Have you ever felt personally trolled by a piece of a building? I’m a Yankees fan, and I am absolutely furious at a gigantic wall.
Tuesday night, the Yankees played the Red Sox in the American League wild-card game, as the fiercest rivalry in baseball was reduced to a single game to decide which team’s season would continue. I wasn’t concerned. Less than two weeks ago, the Yankees played the Red Sox in Fenway and swept the series. Massive slugger Giancarlo Stanton crushed three critical homers, two of which flew over Boston’s famous left-field wall, the Green Monster. In fact, both dingers not only cleared the Monster, but also soared over the seats on top of it and traveled deep into the Boston night. The only people who should have been concerned were Red Sox fans parking their cars across Lansdowne Street who didn’t take out insurance specifically covering Giancarlo Stanton–related mishaps.
But this week the Monster helped end the Yankees’ season. In the top of the first inning, Stanton blasted a shot deep to left field. He assumed it was a home run and began to trot around the bases. Instead, the ball ricocheted off the wall, and Stanton hadn’t run quickly enough to make it to second base. It was a very long single. John Sterling, the Yankees’ geriatric radio announcer, continued to believe this was a home run until well after Stanton had settled on first base, as if he was completely unaware of the existence of the nearly 40-foot structure that has been in Fenway in each of the hundreds of Yankees–Red Sox games he has called there over the past 30-plus years.
this is the product the most valuable sports franchise in America chooses to put on the air pic.twitter.com/10jGfjSYNB— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) October 6, 2021
Instead of taking a 1-0 lead with an emphatic dinger, the Yankees fell behind. They were trailing 3-1 when Stanton came up again in the top of the sixth inning—and he hit another deep bomb to left that looked certain to be a home run. But the ball once again hit the top of the Monster and came back into the field of play. The Red Sox quickly corralled it and executed a perfect relay to throw Aaron Judge out at the plate:
Off the bat, it looked like this would be a game-tying homer. Even if it stayed in the park, it looked like the Yankees would at least have runners in scoring position with one out—an excellent opportunity to start a rally. But the Red Sox quickly relayed the ball home and ended the threat one batter later.
The Yankees lost 6-2, and it wasn’t all because of the giant wall. Gerrit Cole, the team’s ace, looked shaky from the start and got knocked out of the game after two-plus innings. Outside of Stanton, the lineup went a lowly 3-for-28. The Yankees led the majors in walks this season; they had none Tuesday night. They were built for power, and had just two extra-base hits.
BUT A LOT OF IT COMES DOWN TO THAT FREAKIN’ WALL. While it’s unclear whether Stanton’s shots would’ve been homers in other stadiums—ESPN estimated that his second hit off the wall would have left 11 of the 30 MLB parks—they were indisputably balls crushed to left field. Anywhere else, a ball smashed 114 miles per hour to left-center in this scenario is at least a run-scoring double. In Fenway, not only did it fail to leave the park, but it wasn’t even an extra-base hit. The Red Sox defenders were particularly adept at fielding the ball off their big stupid wall, and Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin was apparently unsure how far the wall was from the plate, waving Judge around third in a doomed attempt to score.
I don’t know what’s dumber: A baseball team in 2021 having a massive wall in its unusually shaped ballpark because the team’s owner couldn’t find a normal location to build a stadium 110 years ago, or me, an adult human, getting ludicrously mad at an inanimate fence. And trust me, I’m mad at the inanimate fence! My favorite team lost to construction. I want to go back in time, identify the timber slats being shipped from New England forests to Boston to build the Green Monster, and piss on them.
In sports, we often talk about home-field advantage. It clearly exists, although scientists aren’t quite sure why. But it rarely has to do with an actual advantage created by the design of the playing field. The Red Sox undeniably have that. They are the only team with a 37-foot wall on their field. In the biggest game of the season, everybody affiliated with the Yankees—from Stanton to Sterling to Nevin—was baffled by it.
What if more teams were allowed to customize their playing field? What if there was a football team whose field was sloped in one direction? What if a basketball team insisted on playing with a 14-foot hoop? What if a hockey team made one of its nets comically big? I’ve long argued that this should be allowed. Sports are more fun when they provide unique outcomes, such as me getting fuming mad at a stadium.
Of course, nobody would ever build anything like the Green Monster now. The Green Monster was installed back in 1912, because there is a street running directly behind the wall. Today, stadiums are billion-dollar projects built on specially selected sites. They are too expensive for solutions such as Let’s build a huge wall because otherwise everything is going to be a home run. When teams do attempt to make their playing fields unique, like when the Astros put a small hill in center field, it can feel inauthentic and forced. (Personally, I loved Tal’s Hill. Bring back the stupid hill!) A modern team would see the Green Monster and torch it since it limits attendance and spaces to sell fans $12 beers and $18 sandwiches.
I’ve hated many Red Sox players in my life, all of whom eventually age and retire. Some of them even become Yankees. But that wall is going to be there forever. It’s often said that sports is about cheering for laundry, but it can also be about cheering against architecture.