Rain is the worst. It gets the back of my pants all wet, causes my windshield and my glasses to fog up, and, when combined with high winds, has caused leaks in my roof. But perhaps worst of all, it messes with baseball. And that, my friends, is unacceptable.
The Nats have had a rough go of it this week when it comes to rain. They haven’t had any game action since their bout with the Yankees was suspended at the top of the 6th inning on the 15th, and they haven’t finished a game since they pulled off a four game sweep of the NL leading Diamondbacks way back on the 13th. An extra day off here or there is usually helpful for the guys, but we’ve gotten to ridiculous levels at this point. Max Scherzer, who was slated to take the bump for tonight’s matchup with the Dodgers, will end up going over a week between starts. For guys used to the routine of the season, that’s a long layoff.
These extended rain issues, as well as the cold/snow issues that plagued the start of the season, has led to a lot of questions regarding stadiums. In an ideal world, every stadium would have a roof, or some ability to magically place a bubble over the stadium so rain doesn’t affect the game. Some argue that in 2018, there’s no excuse for every stadium to not be equipped with a retractable roof. I know this is one of Steve “Ghost” Mears’ biggest long-time pet peeves, and now Washington Post reporter Jorge Castillo has brought it up and tweeted about it this week.
While roofs in theory are a simple yet expensive solution, the logistics are messy and the negotiations as to who pays for it is arduous. Retractable roofs in a new stadium design would add around $100 million or more to project costs which is about $5 million per year for a 20-year deal, and they can’t just be plopped onto the top of existing stadiums given structural, space, and retrofit constraints. The All England Club is adding a retrofitted retractable roof over their tennis stadium to be completed by 2019 at a cost of $150 million which gives you a good idea for what it would cost for a roof at Nationals Park which is already 10 1/4 years into its lease. It just is not feasible for Nationals Park. Stadium financing deals are a hot issue these days as it is, so this is something that the future baseball world will have to grapple with.
What we can change about rain delays is how they’re handled. Waiting until the last minute to make a decision, or sitting through long stretches of delays are ridiculous. I understand that everything goes into attempting to play each game as scheduled. Fans have purchased tickets, and some aren’t able to come back to another game. Doubleheaders aren’t ideal unless you’re old-school Ernie Banks and “Let’s Play Two”. That’s a lot of baseball in a single day, and you often end up resting guys who would have normally played in both games, which means you’re potentially not playing with your most competitive team. Nobody wants that. And it could be murder on a bullpen.
This, by the way, is a theory I’d like to dispel once and for all. It costs them a whole lot more to get the stadium up and running, cook food people won’t eat, pay employees, etc, than 5,000 people can spend on a beer in an hour. Just stop with this. https://t.co/ncRxPibWkz
— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) May 18, 2018
That said, postponing games is often the right call. What irritates me is how long that decision frequently takes. First, let’s dispel the silly notion that the team waits until people arrive at the ballpark so they can make money off of some food and beer sales. The cost of getting the stadium up and running far outweighs what they make on a handful of people buying concessions. So let’s all move on from that story line, ok? I don’t have a problem with delayed starts, or mid-game delays when the weather legitimately looks like it’s going to clear up at some point. Again, the goal is to always play the game as scheduled, so I can be flexible. I understand that I am taking this risk when I plan to go to an outdoor sporting event. What gripes me, however, is when there seems to be little question with the weather, like tonight. For days, it’s been clear that it was going to rain, and rain, and rain, through some point tomorrow. So why does an announcement take so long?
Player safety should be the #1 thing considered when evaluating if a game can take place or not. Obviously the schedule of both teams is a huge factor as well, but safety should be the #1 concern. The risk of injury is too high when field conditions are less than ideal, and we’ve seen guys get hurt because of it. Wilson Ramos aka Buffalo was taken out with an ACL injury just before the playoffs in 2016. Bryce Harper somehow magically didn’t tear his ACL when he slipped on a wet base last year, but he still missed a chunk of time and was not the same for the NLDS as he just did not have the proper time to get his timing back. Several years ago, he was hurt during a rainy game when he slipped in the outfield and hurt his hamstring. The risk is high, and guys have gotten hurt. Why can’t we stop that kind of madness and err on the side of caution?
Postponing tonight’s game should have been a no-brainer early this morning, regardless of if it ends up raining throughout the evening or not. DC has logged at least 0.4 inches of rain every day for the last 6 days, which Capital Weather Gang says is the longest streak in recorded history. DC has also gotten over 5 inches of rain in the last week (as of Capital Weather Gang’s tweet this afternoon). To put that into perspective, the normal amount of rain the entire month of May usually sees is 3.99 inches. Imagine what the conditions on the field must be like after a week like this. (Kudos to the grounds crew for what I’m sure has been a tremendous amount of work to try and keep the field as together as possible.)
Knowing that it’s going to rain until tomorrow, combined with the rain we’ve had all week, this call should have been an easy one, and it shouldn’t have taken until 2 hours before scheduled first pitch to happen. There need to be some kind of guidelines in place to help make these decisions. MLB should put parameters around acceptable length of delays. If a rain delay lasts, say, 2 hours, the game is suspended by rule. If it doesn’t look like there will be a window longer than, say, 2 hours during the evening to have continuous game action, the game is postponed. I find it hard to believe that some set of “rules” along these lines can’t be created. Obviously, there will be exceptions, such as it being late in the season with little time to make up games, both teams’ schedules, etc., but anything would be better than the “wait and see” policy that’s in place now. Guidelines would give both fans and players a better idea of what to expect, which will help shape how they handle the evening.
Mandating that all ballparks have roofs is a messy, complicated, and very expensive road to go down. Until people being navigating that, setting some guidelines seems like a simple, short term solution. It won’t be perfect, but if it can give fans a better idea of what’s going on, and help keep players safe, it seems like it’s a conversation that’s worth MLB’s time.