How I Introduced a New Homerun Measurement to Baseball

Candlestick Park CC Wikipedia

Syd reminisces about the early days of his relationship with Rock and Roll and technological innovations.

Diane and I worked in Candlestick Park during a Giants vs. Dodgers opening week baseball game. I  perfected it at Yankee Stadium in November 1990.

New applications are always exciting in any business. My video measuring system has so many areas that it can help advance current applications; each day is an exciting one for me. Late September, 1990 I was listening to a controversy on the radio of a homerun hit by Jesse Barfield. He said it traveled one distance, and someone else said it traveled another. Hearing this, it quickly occurred to me that if I had our video measuring system at the stadium, I would be able to settle the argument and tell exactly how far the ball traveled. This got me thinking that I could tell anyone who cared any distance in the stadium, regardless of it being a homerun, double, a throw to second base or third, even how far a outfielder ran for a ball.

I called the Mets to try this system out and they were busy in a pennant chase and told me they had no time. I called the Yankees and was able to get their stadium operations manager, Tim Hasset, to allow me to try my idea out at the stadium. I was just introducing it to different microscope dealers throughout the country and knew that it could work in looking at microchips under a video microscope. At the stadium I found that it did not work. I found out that I could not just point a camera at the field and do a measurement. Disappointed, but not disheartened, I left and went back to my office. I then realized that if I had an overhead view of the playing field, shot at 90 degrees, and then placed through my system onto a tv monitor, I would be able to work our system. My only caveat was how to calibrate. It then occurred to me that the standard in all stadiums was the distance from first to third base, 127 feet, and the distance from home to dead center field, 408 feet at Yankee stadium. I new in my heart that it would work.

I waited for three months and then wrote letters to all stadiums. None responded. I called up three, and George Costa, VP of stadium operations at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, expressed more than a passing interest. I also found that IBM was running a continuous promotion at 18 ballparks where they give $10,000 to the charity of choice to the player who hits the longest homerun in that stadium. The team must put on their scoreboard “IBM Tale of the Tape measured to {distance}”. What I also found out was that this was sometimes inaccurate and worked on a stadium survey done of the outfield areas, and transferred to a grid in the scorebox. It did not offer any field distance, just whatever went into the stands. I knew we could offer more, and hopefully enhance the game of baseball for its fans.

I knew that I would be going to San Francisco on school board business, the National School Board Association meeting. I called George Costa and told him that I would be there the week of April 16. He told me that opening game was the 16th, I told him that I had meetings I had to go to and could not make it. He then asked if I could come and show him the system after the conference and work a game. I quickly said yes. I called all over the West Coast and was able to get an aerial photograph of Candlestick. Thank g-d for fax machines. Bay Graphics faxed me the photos and I chose the one with the best view of the stadium. I also contacted my microscope dealer in SF; they would loan me a tv monitor. I seemed to be set.

My contact with the Grateful Dead goes back many years. Three years before visiting Candlestick Park I became friends with Dennis McNally, the publicist and backstage tsar of the band. He helped me to get to Mickey Hart, when I wanted Mickey to come back to his alma mater, Lawrence High School, which he graduated from in 1961, and Mickey did! Dennis had also helped me when I was at a concert and wanted to take my daughters to a clean bathroom, or go backstage to get a soda or meet members of the band; Dennis was always there. I helped him over time by getting Mickey great pr and getting a tv anchorman in Buffalo to do a complimentary piece on the Dead when then were in town. Dennis would always see me in colorful casual attire and in a relaxed concert mood. I would always see him wired and tight as a drum, the whole world on his shoulders backstage, working his ass off. In Buffalo, I noticed that Dennis wore an SF Giant tee shirt with a Dead logo on it. I stored that in my head. In Nassau Coliseum, in March, I saw Dennis and told him I would be out to the coast next month. He said to call him. At that point, things just clicked. I called George Costa back and asked him if I could get two tickets for the Giant homeopener for Dennis McNally. As luck would have it, they knew each other from some past experience. George said he would put them away for Dennis and would not accept money from me. I called Dennis and told him the good new; he was ecstatic. He would be taking his wife Suzan, an even bigger SF Giants fan than Dennis.

Opening day passed and it was cold and brutal, but Dennis went that Monday night April 16. That next day the school board meetings ended. I got to the stadium one pm to speak to George and he had bad news. He said that his people did not want to replace the Tale of the Tape at the stadium and they were afraid that they would loose $10,000 worth of charity.

I told them that IBM knew of us and we were not a threat to them. We also did not need to be mentioned: we were there to enhance the game, not change it. George called his boss and they said they wanted to now see the system in operation and that I should come by that evening and work the game. They gave me a luxury box with 10 tickets and told me it was mine for the night. I quickly called my microscope dealer and told him to bring a sales rep, and I would leave them tickets at my hotel. I then called Dennis and asked him how the game was the night before. He said they were the best seats he had ever had but it was freezing. I then told him I had 6 extra luxury seats, in an enclosed box, and he was welcomed to them. He almost died at that moment. He said he would take them and bring people from the Dead organization. I told him I would drop them off. I got to the ballpark at 6 and was set up by 6:30 pm. I knew from the moment I was there that it would work. The test came in the fourth inning when George Costa just happened to be in the booth, as serendipitous a situation as ever had occurred. The moment I finished the demonstration, Will Clark hits a blast into the stands. I quickly identified where the ball landed and measure the distance to 383 feet. I told Terence Lundy, my dealer in SF, to tell ESPN to announce that the distance was optech measured. No sooner had he left the room then I see flashed on the scoreboard “IBM Tale of the Tape measured to 379 feet”. George looks at me and says, “Syd, I believe your numbers.” Dennis McNally who has witnessed this event smiles and says, “Syd it’s real nice seeing you working and in suit and me sitting here, not worrying about anything, nice role reversal.” I laughed and said it was the first time I had ever seen him sitting still for more than five minutes. We both laughed. George said he was definitely interested. I knew it had a place in baseball.