Film and TV

Coors Field Is "a Joke," Says ESPN's Michael Wilbon

For years, the achievements of Colorado Rockies hitters have been undervalued.

Why? Because of the perception that the thin air of the Mile High City and the dimensions of Coors Field, the Rockies' home, offer the team an unfair advantage that leads to inflated statistics.

Over the years, Rockies execs have tried various strategies to mitigate environmental and structural factors, ranging from keeping baseballs in a humidor to raising the outfield fences in right field and right-center.

But such efforts haven't affected the views of the national sporting press.

Case in point: Yesterday on Pardon the Interruption, ESPN's Michael Wilbon went on a memorable rant about Coors Field, dismissing it as "a joke."

The topic arose when Wilbon and co-host Tony Kornheiser debated the question about which Major League Baseball player is more valuable right now, the Washington Nationals' much ballyhooed Bryce Harper or the Rockies' Nolan Arenado.

Kornheiser is an avowed fan of the Nationals and a Harper booster.

But after noting that Harper had just gone through a one-for-seventeen stretch at the plate, with his only hit being a bloop single on Monday, he conceded that Arenado — our choice for Best Rockie in the latest Best of Denver edition — was probably superior at present.

The numbers certainly support Kornheiser's view. ESPN stats show Harper with a current batting average of .256, with nine home runs and 24 RBIs.

Arenado, for his part, is batting .314 with eleven homers and 25 RBIs — and he's a spectacular fielder, too.

But Wilbon wasn't convinced.

"If you put Bryce Harper in that fraudulent ballpark in Denver, his numbers...he'd look like Ted Williams's average, Ruth and Gehrig with home runs and RBIs, respectively," he said.

"I know they do things to try to bring that ballpark back to earth, so balls don't just soar out of there," he continued. "And there might be a worse ballpark, Texas, for hitting home runs. But Arenado is playing in a joke of a ballpark, where balls just fly out of there like Frisbees. The answer is Bryce Harper."

Later, in the error section toward the end of the broadcast, Kornheiser noted that Arenado has hit more home runs on the road than at Coors Field over the past couple of seasons. Wilbon's retort: "Then he'd have none at home."

By the way, ESPN's updated stats about the most home-run-friendly ballparks in the major leagues place Coors Field in seventh position, behind Miller Park in Milwaukee, Chase Field in Phoenix, Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, Yankee Stadium in New York City, Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California and Progressive Field in Cleveland.

Yet Coors Field retains a reputation as the MLB's cheap-home-run headquarters, as Wilbon's opinion demonstrates — and facts, figures and Nolan Arenado's impressive skills be damned.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts