Busch Stadium has always been known as one of the more pitcher-friendly ballparks in Major League Baseball (5th lowest park factor in 2011), but with the afternoon shadows coming into play here in late summer, things have gotten to a point where the pitcher has an unfair advantage over the hitter. Shadows have always been a part of afternoon baseball games and they vary in prevalence depending on the venue, but I think the concern is certainly warranted in this particular situation.
Let’s face it. Shadows are a hitter’s worst nightmare. You can’t hit the ball if you can’t see it, regardless of how good the guy on the mound is. Now I wouldn’t know from experience, but I imagine that wincing and squinting through deep shadows to see the ball isn’t exactly ideal. Hitters these days rely so much on getting a clear view of the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, so it must be impossible to pick up the spin and speed of a pitch thrown from darkness. Whether the pitcher is in the sunlight and the plate is in shadows, there is a strip of sunlight between the mound and plate, or the entire infield is in shadows, picking up a 12-6 breaking ball or a 95 mph fastball is significantly more difficult. In short, shadows severely tarnish the vision of the batter.
After hearing widespread complaints following a shadow-plagued 3:10 p.m. game between the Cardinals and Brewers over the weekend, I’m convinced that something must be done to prevent this issue from occurring in the future. To the general baseball public, complaints coming from the St. Louis Cardinals after a loss could easily be taken as ridiculous excuses. After all, the Cards don’t have the greatest league-wide reputation in that department. However, when the Brewers, who almost never agree with the Cards about anything, spoke out about the playing conditions, you knew right away that this is a legitimate argument. I suppose if you actually watched or attended the game you could see for yourself.
Here’s a series of quotes from the players:
"I can never remember a game that bad. From the second inning on, as soon as that shadow goes from behind the catcher to in front of the plate you’d better be on top and score some runs. Because after that it’s pretty much over. I don’t want anybody to read it wrong. I don’t want to disrespect the job Wolf did. He did a pretty good job. He kept the ball down. It wasn’t fair for us to see. And it wasn’t fair for them to see. You can’t see it. You almost feel like somebody is throwing a resin bag. My second at-bat it went from the light to the shadows and I’m like ‘Where’s the ball?’ I’m glad it’s the last 3 o’clock game. I’m not a guy that looks for excuses, but this is pretty ridiculous. You can’t play like that in a big league stadium."
"If you don’t get a hit in your first two at-bats, you’re not going to get a hit unless you’re lucky. It’s hard to evaluate yourself when you can’t see the ball. Whoever’s ahead in the fourth inning is probably going to win. Any 3p.m. game that is not mandatory should be changed. I think Fox, MLB and the Players Association should look at moving the national game of the week to 7p.m. If you’re not ahead in the third inning, if the hitters can’t see the ball, it makes for a noncompetitive game once the shadows set in. Earlier in the season it’s not an issue until the seventh or eighth innings. So there are six innings to try to win."
"It’s not fun as a hitter. It’s really not safe at all. We do that at our place, too. It happens. It is definitely not fun. You don’t look forward to it, that’s for sure."
That pretty much tells the whole story right there. Manager Tony La Russa was actually hesitant with his criticism in fear of it being perceived as sour grapes. There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s exactly how it would be perceived, but this is one of those extremely rare cases in which La Russa has a valid point.
"There’s something to it, but you’re vulnerable talking about it because it’s the same for both teams. There is definitely an issue. We’ve just got to deal with it."
If the afternoon start time of a game has absolutely nothing to do with a TV decision, there’s really no reason why changes can’t be made accordingly. Shadows don’t necessarily become an issue in St. Louis until the final month of the season, but the players are playing in unsafe and unfair conditions when shadows are a factor. Look no further than the numbers to see that pitchers have the edge in shadow-covered contests. The Cardinals are 3-7 in games starting at 3:00 p.m. this season, hitting a mere .212 (58 points off their .270 season average).