How Much Rain Is Too Much For Baseball?

The Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers were rained out in Detroit on Wednesday, after trying desperately to get their game in; they managed just three innings before a severe thunderstorm with heavy rain forced postponement.

Later Wednesday night, the Cubs and Mets played five innings in a steady wind/fog/mist before the rain got heavier and the umpires finally stopped the game in the top of the seventh inning; Cubs manager Mike Quade made a vehement protest, suggesting that the teams had played in a moderate rain for some time and the Cubs should be permitted to bat in the bottom of the inning. That fell on deaf umpire ears; the game was stopped and the Cubs lost 7-4.

The Rays/Tigers postponement was the 30th of this season -- and we're not even into June yet. That includes four games not played on May 17 in cities as far apart as Washington, Boston, New York and Detroit. At this time a year ago, only eight games had been rained (or snowed) out.

Obviously, MLB can't control the weather, although about a dozen or so teams either play in cities where it rarely rains during the baseball season or in domed stadiums. Just 90 miles north of Chicago, the Brewers and Nationals played before 34,419 in pleasant conditions Wednesday -- indoors. This spring has been unusually cold and wet in the midwest and northeast, and MLB, unfortunately, allowed the computer firm that makes out the schedule to place more games than usual in these regions early in the season. The Cubs, for example, had 33 home games -- nearly half the home schedule -- put on the calendar for Wrigley Field by June 1. They've already had three postponements and Thursday's game was played in poor conditions for baseball -- temperatures in the low 40s with strong winds and a wet playing field, which may have helped cause an injury to Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, who slipped while running to cover first base and had to leave the game.

What baseball can -- and should -- control are the conditions under which games are played. Playing in awful weather like this dates back (at least) to the 2008 World Series, when Bud Selig made the Rays and Phillies play until the game was tied up so he could legitimately suspend it and finish it at a later date. Now, any game that's tied once it becomes official that is stopped for a rain delay is automatically suspended, presuming the rain doesn't stop.

That led to playing through awful conditions on May 14 in Chicago, when the Cubs played the Giants in a Fox-TV date in steady rain; the game was stopped only when the rain got even harder. There were suggestions at the time that the national TV appearance was one of the reasons for not postponing the game. They played through steady light rain again at Wrigley Field Wednesday night; after the game became official with the Mets leading the Cubs 7-4 after five innings, the Scotland-like mist morphed into heavier rain. The umpires should have told both benches at that time that they'd play one more inning, which would have been fair to both the Cubs and Mets; it would essentially have made the sixth inning the "ninth" inning.

Instead, they slogged on through conditions where pitchers couldn't get good grips on the ball and catching popups with rain falling heavily was an adventure. The rain finally got too hard with two out in the top of the seventh, leading to Quade's animated yelling at Dale Scott and his crew.

Playing in these conditions is unfair to the paying customer, but even more importantly, it's risky to players, who could be seriously injured. On May 11, 2003 umpires forced the Cubs and Cardinals to play four innings in conditions even worse than last night's; seven home runs were hit and St. Louis led 11-9 before the game was stopped after Eli Marrero suffered a severe ankle injury in right field. Marrero came back, but was never quite the same player and retired only three years later, at 32.

MLB should adopt a rule that allows for any game that becomes official to be suspended, not just a game that's tied. That would make the decision much easier for umpires, who must feel pressure to keep playing as long as possible in conditions that, 20 or 30 years ago, baseball would never have been played; it's this mentality that pushed umpires to wait three hours in Texas Tuesday night for the White Sox and Rangers to resume a game that wound up ending after 1 a.m. local time. It can't be about the money -- once a game is official, no refunds or exchanges are permitted -- so do the right thing, MLB, and allow for weather-affected games to be suspended, no matter the score.

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