Dan's Dugout: Mother Nature is Not a Baseball Fan • Latino Sports

Baseball

Dan’s Dugout: Mother Nature is Not a Baseball Fan

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Starting the baseball season on March 29 is a bad idea for a wide variety of reasons.

The biggest is weather.

Snow April Fool’s joke: snow-shrouded Yankee Stadium had no opener
Credit: Cesar Diaz

With six inches of snow on the ground Monday morning, the New York Yankees had no choice but to postpone the Yankee Stadium opener til Tuesday – when rain is in the forecast.

Perhaps they had no memory of April 6, 1982, when a foot of snow fell on the Bronx, forcing a five-day postponement of that year’s opener in the Bronx. The team opened with a doubleheader on Easter Sunday.

In fact, it was only three years ago that snow fell on Yankee Stadium as late as April 22.

The bottom line is this: Major League Baseball has to start early or risk running into snow on the other end of the schedule. With four rounds of scheduled playoffs – and more if a division ever ends in a three-way tie – we’ve already had home runs and champagne parties in November.

Future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, who spent 20 years with the Yankees before buying the Miami Marlins, hit the first long ball in the next-to-last month.

Derek Jeter delivered the first November homer

Since seven teams play in domed ballparks, and nearly a dozen play in places with benign climates, avoiding northern openers should be a simple task for MLB schedule-makers.

But noooooooo.

Look at the team that play in domes: Houston, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Toronto in the American League and Arizona, Miami, and Milwaukee in the National.

Two of the domes – Minute Maid Park in Houston and Milwaukee’s Miller Park – stood empty while games in Cincinnati and Detroit, both uncovered, were rained out.

While starting the season in sunny San Diego was a good idea, scheduling the Padres to play a team with a covered stadium was not.

The baseball season used to start in mid-April, about the same time taxes were due.

But that was before baseball had three divisions, two wild-card winners, and a playoff system with so many off-days that teams can get by with two decent starters.

Postponements have always been part of the game.

Fans in Detroit received the first rain checks in baseball history – in 1888. Ticket holders for a rained-out game were admitted free to the next contest.

The 1909 Philadelphia Phillies were rained out for 10 days in a row, a dubious major-league record.

Lightning and baseball are a lethal combination
Credit: Getty Images

Weather often wipes out games in progress.

Early in the century, Washington manager Joe Cantillon was ecstatic that his Senators took an early 5-1 lead against the Tigers. But a fierce storm broke, ending the game before the required five innings, and the uniformed players broke for their horse-drawn bus. As the last man boarded, a bolt of lightning struck, killing the two horses. Cantillon looked at his players, raised his hands skyward, and said, “What kind of justice is there in heaven that strikes these poor creatures dead and leaves these miserable vegetables sitting here alive?”

On August 24, 1919, lightning flattened Cleveland pitcher Ray Caldwell with two outs in the ninth inning. Determined to hold his 2-1 lead over the Philadelphia Athletics, he made quick work of the last hitter.

Lightning actually helped Phillies slugger Gavvy Cravath win a game against the New York Giants in the days before ballparks had lights. With the aid of a bright lightning flash, he hit a Red Ames pitch deep into the outfield. Dark silence followed before everyone in the ballpark heard the ball rattle the wooden bleachers for the only run of the game.

With a fireworks show scheduled for Fulton County Stadium after the game of July 4, 1985, the Atlanta Braves were determined not to let a pair of rain delays interfere. They eventually took 19 innings to lose a 16-13 marathon to the New York Mets. When the fireworks went off anyway at 4 o’clock in the morning, startled residents thought a war had started.

True fans have the patience to wait out rain delays. But only a few hundred waited the full seven-and-a-half hours before the Chicago White Sox finally pulled the plug on their scheduled game with the Texas Rangers on August 12, 1990.

Many players, including Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto, were unnerved by lightning. Baltimore’s Willie Tasby even played center field shoeless in electrical storms because he didn’t like the idea of standing in a puddle while wearing metal spikes.

Phil Rizzuto hated lightning as both a player and announcer

On July 8, 2012, players from both teams bolted for their respective dugouts when a bright bolt of lightning halted play between the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers in Arlington.

Snow and fog aren’t as lethal but do create memorable circumstances.

Snowball-throwing Philadelphia fans forced a forfeit of the 1907 Phillies opener against the New York Giants. The barrage began in the eighth inning but increased so quickly that play had to be halted. Home-plate umpire Bill Klem, the target of the angry fans, gave New York a 9-0 win.

The first fog-out in National League annals occurred in 1956, with the Chicago Cubs playing the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Twelve years earlier, however, the same teams were in the same location when nature wiped out a game on a sunny day. In the sixth inning of a September doubleheader nightcap, gnats descended upon the stadium, forcing fans to wave their white scorecards in an effort to shoo them away. That created a hazard for the players’ vision, convincing the umpires to award the Dodgers a 2-0 win since five innings had been completed.

Fog shrouded the 12-inning perfect game of Pittsburgh lefty Harvey Haddix in Milwaukee on May 26, 1959 but Joe Adcock saw the ball well when he collected the winning hit in a 13th inning that was unlucky for the Pirates pitcher.

Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was famous for saying “Let’s Play Two”

Even Ernie Banks wouldn’t have wanted to play two on May 20, 1960. That was the day the Cubs and Braves were victims of the first fog-out at Milwaukee County Stadium. Umpire Frank Dascoli, having trouble seeing the three Cubs outfielders from home plate, took his three crew members and headed into the outfield. Frank Thomas of the Cubs hit a fungo that none of the seven men could see. That clinched it: the game, 0-0 in the last of the fifth, had to be replayed from scratch.

Fog can occur almost anywhere but is a regular visitor to San Francisco, where Candlestick Park and AT&T Park both have proximity to San Francisco Bay.

California also has issues with earthquakes. Minutes before the scheduled start of World Series Game 3 in 1989, a massive tremor rattled the entire Bay Area and shook Candlestick Park. The quake, which registered 6.9 on the Richter scale, struck at 5:04 p.m., caused the Oakland Bay Bridge to buckle, the Nimitz Freeway to pancake, and the Mission District to burn. There were numerous casualties, including 63 fatalities. The first World Series matchup of the two Bay Area teams, the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, resumed 10 days later.

No World Series game had been shortened by weather until Oct. 25, 2008, when the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies waited an hour-and-a-half during Game 3, finally finishing at 1:47 a.m.

Two days later, Major League Baseball invoked a new rule that mandated rain-delayed World Series games to be suspended rather than stopped.

Game 5 in Philadelphia was halted in the middle of the sixth inning in a 2-2 tie. Rather than requiring the game to be replayed from the beginning, it was resumed from the point of interruption two days later. The Phils won the game, 4-3, and the five-game Series.

Wild weather has hampered World Series play

Until cold weather cancelled the third game of the 2007 National League Division Series between the Phillies and Rockies, the only postseason game ever frozen out was Game 7 of the 1903 World Series – the first Fall Classic – between the Boston Pilgrims and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Rockies and Expos shouldn’t have played at all on April 12, 1997: game-time temperature was 28 and the official low that day hit 7 (yes, Mickey Mantle’s number). Naturally, snow in the middle innings added to the discomfort of players, coaches, and fans.

There have been a periodic adjustments in the rain rule but games still must be official to count.

The opening game of the 1911 Philadelphia Phillies was delayed six days, a regular-season record challenged by the 2007 Cleveland Indians. With just one strike needed to make the first game official, a blinding snowstorm started. That wiped out the entire four-game opening series against the Seattle Mariners – whose domed ballpark was unoccupied at the time.

With extended bad weather in the forecast, the Indians moved their second home series, against the Angels, to the vacant but domed Miller Park in Milwaukee. The Indians finally opened in Cleveland on April 13, one week after their scheduled opener.

Colorado’s Coors Field is notorious for April snow

Colorado has a constant problem with snow in April, the second-snowiest month of the year in Denver, and has suffered more than a dozen postponements – an April Fool’s joke that lasts the whole month. During the 1994 opener at old Mile High Field, the game-time temperature of 51 had fallen to 25 by the eighth inning. Plus it was snowing.

Snow also prevented the Rockies from working out at Coors Field during their eight-day layoff between the end of the Championship Series and start of the World Series. The hottest team in the majors lost their momentum and suffered a sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.

In baseball, as in life, a roof can leak. That happened during the Home Run Derby the day before the 2002 Milwaukee All-Star Game – embarrassing Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, former owner of the Brewers.

Rain erased seven home runs in one game on May 11, 2003. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and the wind was blowing out to right field at a 23-mph clip. Moises Alou homered in the first, Albert Pujols hit a grand-slam in the second, followed by a Corey Patterson solo shot. Then Tino Martinez and Troy O’Leary connected in the third. Martinez homered again in the fourth, along with Alex Gonzalez. Then it rained in the top of the fifth, negating the 11-9 St. Louis lead and all player records from the game.

Hurricane Irene in 2011 and hurricanes named Harvey and Maria in 2017 caused teams to change Sunday day games into Saturday doubleheaders and even to relocate games to neutral sites.

Wild winds also tore a hole in the roof of Olympic Stadium while the Montreal Expos played there and caused pitcher Stu Miller to balk during the 1961 All-Star Game in San Francisco (the National League won anyway).

Wind and snow created chaos in Montreal

Snow is certainly more benign than rain, wind, or lightning.

Six inches of snow blanketed Montreal’s Jarry Parc on May 6, 1970 but the Expos, a second-year expansion team, decided to play anyway. That allowed Rusty Staub to become the first man to homer into a snowbank. The ball cleared the right-field fence and sank into the snow.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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