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The Straight Dope

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I understand the new Comiskey Park now under construction in Chicago will be the only baseball stadium in the major leagues with home plate in the northwest corner, rather than the southwest. Why are all ballparks oriented this way? Don't the owners of the White Sox care that they're going to have the only exception? --Jerry, Chicago

I gather some White Sox fans are working themselves into a major league dither over this. A recent letter in the Chicago Sun-Times begins, "Am I the last 'right field is the sun field in baseball' American living in America? Left field will be the sun field in the new White Sox stadium [due to the orientation of home plate]. All the current geniuses creating this new stadium are ignoring tradition. I am appalled and shocked," blah, blah, blah.

Right field is the "sun field" in most major league ballparks because the right fielder must look into the sun when catching fly balls during afternoon games. This is one reason (though not the most important one) that most clubs put a stronger defensive player in right field than in left. Making left field the sun field, some purists claim, will throw off the game's subtle balances, create havoc in the outfield, and, to hear some tell it, hasten the decline of the West.

This is absurd. For one thing, not all major league ball fields have home plate in the southwest. Southwest admittedly is common (at least 14 of 22 outdoor parks). But several parks have home plate in the northwest, including County Stadium in Milwaukee, for God's sake, which is only 90 miles away from Chicago. Other northwest parks (as near as I can make out--the records on this topic are dismal, and the people at the ballparks have a pretty vague sense of direction) include Arlington Stadium in Texas, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, and Busch Stadium in Saint Louis.

The reason home plate is oriented the way it is, in any case, has nothing to do with the outfielders. It's meant to help the batter. If the plate were on the east side of the ballpark, the batter would be facing west, meaning he'd have the afternoon sun in his eyes. Not only would his batting average suffer, he might fail to duck next time a wild pitch came screaming toward his noggin. Putting home in the southwest or northwest corner eliminates this problem.

It's also the reason left-handed pitchers are called "southpaws." Because a lefty has to pitch in a generally westerly direction, his throwing arm is toward the south. This will be as true in the new Comiskey as it was in the old. In sum, White Sox fans needn't get too excited about the ballpark. Better they should reserve their panic for the team.

Why are Communists so attached to the color red? Why did the anti-Communists call themselves "whites"? --Robert Feinstein, St. Lambert, Quebec

You want the facts on a question like this, Robert, you have to go straight to the source, in this case the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. From this formidable work we learn that "popular uprisings occurred under red banners as early as the eighth century (the Red Banner rebellion in Iran) and in the 16th (the Great Peasant War in Germany) and 17th centuries." The Iranian thing is reaching a bit, but let us be kind.

The encyclopedia goes on: "The people of France fought under red banners against the king's rule in July 1792. With the revolt of June 5-6, 1832, in Paris, the red banner became a symbol of the blood spilled by the people and thus the banner of revolution, and after the Paris Commune of 1871 it became the banner of [specifically] proletarian revolution." The red banner was first flown in Russia in 1861 and became the Soviet flag in 1918.

The Whites, counterrevolutionaries who fought the Reds in the period 1918-1920, took their name from the White Guards, a Finnish police force organized in 1906 to fight subversives. "The origin of the term 'White Guards' is connected with the traditional symbolism of the color white as the color of the supporters of 'legitimate' law and order," the GSE notes. Sounds like it wasn't just in the old west that the alleged good guys wore white hats.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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