Every afternoon and evening before Cubs home game, if you walk down Waveland Avenue, which borders Wrigley Field behind the left-field bleachers, you will see anywhere from a handful to a couple of dozen men of various ages looking toward the sky while the teams take batting practice.
They're looking for baseballs to suddenly appear, at which time they'll race toward them, trying to snag one, or more. Some of these men have been at this for years or even decades.
I wondered whether the expansion of the bleachers had affected the number of baseballs leaving the yard, so I asked Dave Davison, a veteran ballhawk who operates ballhawk.net (and who has also posted here using that user name) for his thoughts about the changes surrounding the bleachers and how they have affected ballhawking.
Here are the numbers for baseballs leaving the yard over recent years. Yes, they keep statistics on this. As Davison told me, "It's what we do."
|Year||Waveland BP HR||Sheffield BP HR||Waveland Game HR||Sheffield Game HR|
The 2006 data, which would have been the first year of the first bleacher reconstruction, isn't available. Dave Davison supplied the numbers from 2007 to 2015; the numbers from 2005 and earlier are from ballhawk.com.
As you can see, the two reconstructions of the bleachers, first in 2006 and then again this year, have cut down somewhat on the number of balls reaching the street, both in BP and during games, although there are other factors as well. Davison noted, "It's hard to judge 2015, as you know, the Cubs rarely hit." He thinks the numbers in left field would have been in line with the other first reconstruction (2007-14) numbers. The only major difference in the structure is the left-field video board, which he says was hit only "two to three dozen times all year in BP," along with the two game home runs hit by Kris Bryant that hit the board. Those two would have been well on the street in other years.
Davison added, "The bleacher walkway is only eight feet back from last year at the some height and with that nice wide walkway behind sections 301-302, a bunch bounced out this year," which I can confirm, having watched quite a few baseballs bounce on the walkway behind me and out onto the street.
Via hittrackeronline.com, here is the scatter chart of all home runs hit during the regular season in 2015 at Wrigley Field. You can see the three homers that left the park on the Waveland side and the one that landed on Sheffield, of which Davison says, "That was early in the season, before the bleachers were finished. It rolled to Sheffield and we were able to pull it to the fence and grab it."
Davison thinks that the new structure hasn't affected much except for home runs on Sheffield with the vastly expanded structure. He says we might not see a ball clear the bleachers on Sheffield for a few years. He also thinks the systems used for measuring home runs aren't anywhere near accurate:
The whole measuring system of home runs is awful. They have no idea about the rate at which balls come down. I used to catch balls within ten feet of the outside wall after they cleared the 25-foot fence. The higher they go, the sharper the angle they fall. It may be hard to believe but that Kyle Schwarber ball was so high it probably lands in the middle of Sheffield if the board isn't there.
Even the numbers from the mid-2000s are much lower than in the time of Sammy Sosa, Davison says, when there could be 1,000 or more batting-practice balls on Waveland every year -- often 40 or 50 or more per day and "63 on the last day of 1999," he notes, and as many as 40 game home runs per year on the street in those PED-fueled days with a smaller bleacher structure.
We are, as you know, in an era of lower offense than we had in the Sosa era. That likely accounts for some of the drop in Waveland and Sheffield home runs; the bleacher structures have been another factor, as have the hitters themselves. Nevertheless, ballhawks like Moe Mullins, Rich Buhrke and Dave Davison (left to right below) can be found near the corner of Waveland and Kenmore for pretty much every home game, looking skyward.