For many baseball fans, there is only one surface that feels right to play a ballgame on, and that’s grass. Yet, despite our love of the natural stuff, for an extended period, many games were played on artificial surfaces. It became a phenomenon that saw baseball move away from real grass and toward the faster-paced astroturf. Where did this idea come from, and how come it stuck around for so long?
Playing at the Astrodome
The term ‘astroturf’ was dubbed thanks to its introduction in MLB at the Astrodome. Artificial grass became a necessity in the ‘60s when the Astrodome first began hosting baseball games. The design of the stadium at the time was special, and there were glass panels on the roof that were designed to help the grass grow.
By using a roof, it meant that the weather wouldn’t affect any of the games and the atmosphere would be way louder. The Astros were proud of their new home, but things didn’t work out so great for the fancy new ballpark.
Losing the grass
Although it has been using astroturf since 1966, originally there was grass in the Astrodome. In the 1965 season, grass was the preferred surface, but soon it became a problem. The glass panels in the Astrodome were designed to allow the sun into the stadium to let the grass grow, but it was also blinding the players on the field.
There was no way they could continue playing in those conditions, so the glass was painted to stop the blinding light coming through. That meant the grass was no longer getting the vital sunshine it needed to grow, and it began to deteriorate.
Finding a solution
The Astors needed to find a solution to the grass problem because they were not will to remove the paint from the roof. For a while, the team played on painted dirt before the idea of artificial grass was brought up. This new artificial grass was used for the 1966 season, and it was a big success. Not only were the players once again playing on a green surface, but it actually ran faster than natural grass. All of a sudden there was an advantage for teams to using an artificial surface.
In the 1970s there was a rise in the number of multipurpose stadiums used for both baseball and football. Baseball teams realized they could convert their playing surface to artificial grass and allow football teams to play without destroying their field.
Lots and lots of teams went down this route in the end, and ten of the 26 teams in the league had astroturf as their playing surface. Teams discovered the balls ran faster on this surface and used it to their advantage by changing how they played.
Baseball had historically been a game about power, but now that artificial surfaces were around, it changed. Baseball became all about stealing bases rather than hitting home runs which was exemplified by the 1982 World Series win be the Cardinals. Between the Cardinals’ roster they had over 200 stolen bases, but only 67 home runs. They were the lowest home run-scoring team in the league, yet they had gotten their hands on the biggest prize.
By the ‘90s baseball teams wanted to have their own ballparks, and that saw many of them leave their multipurpose arenas. That change of mentality also brought grass back to MLB as franchises made their arenas feel more like parks than stadiums. Astroturf has advanced to feel much more like real grass once more though, and there has been a resurgence of the surface in recent years.