On June 8, in the first inning of his second-ever game at Yankee Stadium, Barry Bonds timed a Ted Lilly pitch perfectly and muscled it into territory never before reached in a game—somewhere above Seat 8 of the 17th row of Section 31 in the right-field upper deck.
But in one sense, Bonds’s timing was terrible. The Yankees announced his blast as 385 feet, but if he had hit it a few decades earlier, before the stadium’s heavy-duty mid-’70s remodeling, it might have been hailed as 630 feet or longer. The general consensus is that the stadium’s mightiest right-field homer prior to Bonds’s was Mickey Mantle’s moon shot off Bill Fischer on May 22, 1963—it hit the famous green copper roof facing, and, according to writer Joseph Durso, “Tape-measure specialists calculated it would have traveled 620 feet if it had not bounced off the upper-deck facade.”
As it happens, Bonds’s blow would almost certainly have sailed above the facing, bounced on the roof, and proceeded to either the lower roof beyond or onto River Avenue, possibly caroming off the el tracks along the way. It would have been hailed as the first fair ball to ever leave Yankee Stadium in a major-league game, and the tape-measure specialists would have had to give Barry at least what they awarded the Mick.
With balls flying over the fences with record frequency lately, where are the Yankees’ tape-measure specialists today when we need them so badly? These paragons of PR, the legendarily proactive front-office workers who invented the term “tape-measure home run” even though they never used a tape measure, seem to have abandoned that line of business. The Bronx Bombers’ media relations department tells the Voice that the team never announced a distance for Bonds’s bomb, and that “we don’t do that” in general. We’d like to tell you who said this, but he declined to give his name, and when we asked if his boss, Rick Cerrone (not the former ballplayer), could explain, he said Cerrone was on the phone with the general manager, as though that settled the question permanently. Calling Cerrone directly led to a game of telephone tag, with the Voice leading the Yankees 2-1 at press time. We also called director of stadium operations Kirk Randazzo, twice, for information about the stadium’s upper-deck geometry, but those messages went unanswered.
ESPN reporter Jayson Stark later told us that it’s true that the Yankees don’t generally announce home run distances nowadays, but it was his account of the process—”the Yankees, believe it or not, estimated that homer as having traveled an absurd 385 feet”—that started us on this quest in the first place: Nor was he alone. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “it was measured at 385 feet.” The Seattle Times rewrote a wire service account saying that “the home run was listed as 385 feet.” The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said, “The rocket scientists who work there estimated the distance at 385 feet—which was, of course, ridiculous.” Major League Baseball’s own Web site says the “homer was charted at 385 feet, though that only measures the distance from home plate that the ball traveled, not where it would have landed had it been able to land on the ground.”
All this leaves us to wonder how the Yankees would have celebrated such an astonishing piece of hitting had it been the work of someone in pinstripes. If Mantle had hit it, would they have projected it out to 630 feet? Could it be that they sensed, despite the 385-foot nonsense, that Bonds had done something in only his fourth Bronx at-bat that had eluded every one of their great sluggers since the spring of 1923? Were they truly unaware that they had witnessed an amazing piece of distance hitting? (Let’s set aside Sammy Sosa’s fireworks show at the Home Run Derby in Milwaukee, since that was no more than batting practice, and there is good reason to think that the round white objects used for that entertainment were optimized for distance and weren’t standard MLB balls.) The Yankees say they don’t keep stats on upper-deck home runs at all. Has this proud franchise lost its sense of history?
Or could it be that the Yankees aren’t accustomed to the slugging accomplishments of visitors? It’s an easy habit to fall into when your outfit has had a steady succession of sluggers like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, and Mr. October on the payroll, and when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa never get to hit in the 161st Street ballyard. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Barry Bonds was badly shortchanged in his first visit to the Bronx.