Around the middle of the past season there was a lot of hot gas emitted by the nation’s sportswriters regarding Todd Helton’s flirtation with a .400 batting average. One guy I read actually suggested (I hope facetiously) that if Helton finished above the mark, the record should bear an asterisk because of the “unfair” advantage of playing half his games in the thin air of Colorado.

OK, batting stats may be inflated at Coors Field because the ball travels farther where the air is thinner. But after a little investigation, it appears to me that many, even most, of the previous .400 seasons owed a lot to park advantage.

For simplicity, let’s just restrict this to post-1900. Since 1900, 8 different players have hit over .400 on 13 occasions. However, this has been accomplished at only 7 ballparks. And just two parks, Detroit’s Tiger Stadium and St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park, account for 8 of the 13 seasons! Ty Cobb hit .400+ three times, once at Detroit’s Municipal Stadium, and twice at Tiger Stadium. Harry Heilman did it once, at Tiger Stadium. Rogers Hornsby did it three times for the Cardinals and George Sisler twice for the Browns, but both teams played home games at Sportsman’s Park. Of the remaining 4, Nap Lajoie played in Baker Bowl in Philly, Bill Terry at the Polo Grounds in NY, Ted Williams at Fenway, and Shoeless Joe Jackson at Cleveland’s League Park. I have seen all of these referred to in print as hitter’s parks, except for League Park (and I haven’t found a statement one way or the other about that one, although a 290’ dimension in right field is pretty suggestive).

I find the case of Sportsman’s Park particularly interesting. Five out of thirteen .400 seasons (38%) were set at the same park within a span of only 6 years (1920-1925), by two different players in different leagues. I have trouble believing this was just a coincidence, but the published dimensions for Sportsman’s Park don’t suggest it was far enough out of line from contemporary parks to account for this. Is anyone aware of any particular oddity about Sportsman’s Park in the 1920s?

Of course several of these guys, notably Cobb, Sisler and Hornsby, batted .420 or better, and would undoubtedly have hit .400 on the Dead Sea or at Dodger Stadium. But I suspect that if one took the park factor into account a majority of the .400 seasons on record would be at least as suspect as one at Coors Field.

I imagine that some statistician somewhere has looked at the question at least for Williams. Would Williams have batted .406 in 1941 if he had played his home games somewhere other than Fenway? What was the difference between his home average and his road average in 1941? (Of course, Williams was a great hitter under any circumstances, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that his road average was phenomenally high too.)

Has anyone seen an article or analysis on this subject? Despite any potential advantage at Coors Field, it seems to me a record set there is no less valid than a lot of previous records. (And of course I realize that .400 is just an arbitrary cut-off. Really the heart of my question is whether the park factor at Coors is significantly out of line with those at other parks, including historical ones.)

PS. In Palmer and Thorn’s *The Hidden Game of Baseball* they did calculate historical “park factors” for both hitters and pitchers. However, as they calculated these on a year-by-year basis, the factors jump around all over the place. Obviously the park factor should be pretty much the same as long as the dimensions (or the elevation) don’t change, so these factors have to be calculated over a significant period of time. Has anybody done a better job of this since Palmer and Thorn?