Tommy Hunter of the Baltimore Orioles delivers during a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx Borough of New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Game 5 of the 2008 World Series was played in execrably bad weather; it was cold and pouring rain in Philadelphia. Yet Commissioner Bud Selig made the Rays and Phillies play until B.J. Upton scored the tying run in the top of the sixth inning before suspending the game -- even though there's nothing specific in baseball rules that allowed him to do that. It was completed two days later, with an announcement that no postseason game would, from then forward, go fewer than nine innings.
That theory has now apparently been exported to regular season games. Games are now played in weather conditions that would, only a few years ago, would have resulted in postponements. A Cubs/Giants game was played in Chicago on May 14 in a steady moderate rain and 48-degree temperatures, largely because there was a forecast of rain the next day (the May 15 game was, in fact, postponed) and the Cubs didn't want to have to reschedule two games. It's been tough all across baseball this year; 48 games have been postponed so far, second most in the last decade and more than double the 2010 total of 20.
Tuesday night in New York, this concept was taken to a nearly absurd extreme. Bad weather has bedeviled the Yankees and Orioles for most of 2011. The teams were postponed in New York on April 12 and in Baltimore on April 22; they managed to make up the New York rainout on July 31, but the April 22 postponement, rescheduled for August 27, fell casualty to Hurricane Irene, as did the regularly scheduled game on that date. One of those games was made up the next day, but then the two clubs got into a tiff about the other makeup date, chronicled here at Baseball Nation last week. That game will be played in Baltimore on Thursday.
But in the meantime, the teams had one last series to play at Yankee Stadium. Monday's game was completed without intervention from the weather. But Tuesday evening arrived in the Bronx with heavy rain falling and forecast to continue for several hours. The clubs had an afternoon game scheduled on Wednesday and that makeup day game set for Baltimore on Thursday.
Money is part of the motive here; the Yankees could have postponed the game and played a single-admission doubleheader today. But that would have meant refunding the ticket money from Tuesday's game -- with the number of tickets announced at 44,573, and an average Yankees ticket price of $51.83, that would cost the Steinbrenners about $2.3 million. Even for the wealthiest team in baseball, that isn't chump change.
So they waited. Four hours and seven minutes they waited; the first pitch was thrown shortly after 11:10 p.m. ET.
And then it started raining again. The game managed to slog along as the rain got harder. Jorge Posada homered off Orioles starter Tommy Hunter in the third inning to give New York a 1-0 lead. It was the only hit for the Yankees as the Orioles made the last out in the top of the fifth inning, having had just three hits themselves, still trailing 1-0. It was nearly 12:30 a.m. ET; the game was official and could have been called with little objection from the teams.
But the umpires stood their ground. Yankees grounds crew members came out with dozens of bags of Turface and filled in what were almost small lakes around the plate and in the infield. Players stood on the field with water literally pouring off their caps.
Why was this game not called right then? Well after midnight, with players slipping and sliding, the result nearly certain, and the players scheduled to play another game in little more than 12 hours? What was the point? Only a couple of hundred fans remained in Yankee Stadium at the time. They pressed on; the lead changed hands but the Yankees eventually won 5-3 on home runs by Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner in the seventh. The game finally came to a merciful end at about 2:15 a.m. ET -- 11 hours before the first scheduled pitch on Wednesday.
What's the point of doing this? I understand not wanting to lose money (although, to their credit, the Yankees offered a free 2012 ticket to anyone holding a ticket to Tuesday's game), but given that there's a MLB rule that makes a game official after 4 1/2 innings with the home team ahead, use it! What if a player were seriously injured in the terrible weather conditions? The Yankees are likely headed to the postseason -- what if someone like Curtis Granderson slipped and fell and sprained or broke an ankle on the soaked outfield and couldn't play in October?
On May 11, 2003, the Cubs and Cardinals were forced by the umpires to play four innings in steady rain, frigid temperatures and howling winds; seven home runs were hit before the game was called six outs short of being official. I mention this because Eli Marrero, who was playing right field that day for St. Louis, suffered a serious ankle injury and missed almost the entire season. Marrero, a useful multi-position player, was never quite the same after that and was out of baseball three years later.
At some point, common sense has to trump the idea of "We must play at least nine innings or there will be a rift in the firmament." Before someone else suffers a season-ending -- or career-ending -- injury.