“When I first tried the sunfield I looked like a big boob”

12 Sep

Harold “Speed” Johnson of The Chicago Herald asked:

“Does playing the sun field effect a ballplayer’s batting eye?

“’Yes,’ comes the answer in chorus!

Speed Johnson

Speed Johnson

“Diamond greats who have played the sunfield year after year…say the fellows who must go and get ‘em while looking Old Sol squarely in the face are bound to be handicapped in batting.

“The players who stand in the sun pasture then have to go to the plate immediately are especially handicapped gauging pitched balls.

“Sunfielders who hit .265 would clout 25 points higher each year if assigned to other fields, veterans declare…“The American League’s most difficult sunfields are in the parks at Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Detroit and Philadelphia.  How Sam Crawford, playing the garden in Detroit for ages, has managed to keep above the .300 mark is one of the wonders of the national pastime.”

Harry Hooper of the Red Sox agreed, and told Johnson:

“’When I first tried the sunfield in 1909 I looked like a big boob.  I missed the first fly ball batted my way by 20 feet.  Fred Lake, our manager, decided I wouldn’t do and put me in left field.’

“’Later, I mastered the sunfield job, but about four years ago my eyes troubled me.  An oculist said I had strained both eyes by looking into the sun…I wore glasses for a year…My eyes haven’t troubled me, however, since I adopted the sunglasses invented by Fred Clarke.  Before I donned them I had to ‘take’ the first ball pitched whether I wanted to or not, after stepping directly from the outfield to the plate.’”

Hooper

Hooper

Hooper continued playing for the next decade for two clubs, the Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, with two of the most “difficult sunfields” in the American League.  He hit .300 or better four times and ended his career with a .281 average;  by Johnson’s estimation, the Hall of Famer would have hit around .306 if he spent his career in left field.

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