To play, or not to play? That is the question
I used to know when a game should be delayed by rain. I used to know when a game that was delayed by rain should be resumed. I used to know when a game should be deemed postponed by rain.
Now, I'm not so sure.
And I'm blaming it on the Internet and cellphones.
The rule of thumb for rain delays used to be simple: you play if it's not raining and the field is playable; you don't if it's raining too hard or if the field conditions are dangerous.
These days, we have synthetic turf fields (often funded by taxpayers) that drain faster than your bathtub, turface, Doppler radar, 24-hour weather channels and some people still can't figure out when to play, when to stop playing and when to resume playing.
Here are a couple of examples:
* The Wild Things' game Sunday against Joliet. Important game in the Frontier League East Division standings for both teams, but especially Washington. The game was properly halted in the seventh inning, at 7 p.m. on the dot, when heavy rain began falling. Joliet led 4-2 at the time. A strong storm blew through and the radar looked ugly, with plenty of blue, yellow and green patches. The rain subsided to a few drops -- not nearly enough to stop a game -- by 8:45 p.m.
Players mingled on the field, what few fans remained in the ballpark gathered and waited on the concourse, what little water was standing on the field had long since drained off.
The only thing left was for the umpires to return to the field and tell the pitchers to begin warming up.
From what information I could gather, they had already decided the the game was postponed. They just hadn't told anybody. The radar looked too bad to resume playing, they deemed.
Therein is the big problem. Anybody who knows weather in Western Pennsylvania knows it's often unpredictable at this time of year. Storms pop up out of nowhere, others break up (for reasons I and local TV weathermen can't figure out) with no rhyme or reason. We had an example earlier this month when the Pony League World Series, which is played at Washington Park on the east side of the city, had heavy rain and a delay of about 90 minutes. At Consol Energy Park that same night, not a drop of rain. No rain delay in the Wild Things game. The radar said it was raining and it sure looked bad, but there was no rain.
In the days before cellphones and the weatherunderground app, the Wild Things and Slammers would have resumed playing Sunday. And it would have been the right decision. After the decision to cancel the game, I had enough time to do some interviews, walk back and forth between the pressbox and clubhouse, write a 22-inch story, walk to my car and drive to the office without encountering more than a dozen drops of rain.
An important game like that one should have been resumed. Back in my day (I can't believe I wrote that), the game would have been resumed. No radar, no cellphones. Just extending your hand and feeling if it's raining and looking at the condition of the field was all that was necessary.
* Earlier this season, and one of the reasons the Wild Things needed to play Sunday, was their decision to cancel (not postpone) a game against Normal. It was July 28 and the final game of a three-game homestand against Normal. It had rained all day. At 6 p.m., one hour before game time, it was decided to cancel the game. There were various reasons. One was that because of the all-day rain it was feared that nobody would show up. The Wild Things wouldn't make any money if they played. It also was a game Trevor Foss was scheduled to pitch for Washington. The Wild Things, who were in a playoff position at the time, were looking at a worst-case scenario of starting the game with their ace on the mound, having the game rained out after an inning or two and not being able to throw Foss for another five or six days. So they banged the game.
Because it was the last scheduled game with the CornBelters, it would not be made up. When Washington dropped below the playoff line, that missed game starting working against the Wild Things. It's one less game they have a chance to win.
What happened that night and the next day? Well, it stopped raining at 6:30 p.m. and didn't rain again for two days. The sun even came out at 8 p.m. It was sunny, there was no water on the synthetic turf and the game was banged before even a pitch was thrown. Then, the next day, Foss started for Washington in Florence and that game was suspended in the fifth inning because of rain. Foss was a signed a few days later by the Cleveland Indians.
Several Pirates games over the past three years had the same scenario -- rain delay but no rain. Yet there was a game against San Diego in 2006 (see photo) that was wasn't stopped despite steady rain that left puddles all over the infield. One Padres player commented after the game that he had never been positioned behind a lake during a game.
It reminds me of what a former minor league general manager once told me about a game he was involved with. It is the home team's decision to start or delay game before the first pitch is thrown. Once the game starts, then it's up the umpires to decided to delay, resume or continue. The former minor league executive told me his team was hosting a game against a Chicago Cubs affiliate. The Cubs had one of their top prospects pitching that night. The sky was darkening at game time and rain was in the forecast. The decision was made not to delay the game, which triggered a tirade by the prospect about starting a game with a chance of rain.
That old baseball executive told me, "I'll never delay a game because it might rain. You know why? Because it might not."
In other words, he'll delay a game if it's raining and he'll play if it's not. No radar apps needed.
Sounds like a good system to me.