On Baseball, The Cubs, And Rainouts

Brian Kersey

The weather so far this season for the Cubs' first homestand has been awful. And it's about to get worse. Thus, the team's dilemma.

I've sat through a tremendous number of baseball games played in cold, wet weather, but the first Wrigley Field homestand of 2013 might take the prize for such things.

For the seven games played so far at Wrigley Field in 2013, the average game-time temperature has been 43 degrees -- and that includes a 61-degree Opening Day. Just two of those games have been played in conditions that could be considered even decent -- Opening Day, which was sunny and pleasant, and Sunday, where it was sunny, though a bit cold. The rest of the games have taken place in weather that was cold, windy, rainy or all three; I can't remember a homestand of this length when I felt it necessary to bring rain gear every single day.

In years past, teams would routinely postpone games when it was cold or wet like this; I can recall one early 1978 game that I had shown up at Wrigley for, only to find out it had been called because it was a bit foggy with a slight chance of rain. Of course, weather forecasting has become much more accurate since then, and there's a lot more money at stake, both in ticket receipts and television ad revenue, than there was in decades past.

Combine that with this being the first season of year-round interleague play, and you have a setup for crunch time in terms of making up games that can't be played when originally scheduled. In the last week alone, six major-league games have been postponed -- Cubs/Brewers last Wednesday, oddly, on a day when it stopped raining before game time and they probably could have gotten it in; two straight Yankees/Indians games in Cleveland; Rays at Red Sox last Friday; the Mets and Twins were snowed out in Minneapolis Sunday and then the Mets apparently brought the snow with them to Denver, where they were snowed out of their game with the Rockies Monday. The last of those is the only one that's already been made up, on another brutally cold day in Denver Tuesday.

Look, for example, at the Cubs' day-to-day schedule from 1960. If you scan the list of games in April and May, it appears that they were rained out two days in a row in St. Louis, then a couple of times at home against the Giants and Dodgers, then didn't play for an entire week between May 5 and 12. This wasn't atypical of most teams in that era; if it were cold or wet, they wouldn't even open the doors. The eventual result: the rainouts forced them to play three doubleheaders in five days in September, 1960.

In those days, with smaller crowds, smaller payrolls and lower ticket prices, it didn't matter that much if a game were called for bad weather. Teams knew they could sell more tickets in warmer conditions, and in that era, a doubleheader was an attraction -- two games for the price of one. Now, a straight doubleheader -- and the Cubs haven't played one of those at home since August 2006 -- is a distraction, and if teams are forced into playing two games on one day, they'll split admissions, as the Cubs will do to make up the Brewers rainout on July 30.

The issue this year is going to be interleague series like the one the Cubs are playing now. If the Cubs and Rangers can't play tonight or tomorrow -- and that's looking iffy -- when do they make them up, when the teams only meet once? The Rangers return to Chicago to play the White Sox August 22, 23 and 24, but the Cubs will be in the middle of a West Coast road trip then. (It would be cool, though, to someday see a split DH where a visiting team plays the Cubs at Wrigley in the afternoon, the White Sox at the Cell at night, or vice versa.)

The teams have three common off days coming up soon: May 6 and 9, and June 3. The Cubs will be in the midst of a homestand on the May dates; they have a two-game set with the Cardinals May 7 and 8 while the Rangers are in Milwaukee. A makeup on either one of those dates would likely work, without having to have MLBPA approval for going past the 20-consecutive-days limit. The Rangers and Cubs both finish homestands on June 2, before that off day on June 3; they could meet in Chicago on that date also without going over the 20-day limit.

It's still morning in Chicago as I write this, and I'm not necessarily suggesting the Cubs call tonight's game this early (although the Iowa Cubs have already postponed tonight's game in Des Moines), but the weather forecast for tonight does not look good, and the entire area is already under a severe thunderstorm watch until 5 p.m. CDT (which is likely to be extended). Tomorrow's forecast is just as bad, which gives the Cubs their dilemma: do they attempt to wait tonight out, knowing they have an afternoon game tomorrow? Or do they call this game, schedule a straight doubleheader tomorrow and try to get one game in, then reschedule the other one for one of the off days?

Beyond all that, the bad weather has made a lot of ticket buyers stay home. "Crowds" at Wrigley have been far, far smaller than the announced tickets-sold count, which also hurts the bottom line in the form of much lower concession sales. I'm sure the Cubs would rather have more home dates in the summer -- this year, between June 14 and July 29, a period of 46 days, they have just 12 home dates -- but then, the dome and warm-weather teams don't want all their home games in April and May, either, when kids are in school. On the other hand, weather like this is not conducive to good baseball. Yes, I know, both teams have to play in it, but in general, these types of conditions are better for pitchers. Thus, an offensively-challenged team like the Cubs is put at a further disadvantage.

It's a tough one. I don't envy the Cubs their decisions on whether to play the next two games; since this is the Rangers' only visit, the umpires and MLB will have the ultimate call. But it doesn't look very good for either one.

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