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(CRAAAAACK!!!) You hear the loud, sudden sound of a baseball smashing against the sweet spot of a wooden bat! Then, (DOOOONNNG) you hear the loud thud when the ball slaps against the foul pole. Was that ball fair or foul?
It is a question that is asked quite often by baseball fans, players, coaches, and umpires. Is that ball that hit the foul pole a mammoth home run blast or simply a long strike?
A batted ball that hits the foul pole above the outfield wall is ruled a home run! This means that the “foul” pole should be renamed as the “fair” pole.
Keep reading to learn more about this unique baseball rule and some other historical facts about the foul pole.
When was the Foul Pole Invented?
No one really knows the exact year that the foul pole made its way into the game of baseball. Though the actual foul lines have always existed, most baseball purists believe that the foul poles did not make their way into the game into the game until shortly after the year 1900. The main purpose of foul poles is to help the umpires judge whether to rule a batted ball as “fair” or “foul”. Could you imagine how difficult it was for the umpires to judge whether a ball was in play or not before the foul poles came into existence?
Historical Facts about the Foul Pole
Here are some interesting facts about the foul pole:
- The first foul poles were not actually steel poles at all. Grounds crews simply painted a white stripe onto the fence that acted as a continuation of the foul line in right field and left field. This worked okay, but still posed a problem for batted balls that flew over the fence.
- In some of the old ballparks in the early 1900’s, the foul pole was actually located on the field of play just in front of the outfield fence. One can imagine how dangerous that probably was for the outfielders that often had to navigate around the pole to make a possible play on the ball!!!
- Balls that hit above the fence line were considered a home run, while balls that hit the pole below the fence line were ruled as “in play” but not a home run.
Rule Differences between the American League and National League
As with lots of other rules in Major League Baseball, the American League and National League at one time had differing rules regarding the foul pole. Here are some of those rules below:
- Surprisingly enough, at one time the American League and National League had separate rules for balls that hit the foul pole.
- The American League ruled that balls that hit the foul pole above the fence but then landed foul as ground-rule doubles.
- The National League ruled that these such batted balls would be home runs.
- Thankfully both leagues now agree that all baseballs that hit the foul pole are considered home runs regardless of where the ball lands after making contact with the pole.
- Both leagues also agree that balls that bounce off the ground in fair territory and then strike the foul pole are ruled as ground rule doubles.
Foul Poles in Baseball Today
Almost all foul poles in baseball today, whether at the high school, college, or professional levels, are yellow in color. Though yellow is by far the most popular in color, foul poles are not required to be yellow. Most baseball equipment companies offer foul poles in yellow, orange, or white.
The New York Mets’ home stadium of Citi Field has orange foul poles. The Montreal Expos back in the day had possibly the most unique foul poles. The “Spos” sported red foul poles with white Canadian leaf logos on them. Many teams in Major League Baseball are utilizing their foul poles to run ads for their loyal sponsors.
The Citi Field foul poles have undergone a makeover pic.twitter.com/ALl7E9BhU2— SNY (@SNYtv) July 23, 2019
The Famous Boston Red Sox Foul Poles
One of the most famous foul poles in baseball history is located in historic Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. The rightfield foul pole was dubbed “Pesky’s Pole” by former Red Sox pitcher and broadcaster Mel Parnell after Red Sox legendary infielder Johnny Pesky hit an opening day game-winning homer right around that foul pole.
Fun Fact: The base of that famous right field foul pole has to be repainted by the Red Sox grounds crew several times per year since many Red Sox fans sign their name on it.
Interestingly enough, the left field foul pole at the Red Sox home of Fenway Park is also incredibly famous and beloved by lots of baseball diehards. Red Sox catcher Carlton “Pudge” Fisk hit a moon-shot homer in the wee hours of the morning to win Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds. The ball dinged off the top of the left field foul pole for one of the most memorable moments in Boston sports history.
Thirty years later (in 2005) the Boston Red Sox officially gave its left field foul pole the name “Fisk Pole” in honor of Carlton Fisk. Many Red Sox fans have dubbed the pole as “Pudge’s Pole” which was and is Fisk’s nickname.
In other sports like basketball and football, the sidelines are considered “out of bounds”. In baseball, the foul lines and foul poles are considered “fair” or in-play. This is one more way that baseball differentiates itself from most other sports.
Now when you are watching a baseball game with your friends you can quickly inform them of the rules regarding the foul pole and why it may need to be renamed the “fair” pole.