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Major League Baseball needs to centralize all weather decisions

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... and get smarter about April schedules.

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve attended nearly 2,700 games at Wrigley Field.

Without question, the weather played in Saturday — cold temperatures, high winds, never-ending drizzle — were the worst game conditions at Wrigley I have personally experienced, and probably ever.

But don’t take my word for it. Go read the words of Atlanta Braves players and Cubs manager Joe Maddon that I wrote about earlier today. I’ll repost Maddon’s here for emphasis:

“I thought the 2008 World Series game was the worst weather game I ever participated in,” Maddon said. “I think it just got surpassed. That’s not baseball weather. I don’t know what the intent is, I really don’t. And again, the elements were horrific to play baseball. It’s not conducive. We made mistakes on the infield. They made mistakes on the infield, outfield. Based on weather-related issues. These are really good players. I think, to a certain extent, their wildness towards the end of the game was the contributed to the horrible weather. Whatever. We’re gonna do what we’re asked or told to do. But I’m just here to tell you, that was the worst elements I’ve ever participated in a baseball game. And I’ve been in some pretty bad stuff.”

Joe’s right. The game should not have been played. It was not conducive to MLB-quality baseball and it risked injury, possibly serious injury. That’s an unacceptable risk, in my opinion.

And if you don’t think this can happen, it has. At Wrigley Field. On May 11, 2003, the Cubs hosted the Cardinals. It was a bit warmer that day than it was on Saturday — about 48 degrees, as I recall. But the wind was howling that afternoon even stronger than it was during Saturday’s game and it was raining, hard, not just drizzling. The rain was coming sideways at times, so strong that I finally gave up trying to hold an umbrella up. Those of us sitting in the bleachers that day dubbed it the “Typhoon Game.”

In the fourth inning, Cubs pitcher Juan Cruz lofted a ball toward right field. Eli Marrero, a catcher who occasionally played the outfield, was there. He slipped and turned his foot the wrong way, and suffered an Achilles injury that put him out until September. Marrero had a pretty good year in 2002 at age 28, and looked like he was ready to have a big year in ‘03. He did return in 2004, but was never quite the same player, and was out of baseball three years later.

Now why would you risk the health of players like that, or perhaps even star players? What if Kris Bryant, for example, had been injured seriously because of the weather Saturday? Would Cubs management still think it was worth opening the doors?

Look, I get why they were trying to get at least one game in this weekend. Common off days between the Braves and Cubs are scarce this year. But once this game was in the books, why not call off Sunday’s game right after it was over? The May 14 off date, according to the AJC.com article I linked in the earlier article today, had been discussed “informally.” I had mentioned it here. It was a no-brainer, given the Sunday forecast was for a nearly all-day rain event, mixed with a little snow. That snow has begun to fall on the North Side of Chicago.

The Cubs made the right call, but why did it take them till 10:30 a.m.? If they’d have postponed this game Saturday, before anyone came to the park Sunday, the Braves could have headed home to Atlanta earlier, the Cubs players could have had all day Sunday off, and no gameday employees would have had to come to Wrigley Field.

I am (pretty obviously) not a meteorologist. However, when I worked in TV I used to hang out with the weather folks and they did teach me a bit about forecasting. I’d like to think that as an amateur, I’m reasonably knowledgeable about weather. It’s not real likely that Major League Baseball will listen to my suggestion, but I’m going to make it anyway.

There are two issues at work here: Scheduling and weather. Let’s look at scheduling first.

Major League Baseball Scheduling

There are those who say, “Why not just play April games in warm-weather cities or domes?”

The answer to that is simple. Those teams don’t want the April games either. They draw better, as do northern cities, in the summer when kids are out of school and families take vacations, or when people are more likely to take days off work.

Since MLB has expanded the regular-season schedule into the last weekend of March to give the players the extra off days they negotiated in the last CBA, there is one thing they could do to try to alleviate some of the problems with cold-weather cities, where awful weather this year has already caused 19 postponements in eight cities (Detroit, Cincinnati, Kansas City, New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Chicago).

To help avoid some of those postponements, MLB could at least have the three- or four-game opening weekend series scheduled in warm-weather cities or domes. For this purpose they could designate the following 14 teams as first-weekend hosts: Blue Jays, Rays, Angels, Astros, Mariners, Athletics, Rangers, Marlins, Braves, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers and Padres, with the Nationals and Orioles alternating years as the 15th “warm-weather” host (considering it can still be somewhat cold in those places in late March).

That would be just one weekend. It would mean the other 15 teams would never open the season at home, but would you really want the Cubs hosting a four-game series at Wrigley the last weekend of March? Brrrrr. No. Nor the Twins in Minneapolis, Red Sox in Boston, etc.

The second thing that could be done would be to not schedule interleague games in cold-weather cities in April. There’s really no reason the Pirates should have opened the season in Detroit in late March. They had to postpone games in that series twice and play a doubleheader on April 1. That’s not optimal. Another first-week interleague series was played in Pittsburgh. Why do that?

Lastly, MLB could do its best to schedule no games in cold-weather cities outside the team’s division. For example, the Cubs/Braves series in Atlanta this year is in mid-May. Why do that? Why not schedule these teams in Atlanta in April, and in Chicago in May? It was in the 80s Friday and Saturday in Atlanta; today it’s rainy and in the 50s, but once the rain cleared they could have played in not-unreasonable temperatures.

Years ago, a husband-and-wife pair of college professors used to lay out the MLB schedule on their kitchen table. It worked better than the computer algorithm that does it now. Granted that scheduling 15-team leagues is not easy. Eventually, MLB will expand to two 16-team leagues, likely with four divisions of four, which will make scheduling much easier. In the meantime, the two tweaks I noted above could help.

Everyone Talks About The Weather, But No One Does Anything About It

Well, that’s because you can’t do anything about the weather. It is what it is. This spring is unusually cold and wet in the Midwest and Northeast. The first 10 days of April 2018 were the coldest such days since 1975 in Chicago, and second-coldest in Chicago climate history, which goes back to the 1870s. This pattern isn’t looking like it’s going to change much, either:

Those days spill into the Cubs’ next homestand, which begins April 27. At least it looks like it might finally dry out in the Midwest over that time frame:

Just as this April seems freakishly cold, we could just as easily have had a spring like March 2012, when it was in the 80s for more than a week straight in Chicago and nearby Midwestern areas. That was the only time I can ever remember seeing the ivy beginning to bloom on the Wrigley Field bleacher walls on Opening Day. This year, with this relentless cold, we might not see ivy till June.

The average high temperature this time of year in Chicago is about 58 degrees. We’re not within 20 degrees of that this weekend. This is extremely unusual.

This is all a way of circling back to the statement made in the headline to this post. These kinds of things are too important to be left to local team management. Why? Because that management is always going to do what they think is in their own best interest. It’s difficult to believe that the Cubs felt that playing Saturday, or delaying a postponement call Sunday until after 10 a.m., is in the team’s best interest, but that’s what they did.

It would be better, I believe, for Major League Baseball to create and staff a complete weather office, with staff meteorologists, who could assess conditions in all cities where there could be weather issues with games and give recommendations on when and whether to postpone games, or delay games in progress. These decisions are too important, given the huge investment in players, to be left to people without weather expertise. For example, if this hypothetical weather office saw a line of storms coming into a city where a game was in progress, perhaps they’d advise for a game to be held up before the storms began, rather than have the umpires on the scene play until players (and fans) are being drenched. A central weather office would take all perceived bias out of decisions like this and leave them with the commissioner’s office. I have to believe that such an office would have told the Cubs to postpone Sunday’s game late Saturday.

I have heard that the Cubs and other teams “consult” with meteorologists, yet this 2017 article says only the Twins have one on staff. This 2015 article says the Rockies have a “partnership” with the National Weather Service, and that other teams “contract” with private meteorologists to get advance weather information.

That’s good, but in my view it would be better for MLB to hire a staff of meteorologists, perhaps some who have some sort of understanding of baseball and its requirements, and make all decisions on weather delays/postponements out of the commissioner’s office.

Might it result in teams having to make up multiple games? Sure, such an office might have called off both the Saturday and Sunday games at Wrigley, and the Cubs and Braves would have to make up two games. (Or, go back to the scheduling issue; why weren’t these series flip-flopped before the schedule was even released?) The White Sox and Twins have to make up three games due to a rare mid-April snowstorm in Minneapolis that’s left up to 15 inches of snow in some areas. This storm was forecast days in advance. Why not be proactive and move those games to Miller Park? The Brewers are out of town this weekend and this was done before, in 2007 when an Indians/Angels series was snowed out of Cleveland and played in Miller Park (I went to one of those games; $20, general admission, they averaged about 17,000 for the three-game set).

That’s outside-the-box thinking. MLB needs to do more of that.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written on this topic; I also did so last May, after the postponement at Wrigley that the Brewers complained about. I concluded that essay this way:

Beginning in 2018, MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to start the season four days earlier, and the extra four days are intended to provide more off days. This should allow for more opportunities to make up rained-out games and, perhaps, allow for postponement decisions to be made earlier on days when all-day or all-night rain is forecast, erring on the side of caution.

And having a central weather decision office would make these decisions fair for everyone.

Huh. “... perhaps, allow for postponement decisions to be made earlier on days when all-day or all-night rain is forecast, erring on the side of caution.” That surely didn’t happen in Chicago on Sunday, anyway.

The bottom line is that MLB has to be more up-to-date on weather and scheduling issues than they are. Staffing a full-time weather office at MLB headquarters and making all weather-related decisions there would be a good start.