baseball

No, the Lehigh Valley mound is not illegal

After the first couple games of the recent home series against Buffalo, several Bisons’ relievers walked to the bullpen to the dugout and inspected the mound at Coca-Cola Park. They glanced suspiciously at the mound as the grounds crew went through their postgame routine. It turns out that the rumor was that the mound was illegal. The early rumor had the mound being three inches lower than it is supposed to be by standards set by Major League Baseball.

Turns out they had gotten some bad intel. Here’s the real story behind the mound at Coca-Cola Park and why it is within acceptable standards.

First, some background. Major League Baseball rules state that the pitcher’s mound must be 10″ higher than homeplate. The slope of the mound begins 6″ in front of the pitching rubber and goes down 1″ per foot. Now, take into consideration the fact that most fields are “crowned.” That is, that the middle portion of the field is slightly higher than the area along the baselines. This is done primarily because of drainage and is perfectly acceptable by MLB standards.

If you paid attention in Geometry class – which I didn’t – apparently, you understand perfectly well that the height, slope and crown of the field all work together in yielding official measurements. Actually, even I can understand that. Fortunately, Kurt Landes, the IronPigs President and General Manager, did pay attention in Geometry, so he gets all of this stuff.

Since taking over the minor leagues, MLB has done ballpark inspections all across the country. Teams get points deducted for not meeting specific standards when these inspections are done. If the height of the mound is wrong, you get dinged. If the slope of the mound is wrong, you get dinged. As stated before, the crown of the field is perfectly acceptable, however, MLB “prefers” that fields are not crowned. It’s worth pointing out that Major League Baseball did a study that recommended fields not be crowned. It is also worth pointing out that the study was conducted by MLB and Brickman Sportsturf, a company that does – wait for it – construction of baseball fields, including converting fields from “crowned” to flat.

Back to the Coca-Cola Park mound. Rather than having both the height and slope of the mound be off – since the crown of the field as originally constructed – affects both, the IronPigs have had to basically accept that one of the two will be slightly off. There is no preference set by MLB on whether the height or slope is more important, so the height of the mound at CCP is a perfect 10″ with the slope being slightly off. While it’s not clear by just how much the slope is off, the word slightly is appropriate. If the slope were significantly off, Major League Baseball would demand that the mound be corrected, so it’s safe to assume that the slope is only “slightly” off what it should be.

Keep in mind that as a game goes on, pitchers wear a hole in the slope area of the mound where their foot lands during their delivery. Even those of us who dozed through geometry can understand that is going to affect the slope throughout the game.

The bottom line is that Buffalo relievers – or anybody else – can look suspiciously at the Coca-Cola Park mound, but if they break out tape measures and even more technically significant gadgetry to do measurements, they will find the mound is within every standard set up by Major League Baseball.

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