-26 renovation also resulted in the RF foul line having a marked distance of 310 feet (actually 309 1/2 feet.)4
During the 1929 season, the visiting Detroit Tigers hit eight home runs in a four-game series (July 2-4). Surprisingly, the Browns won three of the four games. Nonetheless, in an effort to help the Browns shell shocked pitching staff, the Browns management used the off-day of July 5 to install a 21 1/2-foot screen in RF, placed above the existing wall. The screen was in place for the game of July 6 against the Yankees.
The screen was in play and raised the barrier to RF homers from 11.5 to 33 feet. The screen ran from the foul line to about right center-near the 354-ft. mark, and covered nearly all of right field. The Browns’ calculation of home park advantage was apparently simple-the team had few LHB (only two regulars Manush and McGowan) and no power hitters (LH or RH). The other AL teams had both more and better LHB and power hitters. The NL Cardinals, as tenants of the Browns’, were not a party to the decision to install the screen.
The effect of the screen on the games was quickly apparent. In the game of July 7 between the Browns and the Yankees, five drives landed against the RF screen. As intended by the Browns, the screen cost the visiting Yankees a homer (a line drive by Ruth) — but unfortunately, from the point of view of Browns fans; it also cost the Browns four homers — one by Fred Schulte and three by Heinie Manush. Instead, Manush had two doubles and a single.5 The Browns won the game, 7-3.
The general impression of the effect of the RF screen was reported in The Sporting News: “A week of the new screen in front of the RF pavilion has cheated the home guard out of four baggers on several occasions … also stopped the enemy … many of them who hit the screen are held to a single.”6
I made a comparison of the Browns’ and opponents’ combined 1929 offensive perforn1ance before and after the RF screen was installed.The Browns’ offense put up numbers (BA/Slugging Pct., adjusted for the opponents’ pitching) of .291/.412 in the 35 games before the RF screen was installed, and .259/.346 after the screen. The apparent impact of the screen on BA is likely to be just random intra-season variation.
The effect on homers was more evident and quite interesting. In the 35 games without the RF screen, the Browns hit 18 homers and the visitors 32. Despite more games, with the screen (42), the Browns’ homers dropped to four, while the visitors had a more modest decline of six to 26.
What had happened to the Browns’ hitters? While the Browns had only two regular LHB (Manush and McGowan), the team did have two switch-hitters in their lineup, Lu Blue and Wally Schang. Before the erection of the screen, the two Browns’ switch-hitters combined for nine homers at home (every one as a LHB); after the installation of the screen, they hit none!
At home that season the Browns’ LHB (including switch-hitters batting left) in 35 pre-screen games hit 15 homers and in 42 post-screen games hit only one (by Manush). In summary, the visitors’ homers by LHB dropped from 21 to 1 3 while the Browns dropped from 15 to one. Clearly, the Browns miscalculated the impact of the screen!
Meanwhile, back in the NL, the Cardinals, as tenants in Sportsman’s Park, were also affected. The combined offensive marks for the Cardinals and their opponents were: 294/.361/.442 (BA/OBP/Slugging) before the RF screen and .286/.337/.433 after the installation of the screen.7 This suggests the screen may have had a modest negative effect on batting — or as is more likely, the drop in batting is due to random variation, plus changes in the mix of visiting teams (with better than average batters and/or pitchers) before and after the installation of the screen.
The data for extra-base hits are more striking-in absolute terms, the Cardinals’ homers dropped from 29 to 19, while the visitors experienced a similar decline, 29 to 22. On a per AB basis, the combined results for the Cardinals and their opponents were an 18% increase in doubles, an 8% increase in triples, while home runs declined by 33%.
Given that the screen was installed only in RF, one would expect the greatest impact to be on extra-base hits by LHB. As the Cardinals’ lineup included the same LHB both before and after the RF screen was installed, the change in extra base hits by LHB should be due to the screen. The impact of the screen on the visitors’ LHB is more difficult to assess. In the 1929 season, the other seven NL teams played quite different numbers of games in Sportsman’s Park before and after the installation of the screen.
Likely of greater importance, the visiting NL teams had greatly varying mixes of LHB and RHB, not to mention power-hitting LHB. To correct for this factor, the visitors’ batting data was adjusted for equal weighting per team in the pre-screen (37 games) and post-screen (40 games) time periods. The visiting teams’ LHB (adjusted for equal weighting per team) in combination with the Cardinals’ LHB produced offensive marks of .359/.425/.631 (BA/OBP/ Slugging) pre-screen and .352/.402/.556 post-screen.
On a per-AB basis, extra base hits by LHB (Cardinals and opponents) were affected by the RF screen as follows: doubles increased 27%, triples increased 33%, while homers dropped 35%. For each category of extra base hits, the impact of the screen on LHB was greater than the impact on the teams as a whole, as would be expected.
The RF pavilion in Sportsman’s Park had two noteworthy distinctions. One, as the screen extended up to the roof, the RF pavilion became the only major league park with extended outfield seating where it was impossible to catch a home run ball. Two, during this same interwar time period, the RF pavilion earned another significant albeit dubious distinction — the RF pavilion was the only part of the ballpark open to black fans during the era of segregated sports facilities.8 Sportsman’s Park was the last major league ballpark to end segregated seating, and it was not until 1944 that black fans were allowed to purchase tickets in other parts of the ballpark.
The screen remained in place until the end of the 1954 season. By this time, the St. Louis Browns had sold Sportsman’s Park to the Cardinals, and the AL franchise had moved to Baltimore. The Cardinals were then in a position to vary the configuration of the ballpark as they chose. The Cardinals had kept track of drives hit off the screen during the 1954 season — the Redbirds had 35, the visitors only 18. The data for the 1954 season shows Musial would have had 10 more homers without the screen, while Red Schoendienst and Solly Remus would have had five more apiece.9
Because the Cardinals had a predominantly left-handed lineup, general manager Dick Meyer, with the concurrence of Manager Eddie Stanky, had the screen removed for the 1955 season. A new and slightly higher screen (overall height of 37 feet versus 33 feet before 1955) was installed for the 1956 season and remained for all subsequent seasons at Sportsman’s Park.
A quick measure of the success of the removal of the screen is the home/road distribution of the 1955 sea son’s homers by the Cardinals’ LHB. The home/road splits were: Stan Musial 22/11, Wally Moon 15/4, Bill Virdon 13/4, and Red Schoendienst (a switch-hitter) 9/2. All nine of Schoendienst’s homers at home were hit while batting left-handed.
The impact of the removal of the screen on hitting has been estimated by comparing the 1955 batting statistics of the Cardinals and their opponents with the batting statistics for the prior and subsequent seasons (1954, 1956). The offensive marks (BA/OBP/Slugging) were 1954: .295/.364/.445, 1955: .267/,337/.409, and 1956: .267/.337/.409. Of course, there were two distorting factors — the Cardinals did not have entirely the same hitters in each of the three seasons, and (2) the overall league BA dropped each successive season 1954-56 (.265, .259, .256). Thus, no firm conclusion can be drawn from the St. Louis and opponents batting marks.
A better comparison is extra-base hits by LHB in 1955 vs. the average of 1954 and 1956. The combined St. Louis and opponents 1955 extra-base hits (expressed per 100 AB) were doubles 3.38, triples 0.90, and home runs 5.38. The comparable data for 1954/56 were doubles 4.97, triples 1.32, and home runs 3.22. In simple layman’s terms, in 1955 with the RF screen removed, extra-base hits (per 100 AB) by LHB at Sportsman’s Park were doubles down 32%, triples down 32%, and home runs up 67%.
An interesting question arises: What would have been the effect on Hall of Famer Stan Musial if the screen had been removed for the entirety of his 1941-63 career? Only Musial’s home batting data for all seasons except 1955 (no screen in place that season) were revised. Only extra base hits were revised since the removal of the screen would not have affected the total number of hits, as any ball hitting the screen was already a hit. Doubles and triples were adjusted by the average ratio of without-screen to with-screen for LHB, for NL 1929 and 1955 versus 1954/5610 home runs by LHB were adjusted, by the average ratio of without-screen to with-screen for AL 1929, NL 1929, and NL 1955 versus 1954/56. The average without screen adjustment factors were:
- Doubles: .745
- Triples: .743
- Home Runs: 1.873
The career extra-base hits for Musial and without screen adjusted career extra base hits are:
In this hypothetical scenario of playing at a Sportsman’s Park with no RF screen, Stan Musial would have had a career home run total of 676, good enough for third place all-time. His career slugging percentage would be .610 (versus actual .559)-good enough for fourth all-time.
RON SELTER is an economist who lives in El Segundo, California. A member of SABR since 1989, he has done research on the minor leagues and on ballparks.
1. Author’s estimates based on land plat dimensions and diagram of later Sportsman’s Park III.
2. St. Louis Globe Democrat, September 28, 29, 1912
3. Interview with Robert Tiemann, July 11, 2003.
4. Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals. SABR, 1986.
5. Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 8, 1929.
6. The Sporting News, July 18, 1929.
7. Author’s compilation from Official NL Day-by-Day batting data.
8. William B. Mead, Even the Browns (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1978), p. 133.
9. Lowell Reidenbach, Take Me Out to the Ballpark (St. Louis: The Sporting News, 1983), p. 235.
10. AL data for 1929 limited to homers for LHB (including switch hitters as LHB), thus 1929 AL HR ratio is not per AB. In this hypothetical scenario of playing at a Sportsman’s Park with no RF screen, Stan Musial would have had a career home run total of 676, good enough for third place all-time. His career slugging percentage would be .610 (versus actual .559) — good enough for fourth all time.