Calico Joe and home-field advantage

I’m reading John Grisham’s new book, Calico Joe. As the name, and certainly the book’s cover, indicate, this is not his latest legal thriller. It’s a quick (208-page) piece of baseball fiction for which his publisher has the gall to charge $25. (Thank goodness for libraries.) A full review may be forthcoming, but for now I’d like to focus on one singular scene in the book and the question it raised in my mind.

This might be spoiling things a bit, but the seminal moment of the book is a hit-by-pitch, as the home team’s hurler plunks a visiting batter. There is some speculation that the batter simply didn’t see the ball, that for some reason he couldn’t pick up the ball as it rocketed toward his skull.

This got me thinking. In baseball, the home team usually wears white uniforms, while visiting squads wear some sort of colored uniform—gray, blue, red, yellow, orange, teal, purple, etc. (I think the Marlins’ new unis contain all these colors, and more.) How much does the fact that a white baseball is being thrown by a pitcher in a white outfit contribute to home-field advantage?

Certainly, it’s easier to pick up the ball against a dark background, which is why the batters’ eye in ballparks usually is painted black or dark green, and why some teams have had to remove trees and other distractions from their center-field backdrops over the years.

An aside: Jeff Sullivan at SB Nation wrote an article recently about the advantage Jered Weaver gets throwing the ball with Angels Stadium’s rockpile behind him, and it’s possible this benefited Weaver in his recent no-hitter. Well, that and he was facing the Twins. There is also speculation that the Marlins’ new home run feature could provide a similar benefit to certain pitchers.

A quick internet search did not come up with any studies examining the impact of jersey color on home-field advantage, so I’m wondering if anyone has looked into this effect. If not, it could be an area worth exploring. With so many teams donning non-white alternate home uniforms over the last several seasons, there could be a large enough sample size to work through the noise and see if there’s any impact.

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  1. Chris Lorimor said...

    Love it Greg.  I would think another major factor would be the cooler white uniforms vs the darker through the dog days.  Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation but I’d buy it here.

  2. Tom Kohn said...

    Hi.  Random question, but important to me, and I can’t find the info.  I coach little league here in Wash, DC and was wondering if you had (or created?) stats on what % of balls go to each position?  Thank you.

    Tom Kohn

  3. Jim C said...

    There was a time in the late 40’s or 50’s when the Cardinals changed their uniforms and had baseballs on the jersey, sitting on the bat that was also on the front of the jersey. Enough hitters complained about the distraction caused by a baseball on the jersey that they were forced to remove it.

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