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Baltimore Orioles

State knocks $600,000 off Orioles’ annual Camden Yards rent for team’s reconstruction of left field wall

It’s nearly impossible to quantify all the effects a deeper, taller left field wall at Camden Yards had on the Orioles’ 2022 season.

The wall — which the team built this spring 30 feet farther back than its predecessor — cost the Orioles more home runs than it did their opponents. And without it, the Orioles might have won one more game, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis.

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But one figure is now clear: the Orioles received a $593,413 discount in rent paid to the state during the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to records obtained Nov. 15 in a Maryland Public Information Act request. The credit was granted by the landlord, the Maryland Stadium Authority, in part to incentivize the Orioles to sign a new lease and further cement the team’s commitment to Baltimore.

The Orioles pay the stadium authority a fluctuating rent that’s based upon a percentage of ticket, advertising, parking and concession revenues. Over Camden Yards’ 31-year history, the club has paid an annual average of $6.7 million in rent. For the most recent fiscal year, the team owed $4.7 million, for which it received a 13% discount for building the wall.

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Camden Yards' left field wall, by the numbers:

  • $593,413discount the Orioles received in rent for the 2022 fiscal year for building new left field wall
  • $4.7 millionOrioles' total rent owed to the state for the 2022 fiscal year
  • 5years the Orioles could receive such a discount for building the $3 million wall
  • 57home runs lost to the wall in 2022
  • No. 1Camden Yards’ rank among MLB ballparks in total home runs allowed from 2000 to 2021
  • No. 23Camden Yards’ rank among MLB ballparks in total home runs allowed in 2022

The Orioles did not reply to requests for comment on the discount and the stadium authority declined to comment.

The Maryland Board of Public Works, which approves state contracts, approved the framework of the deal in January at the stadium authority’s request. The stadium authority recommended the Orioles receive a discount of one-fifth of the wall’s total cost per fiscal year from 2022 to 2026, up to $700,000, depending on the project’s cost, provided the Orioles extend the lease or sign a new one.

The Orioles will receive the $593,413 discount annually for the next four fiscal years, as long as a lease is agreed to.

The lease is set to expire Dec. 31, 2023, and the Orioles can exercise a one-time, five-year extension by Feb. 1. While negotiations between the parties are ongoing, Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos wrote in a September memo obtained by The Baltimore Sun that the Orioles intend to sign a new lease.

Workers assembled padding April 6, 2022, along a 13-foot left field wall at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The stadium authority did not provide an update requested Wednesday on lease negotiations, instead referring to a September statement in which it said it was “working closely with the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens so that Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium will be upgraded to remain best-in-class facilities.”

When the three-member Board of Public Works considered the rent discount plan, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot voted in favor. Democratic Treasurer Dereck Davis voted against it, questioning why the state should approve a “cosmetic request” from the Orioles.

“It seems like we can spend up to $3.5 million more productively than simply raising the left field wall,” he said at the time.

Stadium authority executive director Michael Frenz told the Board of Public Works that the “project should improve on-field performance and so it should result in some higher level of attendance and higher rents.”

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“In and of itself, the increased attendance resulting from this project may not generate sufficient revenue to pay for this project,” he said. “But additional projects and the ensuing partnership between the Orioles and the stadium authority is expected to result in higher revenues for the MSA and additional state and city economic impact from Orioles games and events at Oriole Park.”

Orioles left-fielder Austin Hays cannot make a play Aug. 23, 2022, on a deep fly ball by White Sox's Luis Robert in the seventh inning. However, the newly heighten left-field wall kept the ball in the park. The Orioles defeated the White Sox (5-3) at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Attendance at Camden Yards recently ranked among the lowest in MLB. But the team — which had its first winning season since 2016 this year — ranked 23rd in attendance in 2022, its first time above the bottom five since 2017. The team’s average announced crowd was 17,739 in 2022.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said earlier this year that the franchise’s inability to sign free-agent pitchers has been a “huge problem” over the lifetime of Camden Yards, which was built in 1992. By decreasing the number of home runs allowed, Camden Yards has become a more attractive place to pitch.

“We made the move for a reason,” Elias said, “and that reason is Orioles pitchers.”

Of course, that farther fence also helps opposing pitchers. And because right-handed hitters often hit the ball to left field, the new wall has made it hard on power-hitting righties — no matter which team they’re on.

New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who set an American League record with 62 home runs this season, would have hypothetically added one more to his season total if not for the wall. Former Orioles star Trey Mancini would have had six more home runs in 2022 and current Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle would have hit five more.

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So while the new wall benefits pitchers, it frustrates hitters.

“No hitters like it, myself included,” Mancini said during the season.

Before the new wall, no Major League Baseball stadium allowed more home runs this millennium than Oriole Park. From 2001 to 2021, Camden Yards saw 4,268 home runs — more than even the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, which is 5,200 feet above sea level, allowing baseballs to fly faster through the thin air.

The only park that averaged more home runs in recent years than Baltimore’s is the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ball Park, built in 2003. Its bandbox dimensions have given it the nickname “Great American Small Park.”

At Camden Yards, after the deeper fence was installed, the park saw the eighth-fewest home runs in the majors this season. There were 151 homers in Baltimore. That’s 27% fewer than the average over the previous two decades, with the wall robbing 57 would-be home runs, per MLB.com’s Statcast data.

Unlike other sports, such as basketball and football, that have precisely regulated playing areas, baseball’s outfield dimensions are not uniform. Though both home teams and visitors play on the same surface, a field can, in theory, favor a home team and improve its performance.

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“A team could tailor their lineup to take advantage of the home park’s unusual configuration,” Ron Selter, co-chair of the Ballparks Committee for the Society for American Baseball Research, wrote in an email. He noted the Orioles could invest in players who largely hit singles, rather than right-handed power hitters whose ability is somewhat hindered by the wall.

At the time the wall modifications were approved, only one of the Orioles’ top nine prospects was a strictly right-handed hitter.

In an effort to make what was one of baseball's biggest home run havens fairer and, perhaps, more appealing to free agent pitchers, Camden Yards' left field wall was remade prior to the 2022 season to be taller and farther from home plate, which also created sharp angles at the foul pole, and, especially, at the bullpens.(Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

It’s difficult to calculate the effect the wall had on the Orioles’ 2022 win-loss record, but the Sun analysis from October found the Orioles would have hypothetically won one more game if the wall had never been built. In that rough scenario, the 57 lost homers (33 of which were hit by the Orioles) would have counted as home runs, while everything else in those games remained the same.

Regardless of the Orioles’ performance, Frenz described the rent credit as part of a “much larger discussion” with the club.

“The team has an incentive to extend or otherwise renew the lease,” he said in January. “We view this concession as a relatively modest benefit for extending the lease to year-end 2023 and as a small part of a bigger-picture discussion with the team.”

Mark Conrad, who directs the sports business concentration at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, described the rent credit as a “carrot” that could encourage the Orioles to sign or extend the lease. Compared to the costs of financing a stadium, he said, it’s a small price to remain on good terms with the club.

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“In that sense, there’s a certain logic behind it,” Conrad said.

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But J.C. Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University whose research argues stadium subsidies are a poor investment of public money, questioned the stadium authority’s decision to give the rent credit.

“I don’t see how the state or taxpayers, or whoever is funding this, is made better off,” he said, noting the Orioles are benefiting at the state’s expense.

When the Board of Public Works approved the rent credit plan in January, Hogan described it as a “tiny” investment compared to the substantial money the state would provide for the ballpark to “renegotiate a lease with the Orioles.” Then in April, Hogan signed a bill providing up to $1.2 billion — $600 million for Camden Yards and $600 million for M&T Bank Stadium — of stadium improvements in the coming years, provided the teams agree to long-term leases.

Conrad said he’s skeptical of such large stadium subsidies and Bradbury said “there’s no real justification” for spending public money to improve stadiums occupied by privately owned teams.

As long as a lease is signed, some of the subsidy could be used to make further changes to Oriole Park’s outfield dimensions. However, the left field wall will remain the same for 2023, Elias said in October.

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“We’re planning renovations to Camden Yards as a whole over the next several years,” he said. “The whole outfield dimensions maybe will possibly be affected by that — or not. Certainly, it’s going to look this way again next year.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Nathan Ruiz contributed to this article.


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