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Rifle Muskets and Coors Field: A Revisionist Approach to the Colorado Rockies and Cooperstown

SBN Baseball recently decided to do its own Hall of Fame balloting, "inductees" announced 4 January 2010. Allowed ten votes, I placed only six on mine: Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Andre Dawson, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Bert Blyleven. (Waits for someone to accuse him of being a Yankees fan because of the Mattingly vote.) All right, I bet that many of you would have a different ballot, and I ask you to offer your own ballots. I hesitated over Tim Raines and Fred McGriff. Rock gets lost in the shadow of Rickey Henderson and the Crime Dog fell just short of that magical stat of 500 homers.

I didn't give much thought to Andres Galarraga. He had some great seasons for the Rockies. He also had some good seasons elsewhere. However, nothing screams Hall of Fame to me. Should I have voted for him as some sort of symbolic gesture: "Hey, this guy was good and played in Coors Field for the Rockies, but don't throw him off the ballot after his first year of eligibility." Join me after jump to find out how this relates to the rifle musket.

Is the Hall of Fame ready for any Rockie? Is Coors Field going to be a detriment to a player's cause? Let's say we have a premise in "Andres Galarraga provides an early litmus test for how Hall voters will react when future Rockies appear." The premise might be stronger if we were a year into the future and we substitute Larry Walker for Andres Galarraga, and for all I know it may be false. But for the sake of this argument, it's true. It appears doubtful Galarraga will garner a huge amount of votes, but will he receive the 5% necessary to move onto the next ballot? If he fails to make the cut on this ballot, we'll all look to 2011 and wait to see the percentage of votes Walker receives. If the Big Cat makes it to the next ballot, maybe we can argue there is a changing perception on the Rockies, Coors Field, and the Hall. Yet, I'll negate that by arguing that it's probably a bad thing for Galarraga to advance because his name will get lost in the shuffle as both controversial and deserving candidates become eligible for the first time: Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, and Juan Gonzalez among others.

So what does this have to do with the rifle musket?

I want to advocate for a revisionist history of Coors Field in the mold of the rifle musket. The standard history of the rifle musket is that it was a game-changer. War, in particular the American Civil War, was far deadlier than previous conflicts as a result of the rifle musket. Soldiers could strike their opponents at ever-increasing distances. The renowned historian Russell Weigley believed the Civil War demonstrated the devastation the rifle musket could display.1

But those advocates of this standard interpretation failed to understand that the rifle musket shot its bullet in a parabola, creating two killing zones and one safe zone. Putting that aside for a moment, the standard interpretation, as Earl J. Hess argues in The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Myth and Reality (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2008), did not take into account the actual distance at which soldiers fired. They were only concerned with the possible range of the rifle musket, not at what range soldiers shot. Paddy Griffith first evaluated the standard interpretation in 1989 with Battle Tactics of the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press) and concluded more research needed to be done in this area. Earl Hess took that challenge up in The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat. He concluded that the rifle musket had little impact on major combat operations and helped in skirmishing and sniping. The failure of the rifle musket to make war more devastating was the range at which soldiers fired and the parabolic trajectory of the bullet. Most men who used the rifle musket (it wasn't until the second half of the war that the rifle musket became the dominant weapon on the battlefield) were poorly trained in its art. And it was the only rifle musket war. Breech-loaders and the bolt-action rifle soon took over after the end of the ACW.

Was Coors Field, like the rifle musket, a real game-changer? Will the voters be more concerned with their perception of Coors Field or with the actual results? Just as one needed to be well-trained with the rifle musket to compensate for the parabolic trajectory of the bullet, one also needs to be able to hit well in order to take advantage of deadly Coors Field and hit even better. Are the Great American Ballpark and Citizens Bank Park the equivalent of the breech-loader and the bolt-action rifle?

It is time for voters and baseball fans to reevaluate their opinions on the Rockies and Coors Field.

1 Russell F. Weigley, A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000), xix.