Orioles altering Camden Yards’ left-field dimensions in effort to curtail homer binge
In the aftermath of pitching the Baltimore Orioles’ first complete game no-hitter in more than 50 years, left-hander John Means expressed gratitude that the feat came on the road, given that Kyle Lewis’ eighth-inning drive was caught at the left-field wall of the Seattle Mariners’ T-Mobile Park instead of sailing over the fence for a home run.
“If this was Camden Yards, it was gone,” Means said then. “I’m glad we’re in Seattle.”
The Orioles hope their pitchers feel that way less often going forward. This club told The Baltimore Sun it began construction this week to alter Oriole Park at Camden Yards’ left-field dimensions to try to reduce the stadium’s propensity for home runs. The changes — the first to the size of the iconic ballpark’s playing area in two decades — will raise the wall’s height from 7 feet to about 12 feet and move it back as much as 30 feet, according to information provided by the team. Major League Baseball approved the adjustments, which will cover the area from the left-field corner to the bullpens in the left-center field.
The new measurements fall in line with other major league parks. As of 2020, Camden Yards’ 333-foot distance from home plate to the left-field corner was about average for the 30 major league stadiums, though its 364-foot distance to left-center was one of the league’s most reachable for batters. Oriole Park was one of only eight ballparks with a wall shorter than 8 feet in left and had the shortest wall in left-center field of any venue. A 12-foot left-field wall would be tied for the sixth-tallest in the majors.
Construction is expected to be complete by Opening Day, which is scheduled for March 31 but subject to change with MLB’s owners locking out the players as the sides slowly work toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
Looking for a better balance: The Orioles’ baseball operations and analytics departments, led by executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal, have been working to find a way to make the stadium more balanced for pitchers and hitters and determined the changes to left field would best allow for that outcome, with moving back home plate also among the considerations.
The team also sought to ensure the alterations won’t create an imbalance between right- and left-handed hitters. In Oriole Park’s previous dimensions, the right-field corner was 15 feet closer to home plate than the left-field corner, but right field features a 21-foot-tall wall that stretches 100 feet toward right-center. The center-field wall, measured 400 feet away from home plate, will stay 7 feet tall.
While Camden Yards will remain a hitters’ park, the hope is for the changes to prevent it from being an outlier in terms of home runs. Although the Orioles in recent years have deployed inexperienced pitching staffs who have set several records for home runs allowed, Oriole Park has always been a hitter’s haven.
The ballpark, celebrating its 30th anniversary season in 2022, has seen 5,911 home runs since opening in 1992. That total is the most of any ballpark in that time, with nine having been open the entirety of that span. In 2019 — a season in which MLB as a whole set a league record for home runs — the Orioles’ pitching staff surrendered 305 longballs, smashing the previous MLB record of 258 amid several other infamous home run marks. Baltimore pitchers again led the sport in home runs allowed in 2021 as the Orioles finished 52-110, tied for the worst record in the major leagues.
Previous changes: The Orioles last altered the dimensions of Oriole Park ahead of the 2002 season.
In 2001, changes to increase the outfield wall’s distance from home plate didn’t improve fans’ sightlines as hoped while negatively impacting hitters’ view of the batter’s eye, prompting a return to the venue’s original dimensions the next year. In the 20 seasons since, Camden Yards is the only ballpark where more than 4,000 home runs have been hit, with 18 other stadiums in use throughout that full period.
Over the past three seasons, there were 655 home runs hit at Camden Yards. The next closest ballpark, at 583, is New York’s Yankee Stadium; the 72-homer gap between the venues is wider than that of Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, the ballpark with the 13th-most home runs in that time. American League East opponents New York, Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay have combined for 217 home runs in 98 games at Oriole Park since 2019, while the Orioles themselves have hit 281 in 196 games at their home ballpark. In all, 57% of the home runs hit at Camden Yards since Elias and Mejdal took over the Orioles’ front office and launched a full-scale rebuild have been hit by opposing teams.
Affected fans informed: The club has informed Birdland Members — its version of season-ticket holders — in the affected sections of the changes. Although fans who typically sit in those locations will be farther from the infield and home plate, they will remain as close as they were to the field of play. As part of this process, the orange seat honoring franchise icon Cal Ripken Jr.’s 278th home run to set the MLB record for home runs by a shortstop will be moved and used as part of the Oriole Park Exhibit for the ballpark’s 30th anniversary celebration.
The Orioles’ lease at Camden Yards is set to expire after the 2023 season, though the club and the Maryland Stadium Authority are working toward a long-term agreement.