A Day In Wrigley Field History: May 11, 2003

David Banks-US PRESSWIRE

These were probably the worst conditions in which they've ever tried to play baseball in Wrigley Field.

A Sunday afternoon in May against the Cardinals. The Cubs off to a good start after a poor season the year before. Well, that's a probable sellout, right?

So they tried to play baseball at Wrigley Field on this Sunday, which happened to be Mother's Day. They shouldn't have done this, because it was in the mid-40s with sustained winds at upwards of 35 miles per hour. Yes, I tried to sit through this game, with off-and-on drizzle and light rain in addition to the wind. It was so windy that I finally gave up trying to hold my umbrella and instead, just sat in the wet and watched the Cubs and Cardinals attempt to play baseball. It was so windy those of us who were there labeled this one the "Typhoon Game." There's no box score of this game because the teams only managed to finish four innings, with the Cardinals leading 11-9, before they finally called it. Toni Ginnetti of the Sun-Times describes the mayhem:

The blustery winds gusting to more than 40 mph turned routine fly balls into home runs and pop-ups into doubles falling between befuddled fielders on both teams.

"Nobody had a chance on pop-ups, and the wind could make you look ridiculous," Baker said.

Left fielder Moises Alou would attest to that after Jim Edmonds' fly ball near the foul line was blown to left-center and beyond the reach of a desperate dive by Alou in the fourth.

"Willie Mays couldn't have caught that ball," said Alou, who didn't mind being among the six players whose home runs were erased. "I gave it my best effort and wasn't even close. I think [the umpires] made the right choice. The conditions weren't good to play a ballgame." 

Well, the "right" choice would have been to not start in the first place. You might not think much of Jay Mariotti -- and neither do I -- but he was likely right about this:

So why did they try to play the unplayable ballgame? Because the Cubs , the same greedy sharks who set up their own brokerage firm to scalp tickets, prioritized the fat profits from a near-sellout event over the safety of players and comfort of fans. Up until the first pitch, when the umpiring crew assumed full control, a home team has the power to postpone a ballgame. But the Cubs clearly wanted to squeeze in at least five innings and make the game official, which would have padded their coffers with about $1 million in gate receipts alone. Never mind those sophisticated radar devices at Wrigley Field, which forecast more rain and wind into the night. Never mind the opinion of veteran observers, including former Cub and current St. Louis Cardinal Joe Girardi, that weather conditions rarely have been worse at the corner of Clark and Addison.

Money, as always, is the driving passion of the Tribune Co. baseball operation.

How perfect to see crew chief Bruce Froemming, after a 64-minute delay, apply common sense and end the charade in the top of the fifth. We've seen some insane games at Wrigley, such as the 23-22 classic against the Phillies. But if this exhibition of bizarroball had carried on, it wouldn't have been a classic as much as a corporate embarassment.

By calling the game at noontime Sunday, the Cubs would have made an important public-relations statement. They could have let everyone go home on Mother's Day and shown, at least for a day, that they aren't trying to squeeze every buck from the fans. But the house was juiced, the beer taps were flowing and the hot dogs were selling fast. There was money to be made.

Oh, how greed corrupts.

And Phil Rogers wrote about one other reason they shouldn't have played baseball on that wet, windy Sunday:

Because Major League Baseball hasn't wised up and decided that games stopped before they reach the five-inning minimum should be declared suspended games, and resumed from that point at a later date, it's as if this wild ride never happened. Except for the Cardinals, of course. They lost a valued player, everywhere man Eli Marrero, who skidded to a crash landing in right field in the fourth inning.

Marrero, who has already played five different positions, is expected to be out two to six weeks. He sustained a severe ankle sprain when his feet went out from under him as he tried to avoid a collision with center fielder Jim Edmonds on a fly by Juan Cruz. He rolled on the ground and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher.

MLB, 11 years later, still won't consider games of less than five innings for "suspended" status. They really ought to. 2003 was the year I started blogging about the Cubs; here's what I wrote about the aftermath of that day, in an article headlined "Appalling":

That's the only word I can use to describe the actions of the Cubs, MLB and today's umpiring crew, headed by the execrable Cub-hater Bruce Froemming, in starting and playing today's game in what I have to say were the most miserable conditions I have ever experienced at Wrigley Field.

And to what end? To save the Cubs' sellout crowd? Not so many years ago, a game scheduled to be played under these conditions would have been called off at 10 am; they wouldn't have even opened the gates.

But now, in the interests of probably $1 million in gross revenue to the Cubs, they open up, sell more beer and souvenirs, and attempted to play in horrid conditions, which resulted in poor pitching (seven home runs through four innings, a couple of hit batsmen), and what is perhaps a very serious injury to St. Louis RF Eli Marrero, who had to be carried off the field. It was reported as a "severely sprained ankle", but it looked to me like it could have been an Achilles tear, which could be career-threatening.

They've played baseball at Wrigley in conditions like this since then, a couple of times, most notably this 2011 game, which was played in a steady, cold rain, likely mandated by Fox-TV, which was doing regional Saturday night games that evening.

The May 11, 2003 rainout was made up as part of a doubleheader September 2, which the two teams split. It made for a five-game Cubs/Cardinals series, with the Cubs needing to win most every game in the fight for the division title. The Cubs won four of five, with a couple of the games featuring stirring comebacks, one of the most exciting regular-season series in the history of Wrigley.

Finally, the biggest reason they shouldn't have played the game was the injury to Marrero, which turned out to be a severe ankle sprain which kept him out of action until September. Before the injury, Marrero had been a versatile supersub who played just about anywhere, including catcher. He was never quite the same after the injury and played just three more seasons.

Games shouldn't be played in conditions like this; it's not fair to fans nor players. I understand that large amounts of money are at stake if games like this get postponed, but in this case the Cubs didn't lose any money because the game was made up as part of a split doubleheader. Greed has to take a back seat to safety, in my view.

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