Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rain Delays Without Rain

I sat down to watch some baseball tonight and was encountered by a modern phenomenon: games delayed by rain with no precipitation falling. The games in question were in Atlanta, where the New York Mets were to play the Braves, and Chicago, where the Milwaukee Brewers were to take on the Cubs.

To be fair, the skies in Atlanta looked foreboding and there were severe storms in the area (and the storms did roll over the stadium). But in Chicago a gray sky wasn't particularly threatening. In fact, Brewers' TV color commentator Bill Schroeder said it hadn't rained in an hour.

A shot of the Chicago radar showed light green patches coming through Chicago. Schroeder observed, "Radar is the worst thing that's happened to baseball." He added that when he played for the Brewers the heads groundskeeper, Harry Gill, didn't use radar. Gill would "call Madison and see if it's raining. Then he'd call Waukesha and ask if it's raining. No? Good, let's go."

Although I think this story is apocryphal, I think there's a kernel of truth in it. It seems logical that teams should rely on forecasts, radar and other science-based tools to decide whether to play. Unfortunately, predicting weather is inexact. This has led to absurd situations.

Earlier this season, a monster storm was predicted to drench the East Coast. Games in New York and Washington were canceled hours before their scheduled starts. Unfortunately, the rain didn't materialize.

I understand the problem teams face. Back in the days when games were shorter, ticket prices were not so high and attendance was lower, it didn't seem as big a deal to have long rain delays. But now owners are charging top dollar. Fans may not be as forgiving if they are held hostage in the stadium with not much to do. To their credit, at least a few teams give fans who brave terrible weather tickets to another game.

And starting and stopping games only adds to the wear and tear on high-priced pitchers.

I do wonder, though, if Schroeder isn't on to something. Maybe, as my grandmother used to say, "a little knowledge is dangerous."

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