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A look into the process of how Cubs games get postponed for weather

It’s more complicated than you might think.

Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

A little less than two weeks ago, April 8, a Cubs game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field was postponed, officially due to “inclement weather.” The call to postpone the game wasn’t made until 11:40 a.m., about 20 minutes after the gates at Wrigley were scheduled to open (they never did open that day). While it had rained much of the morning April 8, rain was much more scattered the rest of the afternoon, leading some to wonder why the game had been called.

I had the chance to have a conversation with David Cromwell, Cubs Senior Vice President of Operations, who is the team’s point person regarding weather postponements and delays, about the process that day as well as how decisions are made about postponements in general. The weather so far this baseball season in Chicago has been, to be charitable, not very good and in fact, there’s a chance of weather interrupting or postponing tonight’s game against the Rays. The game time for tonight has already been moved up, to 5:30 p.m. CT, 70 minutes early, due to the forecast.

Cromwell said there are a number of factors involved in making a decision like this, including the ability to fully complete the game, whether the field is playable, considering players, fans and gameday staff. Regarding this game in particular, Cromwell said, “That conversation began very early in the morning,” and both baseball operations and business operations were involved. The Cubs use two independent weather forecasters and also consult with MLB, who has another independent forecaster they use. That day, Cromwell said, it appeared the influence of Lake Michigan might give them a window to play, which caused them to “hesitate a bit” and wait to call the game until later, and he continued, “In this particular instance we wanted to wait as long as we possibly could. At the end of the day we want the games to be played on the days they’re scheduled.”

There are additional factors, including how much time pitchers will need to warm up before a game. Cromwell noted, “We’re always up against a clock.”

Regarding how the April 8 game will be made up (a split doubleheader Monday, May 30), Cromwell told me that the first priority is to make up the game in that series, or if that’s not feasible, then the next time the team comes to town. I asked him about making games up on off days. He said, “Off days are valuable, and the league policy is to make the game up during the next series.” That applies for makeup games, said Cromwell, even if there’s an off day adjacent to the next series: “Correct, they would first look to play them as doubleheaders.”

With a team like the Rays that only comes to Chicago once, Cromwell said that choice is much more “nuanced” because of the difficulty of finding a makeup date on an off day, which is what would have to happen if tonight’s game has to be called for bad weather. He called that decision “challenging” and said discussions about tonight’s game had begun as early as Tuesday morning. Presumably, those conversations are ongoing at the time this article posted (noon CT on Wednesday), even as the game time was already moved up.

MLB also gets involved in those decisions, and Cromwell noted: “Before the All-Star break, the home club has the decision-making authority if it doesn’t appear that the weather will resolve itself in time to complete the game safely and on a playable field. Past the All-Star break, if it’s the last time the team will be in your city, the league and the umpires will have the decision-making authority on whether to start the game.”

So for tonight, the Cubs have the call, although I suspect the MLB offices will also be involved since it’s the Rays’ only visit to Wrigley this year. Cromwell told me that they try to look at each upcoming homestand as a whole, especially when forecasts are as bad as they have been this week, and then look more closely 24-48 hours in advance of a game.

If you’re wondering about what happens to all the food that’s prepped for a game that’s postponed, Cromwell said that much of it can be retained for the next game either by refrigerating or freezing, and that some of the rest is sometimes used to provide meals for gameday staff, if they’re in place before a postponement is made.

One other thing I was curious about was the new suspended game rule, which allows games to be suspended at any point, not just after five innings are complete. I asked Cromwell whether that factors into a decision on whether to start a game that could be finished the next day. (That obviously doesn’t apply in the case of tonight’s game, the last game of the Rays series.) While he said it doesn’t necessarily factor into whether to start or not, but, “it is factored in as the game goes along. It does add flexibility for us.”

The bottom line on postponements and delays is this: It’s not as easy as it looks, and I know I’ve occasionally complained when games don’t get postponed as early as it would seem possible. This discussion helped me understand some of the many details involved in making delay and postponement decisions.

Weather forecasts can change — if you’ve lived in Chicago long enough you certainly know this — and sometimes can even change within a matter of a few minutes or hours. The Brewers complained back in 2017 about a postponement made a couple of hours before game time and then the sun came out that afternoon — but the forecast didn’t call for that. It’s not an easy call and there are a lot of moving parts involved. Cromwell noted, “You’re making decisions with the best available information you have at the time you make them,” and that’s really all that can be done.

Many thanks to Julian Green and Ariana Moaveni of the Cubs for arranging the interview with David Cromwell.