I want to preface this by saying I am not an architect, surveyor or engineer. Thus the data you will see here is presented strictly by someone who's been in the bleachers many times, seen multiple changes over the years due to two different reconstructions, and was wondering -- as many of you certainly were -- why we suddenly seem to have had a spate of fans reaching over the baskets, particularly in left field, for potential home-run balls.
I don't recall people being able to reach so far over the baskets in previous seasons. The Cubs said the baskets were unchanged:
#Cubs tell me no change in size of baskets on bleacher walls.— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) August 22, 2015
I concur with this, as they appear to be the same baskets and braces that were used previously, and of course, the height of the inner wall has not changed. Bruce posted these photos on Twitter Sunday, one from the old, one from the new bleachers:
I do know this: when the bleachers were demolished after the 2014 season, two sections in right-center field, closest to the batter's eye, were left standing. Thus a comparison could be made, I thought, between the floor of the bleachers in the old section in right-center field and the new bleachers in left field, which are a completely new structure. One respondent to Bruce Miles on Twitter hinted at this:
@BruceMiles2112 I think the first row is a little higher, allowing people to be able to reach over— Brad Robinson (@bradrobinson8) August 23, 2015
So, Monday morning after the gates opened but before the game began, Mike Bojanowski and I took a measuring tape and made some measurements at various spots in the bleachers.
In the "old" section in right-center field -- the area that was not demolished last fall and that dates from 2005-06 -- the floor in front of the first row of seats is 36 inches beneath the top of the wall. The distance from the back of the benches to the wall is 24 inches, from the front of the bench 14 inches. We also made the same measurement in the power alley in right field and in the right-field corner. There, the floor is 34½ inches below the top of the wall.
In left field, we found quite different results. The bench distances from the wall are mostly the same (in places in both fields there was a 23-inch distance from the back of the bench), but in the power alley -- the place where much of the fan interference has occurred, including what you see in the photo at the top of this post, which was Addison Russell‘s home run on Saturday -- the floor of the bleachers is <em>31 inches</em> below the top of the wall. Here’s video of Russell’s homer and the review that followed.
Five inches difference between the new bleachers in left and the "old" section of the right-field bleachers. Could that be enough to make it possible for fans to reach out farther and interfere with balls that haven't yet reached the basket?
In the left-field corner (not where the new "well" is, but where the wall curves) the corresponding floor-to-top-of-wall height was 33 inches, and in left field adjacent to the batters' eye it's 34 inches.
It does seem that the new left-field bleachers are "higher," in this way, than the old ones were, presuming the 2005-06 left-field bleachers were the same as the 2005-06 right-field bleachers and had a 36-inch height. It does seem to me, anecdotally, in looking at people standing in the front row, over the wall, in left field, that they are standing higher than they used to.
I'm going to reach out to the Cubs for comment on this. I'll let you know what they say.