In 1966, when the Houston Astros first unveiled their state of the art Astrodome facility, the artificial grass known as AstroTurf, was seen as revolutionary, creating the idea of multipurpose facilities. New, state of the art facilities were being built-in cities with the intent of two organizations calling it their home, predominantly NFL and MLB teams. The new concept of artificial turf made this possible, as the artificial turf did not wear down from use of two sports, unlike natural grass.
By 1982, ten out of the 26 MLB organizations played on fields with artificial grass. These teams were the Twins, Blue Jays, Mariners, Royals, Astros, Cardinals, Phillies, Pirates, Reds and Expos. Teams were able to cut maintenance costs with the only significant cost being the installation of the artificial grass. It had a significant impact on the game; the ball had a truer and faster bounce off the turf, which in return, saw an increase of base stealing as the turf was deemed to increase the speed of the game.
In 1990, the idea of multipurpose facilities became unwanted. Many baseball teams felt as if the seating in multipurpose stadiums did not provide an intimate atmosphere. Major League teams began switching the idea of their facilities from stadiums to parks to accommodate for a much more natural setting.
As of opening day of the 2015 season, only two Major League teams will be playing on artificial turf, the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. With only two Major League teams still on the artificial turf, the other 28 have clearly decided that not only do parks create a better atmosphere for the game, but also, natural grass is a much safer environment then the artificial turf, which has been known to cause lingering injuries. Based on the opinions of many, it doesn’t sound as if artificial turf will be around much longer. In an article done by the LA Times, Hall of Famer Andre Dawson was asked his thoughts on AstroTurf. He went on to say “Good riddance, personally, I just wish it would have been gone a long time ago.” Dawson played 11 seasons for the Montreal Expos, which means he played 11 seasons on the artificial turf at Olympic Stadium, which led to 12 knee surgeries, proving that artificial turf does create health problems.
Despite the fact that there is no evident statistic based on injuries occurring on artificial turf versus natural grass, there is an increasing awareness league wide based on the durability of players who spend more time on artificial turf. There is a consistent stereotype around the league that artificial turf very well may be an ingredient to a shortened career, and even that little bit of doubt in a player’s mind can have a negative impact on their view of an organization, in this case the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. With even a little bit of negativity inflicted on their organizations, it makes it that much more difficult to acquire players through the free agency avenue. Having an artificial playing surface typically means both the Blue Jays and Rays must have an increased contract offer over competitors in free agent negotiations. Most players on the free agent market are in the second half of their career, and for them, the risk does not out play the reward. As a result, it is strongly believed that changes are coming from both organizations.
The president of the Toronto Blue Jays, Paul Beeston, has publicly stated that the goal of the organization is to have to an all natural grass playing surface by 2018. The problem for the Blue Jays is they have to go to extreme lengths to develop a procedure for a natural grass playing surface to thrive. It isn’t an easy development to grow high quality natural grass inside a stadium with a retractable roof that is primarily shut. The Blue Jays are currently in the research phase, working with the leading agricultural school in Ontario, Guelph University. Working with the researchers from Guelph University, many assortments of grasses and conditions are being tested in order to distinguish which procedure can fit within the Rogers Center environment. They hope to have research concluded, and the correct species of grass selected and growing by some point in 2015. With this deadline carried out, it is believed that the grass will be effectively grown and correct stadium alterations will be finished by the 2017 off-season, meaning natural grass for the Blue Jays for opening day, 2018.
As for the Tampa Bay Rays, their facility situation seems to be up in the air at the moment. As Baseball Essential’s, Jake Hasan wrote, the Tampa Bay Ray’s request to look for a home elsewhere was denied by the city of St. Petersburg this week. The Rays currently play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2012, Tropicana Field was ranked in the bottom five of the worst baseball fields by Bleacher Report, predominantly for their low attendance statistics, dull setting, and artificial turf. The Rays intend on finding or building a new field that involves an all natural playing surface. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg previously stated that if the City of St. Petersburg denied access to search for a new home, he would look into selling the team to an entity looking to move the team out of St. Petersburg once the lease with the city had come to a close in 2027.
It has come quite clear around MLB that artificial turf is not only an unattractive aspect of the game, but also hazardous to the safety of players. With only two organizations, the Blue Jays and Rays, using an artificial playing surface, it appears as if both organizations are working diligently to eliminate artificial turf from their facilities, ultimately ending the idea of playing baseball on artificial turf in the MLB.
It never did belong in baseball. The sooner it’s completely gone, the better.