The Real Curse of Tal’s Hill?

Tal's Hill The real curse could be what its subtraction adds to the problem of pitching at Minute Maid Park.

Tal’s Hill
The real curse could be what its subtraction adds to the problem of pitching at Minute Maid Park.


The Curse of Tal’s Hill

It’s started up again. We no longer take the Houston Chronicle on Mondays or Tuesday, but a friend mentioned to me by phone that there was another new reference there yesterday to the possible “Curse of Tal’s Hill” as the latest probable cause of the “so far, poor to bad” start of the 2016 Houston Astros.

Maybe. The alleged “curse”, of course, is attributable to the Astros’ decision on 6/04/15 last season to remove Tal’s Hill before the current 2016 term for reasons of safety and more utilitarian use of the same reclaimed space in deep center. The net effect to the playing field, of course, will be that MMP loses its unique and quirky deep center field feature, one that has never hurt anyone in 16 years in play, but one that the sluggers who try to homer beyond its 436 feet dead center field distance from home plate soon enough find as Houston’s version of Yankee Stadium’s Death Valley. Even more importantly, Tal’s Hill has been the similar oval base for creating the distance that germinates hope in the hearts of great pitchers just as much as the venerable and rectangularly configured Polo Grounds once did.

On October 17, 2015, the Astros postponed their dateline for the removal of Tal’s Hill to 2017 because of practical considerations that made the completion of the job practical prior to this current 2016 season. By that time. Tal’s Hill supporters already had attributed, at least, two negatives to the newly anointed “Curse of Tal’s Hill” – a long 2015 losing streak and the team’s ultimately painful playoff come-back loss last year to Kansas City.

Like the much later named “Curse of the Bambino” (1920) in Boston – or the “Curse of the Donkey” in Chicago (1945), the “Curse of Tal’s Hill” (2015) seems poised to take its place in the baseball’s “Hall of Blame” – in potentially eternal service to those Astros fans with quickly pointing fingers of liability for whatever next small or large club failure may happen to be.

Personally, we love Tal’s Hill. We also would love to see it last forever too, but our affinity for its uniqueness and its appropriate recognition for Tal Smith, the most important figure in the developmental history of both the Astrodome and the rosters of men who have played baseball for Houston from the 1962 MLB start through today, it is neither matters of history – nor its existence as an homage to baseball’s smiling tolerance for dimensional variance – that causes many of us concern. As we have written previously, in spite of all the anecdotal assurances we’ve received from the Astros that bringing the fences in from 436 feet to only 404-409 feet will not seriously increase the number of home runs hit at MMP, we are dubious. This change appears to be one that probably converts MMP from being a tough, but quirky place to play – and makes it over into one the most hitter-celebrated band boxes that the big leagues have ever seen.

The true reductions, in arched or straight line, need to be marked on the field for the one-year study of where fly balls actually land or currently get caught.

The true reductions, in arched or straight line, need to be marked on the field for the one-year study of where fly balls actually land or currently get caught.

More Study Is Needed

If Tal’s Hill is removed and the deep center fences from left to right are brought in some 30-odd feet, or so, The Pecan Park Eagle thinks it’s a brand new – and less balanced –  ballgame at MMP. We do appreciate the club’s need to keep developing its revenue streams in the space they control, but we also believe strongly that any changes for that sake which cheapen the price of home runs and scare away good pitchers from wanting to play for Houston.

If MMP becomes a band box, no more will pitchers have the comfort of knowing that batters who can be coaxed into hitting to center will likely end up as long fly ball outs. If that changes, so does everything else – including the desire of really good pitchers to even consider pitching in Houston for the Astros. You simply do not remove 32 feet from the present deep center field distance and not significantly increase home run production in a way that changes the entire psychology that now exists for pitchers who work the place as it still is.

Dear Astros

If we are wrong, at least, give us a full season of complete data based on the actual distance changes intended – and prove it – before you pull the final trigger on this change. Mapping the distance flights of every fly ball to the actually intended new gradiently arched distances is unarguably a tedious, but necessary part of the club’s responsibility to the fans of Houston Baseball who buy the tickets and other items you have for sale. Involve the fans. Chart out the proposed new distances on the field and allow us to follow what you are marking as “possible new homers” on the surface. Neither of us will be able to account for the difference that a guy like George Springer could make on close calls, but, at least, ownership and fans will working from the same opportunity for establishing a data pool.

The real curse of Tal’s Hill would be the eternal consequences that befall to the integrity of Houston Astros baseball if these changes result in MMP becoming better known in the future as “the place where pitchers go to die”.

Thank you.


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas


4 Responses to “The Real Curse of Tal’s Hill?”

  1. shinerbock80 Says:

    Keep Tal’s Hill!

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    After using the “statcast” system for two years, which charts batted balls using a formula that determines launch angle and exit velocity, the Colorado Rockies raised the fences in right field by nine feet and five feet down the line in left field.

    The Astros organization should at least use this system rather than anecdotal evidence to find how many balls that now fall in the field of play would end up as home runs.

    Keep Tal’s Hill or at least raze it without changing the distance of 436 feet to straight-away center.

  3. gregclucas Says:

    Astros have said direct CF would be reduced from 436 to 409; That is large, but what about the deep alleys? One is 404 already and balls soar over into the gas pump area above it frequently. I am with many. The Hill is not a problem and never has been, but reducing the actual distances could be far more a problem than the perceived (but unrecognized) threat of danger from traversing the hill. By the way…in Chicago it was a Billy Goat not a donkey. In Houston’s case I suggest the problem is more not having consistently good teams (of the same good players) year to year that is more of a curse than anything with the ballpark.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Thanks, Greg, for the reminder. These days I’m quite capable of confusing donkeys and billy goats at the drop of every winnable game – or tradition – like Tal’s Hill – for additional revenue stream space. To paraphrase Captain Renault in “Casablanca” as a way of explaining the truly unspoken reasons for moving the fences in: “I’m shocked to find that baseball is going on in this area!”

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