I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a book – wait, for now let’s instead say writing project – about weather events that have plagued baseball games throughout the game’s history. One recent event is the rain delay the Miami Marlins experienced on Opening Day in 2015 at Marlins Park, you know, the place with a retractable roof.
How did this happen?
Last May, I talked on the phone with Marlins President David Samson about what transpired that day. Samson took a lot of stick from the media for relying too heavily on weather apps to predict the severity and direction of approaching storms. In our brief conversation, Samson took full responsibility for the blunder – is that too harsh? – and talked about the “horrific” phone he had to make to Marlins’ owner Jeffery Loria when he realized there would be a weather delay.
Below is an excerpt of our chat from May 25, 2016. (My questions are in bold.) To start, I asked Samson what he remembered most about the rain delay. He paused for about two seconds, signed, and began talking.
“It was extremely surreal when I realized we were going to have a rain delay in a retractable roof facility, and I was the one responsible. And it was Opening Day.
How were you responsible?
At the end of the day, when bad things happen, it’s my fault and when good things happen it’s because of someone else. I knew that the roof was open and I didn’t think the rain was coming. I looked at my cell phone; I looked at three different weather apps, and I did not think we were going to be impacted and neither did the people around me.
And then all of the sudden, it started raining and then raining harder. And, I just remember thinking, it’s not going to rain harder, but then it rained even harder. And then I remember the umpires getting together and realizing that we were about to have a rain delay.
Are you the only person making the decision about closing the roof?
It’s not just me. Of course, there are other people involved, but it’s my responsibility to make sure that the roof is closed when it’s going to rain.
How much did it rain?
It wasn’t a lot of rain, but quick. It was a quick rain delay. I want to say it was about a 40-minute rain delay at most. It was quick. It could have been much worse, but the level of embarrassment was significant.
And then one of our players actually slipped running to first base, Dee Gordon. On what would have been an infield base hit, he slipped coming out of the box because it was wet. And, we lost the game. I don’t remember a lot of games because I’ve been in baseball 17 years, but I remember that game.
Just because of the rain delay?
If I remember correctly, the rain delay was in the second inning, and Dee Gordon slipped in the eighth. So, was it that wet?
So, it’s a great question, right? Revisionist history would tell you that it’s because it rained, that he slipped because it rained. I would tell you that it’s possible he could have slipped on a sunny day. But, because it was a rain delay, it enabled people to draw that conclusion, including myself.
I read that when you realized it was going to rain, you had a conversation with Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria and told him you were going to have a rain delay. He said “I thought we had a roof.” Is that correct? Did that conversation happen?
That’s exactly what happened, but your timing is a little off. I called him as soon as the umpires were talking, and I said to him, “We’re about to have a rain delay.” And it was a horrific phone call to make. I used to have to make those phone calls when we were at Dolphins Stadium. And those were every day calls I used to make to him saying “Rain delay is coming” or “It’s going to rain, we’re starting again in an hour.” That was an everyday thing. But in the new ballpark it didn’t even occur to us, that was year four in the new ballpark, and it had just never, ever occurred to either me or him that I would ever be making those calls again.
But I did make the call and, he did say to me, “I thought we had a roof.”
Was there anything else he said that you can share with me?
No. I’d say that was pretty much the end of the conversation. I said “I’m sorry.” He hung up and I hung up, and that was it.
What was the aftermath like?
It got a lot of attention, obviously, and… No, I was very careful to avoid him for the next 24 to 48 hours. (He said this with a laugh.)
Was he at the ballpark?
Of course he was. I was up in a suite, and he was sitting next to the dugout. In the rain. (
Do you now consult with meteorologists or are you still using weather app?
We do consult with a meteorologist, but we still use weather apps. We’re just much more conservative now.
If there’s even the hint of a cloud, we’ll start closing the roof. (He laughed.)
Who are the meteorologists? Are they employed by the Marlins?
No. It’s individual ones (meteorologists) from around town. And the weather service.
Did you have a tarp?
We did have a tarp (at the time of the rain delay), but it was in a place that’s not readily accessible. It’s near the field, but it’s not on the field. So, it would have been a difficult process to get the tarp put up over the infield. And the reason I approved having the tarp in an out-of-the-way storage place is I said there’ll never be an issue with rain because we have a roof.
Is it more accessible now?
No. We still have it in the same place. The only thing that’s changed is me.
How so? What do you mean?
I’m just more conservative about the weather.
How did you deal with the negative media attention? It’s seems you had a pretty good sense of humor about it.
Yes, of course. I did a press conference that day. There was so much media wanting to know what was going on. Listen, no lives were lost. No one’s lives were in danger. No one got hurt. So, I don’t ever pretend that we’re doing something to human life or liberty. We’re an entertainment company. So I tried to make it entertaining in how I reacted to it, but obviously I take it very seriously, and I was very disappointed, but publicly my stance was to be more jocular.
What was the fan reaction?
Most of it was humorous.
In what forms? Mostly social media?
Some people brought umbrellas to the next game, or they would wear a hooded sweatshirt or raincoat. Whenever I was out in a restaurant or giving a speech somewhere, people would walk up to me or tell me about their rain shoes that they now wear to the ballpark, that sort of stuff.
People are still doing that a year later?
It’s cut down. People remember it. I was at a speech this week that I gave where it came up, but it does not come up nearly as much as it used to.
How long does it take to close the roof?
Between 11 and 15 minutes, depending on the wind.
What’s the process, mechanically? Do you just press a button?
It’s literally a button, yes.
Who presses the button?
We have special button pushers. (He joked.) They are part of the stadium operations group, and there job is to run the mechanical roof.
Did you hear much back from the field crew after this?
What are you going to do? They were as unhappy as I was.
What is the daily process of making the decision to close the roof for a game?
We look at temperature. We look at wind speed. We look at wind direction. We look at humidity, relative humidity and rain chance. And we make a decision based on all of those factors.
How soon ahead of game time do you make the decision?
I would say around four hours before game time, so 3 o’clock for 7 o’clock game.
How do you inform the public?
Just our social media.
How unpredictable are these South Florida rain storms?
That’s what squalls are. Squalls, meaning the weather is fine, and all of the sudden it’s a thunderstorm and then it’s fine again. These things just sort of pop up. That’s the dangerous part. It just happened to happen at a bad time.
Any other close calls since then?
No. (He laughed)
What did you learn most from this experience?
I should keep galoshes in my office.
You still don’t? (I was joking)
Yes, now I do because you never know.
Dark, ominous storm clouds rolled off Lake Erie and barreled toward League Park. Black sky
loomed over the ballyard, and rain, which had been falling lightly since the fourth inning,
threatened to become heavier.
The baseball game stirring underneath the clouds on this Sunday afternoon in downtown
Cleveland was nearly complete. The Indians led the visiting Philadelphia Athletics 2-1 in the top
of the ninth inning.
Ray Caldwell stood on the mound on this warm August day, pitching in his first game with the
Indians. The right hander retired the first two A’s batters as the storm above intensified.
Caldwell readied to pitch to the next to Athletics’ shortstop Joe Dugan when…
A fearsome lightning bolt zipped from the overhanging clouds. Frightened spectators scurried for
“The bolts flashed here and there, causing much excitement,” Harry P. Edwards wrote in the
Sporting News days later. “There was a blinding flash that seemed to set the diamond on fire and
Caldwell was knocked flat from the shock of it.”
His teammates rushed in to check on the hurler, who, “lay stretched out in the pitcher’s box.”
Caldwell was down but not out. He did a quick inventory of his arms and legs. What a relief.
Everything was still attached.
The pitcher dusted off his pinstriped uniform, and readied to finish off Dugan and the A’s.
After the game, Caldwell told the Cleveland Press that the lightning strike “felt just like
somebody came up with a board and hit me on top of the head and knocked me down.”
Trailing the Chicago White Sox by eight games, Indians’ player-manager Tris Speaker refused
“to admit they were out of the pennant race.” The day before this matinee with last-place
Philadelphia, the Tribe had rolled off five wins in their last six games.
“They are fighting hard for every game and have been fairly successful despite the decidedly
erratic pitching the team has had,” The Sporting News claimed.
To boost the rotation, Cleveland picked up Caldwell, a fun-loving spitballer, whom the Red Sox
had released in early July.
Now weeks after the signing, Caldwell, on a day in which the Cleveland Plain Dealer had
forecasted “showers and cooler” temperatures, was pitching a masterful game in the debut for his
The Indians picked up their only two runs in the bottom of the fourth on a walk, a sacrifice, a
couple of ground outs and a throwing error by Dugan – but no hits.
The A’s scored a run in the fifth when George Burns crossed the plate on a Cy Perkins grounder.
Burns had reached base after being hit by a pitch.
Caldwell cruised through eight innings against the A’s, who had lost 13 of 14 games.
Into the ninth they went. The Athletics’ first two batters failed to reach base safely.
Then came the ruckus.
As Dugan stood at the plate, “Thousands of spectators were thrown into a momentary panic by
the bolt which came without warning and made as much noise as the back firing of a thousand
autos or the explosion of a dozen shells from a battery of big berthas,” the Cleveland Plain
Dealer reported the following day.
Caldwell’s teammates feared “he may have been killed,” Edwards wrote in the Sporting News,
“but he struggled to his feet, and after frisking himself to see if he was all there, pitched what
was left of the game, which was finished before the rain became a downpour.”
The lightning, the Cleveland Press reported, had knocked off Indians’ catcher Steve O’Neill’s
mask and hat, as well as Harry Davis’ navy blue A’s cap. Davis was coaching third base for
“We all could feel the tingle of the electric shock running through our systems, particularly in
our legs,” umpire Billy Evans said after the game.
Davis, the Press reported, “got a second shock, for Cy Perkins came up to feel Harry’s head and
see if he was hurt. The lightning had charged Davis’ hair with electricity and his whole frame
tingled when Cy touched him.”
Teammates also claimed to have felt an “electrical current” from lightning hitting the metal
spikes on their shoes.
“One of the players touched Caldwell on the head and leaped into the air. He said the pitcher
seemed to be crackling with electricity,” a reporter wrote in a wire story.
Is this possible?
“When lightning strikes the ground, the current flows across the surface creating a step voltage.
Someone standing with their feet apart can have current go up one leg and down the other,” said
Joseph Dwyer, a lightning researcher and professor of physics at the University of New
Hampshire. “I would think such a large current through the legs could explain the numbness
One Cleveland player who complained of numbness was Ray Chapman, who nearly a year later
was killed after being hit by a pitch thrown from Yankees’ hurler Carl Mays. Running to
Caldwell, Chapman nearly fell from the numb feeling in his leg.
The lightning event was quiet frightful for the spectators.
Newspaper reports say lighting danced along the ballpark rails near where some fans were sitting
and jumped toward the pitcher’s mound.
“Lightning certainly can travel along metal railing,” Dwyer said, a phenomenon he called side
“When lightning strikes, there is often tens of thousands of amps of current and very large
voltages,” the professor said. “If some of this current goes into a metal conductor such as fences
or railings, the current can travel long distances, causing sparks to other objects along the way.”
There still was one more out to go.
Still shocked, figuratively and possibly literally, from the turn of events, players took their
positions. Caldwell pitched to Dugan and “forced him to hit a grounder to Gardner just as the
clouds broke and the rain came down heavily,” wrote the Plain Dealer.
Game over. Indians 2, Athletics 1.
Caldwell pitched a complete game and allowed Philadelphia only one run and four hits. He
struck out three and walked two.
Afterward, Caldwell assessed the damage and found he had slight burns on his chest. Speculation
at the time concluded lightning had hit the metal button on his cap, “surged through his body,
and exited through his metal spikes.”
This, like a direct strike on a person, is unlikely, said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, founding director of
the African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics and professor emerita at the University
of Illinois at Chicago.
“Lightning only goes through the body for perhaps three-to- four microseconds before it flashes
over the outside, and that’s not long enough to cause internal burns,” Dr. Cooper said. “It would
be nice to know what the chest burns looked like. Was there a linear burn down the middle or
sides of the chest where there would be sweat lines that lightning turned into steam causing
burns? Was it where metal was? Did he have a necklace with a cross on it, so that there was a
cross shape burned in?”
Dr. Cooper also wondered if the burns could have been fern-like, or Lichtenberg figures.
Caldwell recovered and Cleveland’s win meant the Indians kept pace and remained eight games
behind the American League-leading Chicago White Sox, who had also won that day, 4-1, over
the New York Yankees.
The Indians put together a run through the season’s remaining weeks, including a mid-September
streak of 12 wins in 13 games that began with Caldwell pitching a 3-0 no-hitter against the
Yankees, one of his former teams. However, Cleveland finished three and a half games behind
the White Sox, who went on to infamously represent the American League in the 1919 World
Caldwell’s electrifying performance helped spark the Indians’ late-season run. In six games with
his new club, the big righty pitched to a 5-1 record with a 1.71 ERA, proving the Indians had
made the right move in giving the pitcher, who was 31 years old at the time, another chance to
“When Speaker announced he was going to give Ray Caldwell a trial in the box, lots of persons
thought he was crazy,” wrote the Sporting News on Sept. 4, 1919. “But Speaker now has the last
laugh on the doubters, for Caldwell turned in and beat the Athletics easily and then all but beat
the White Sox, finally being trounced by them in the ninth inning, 3 to 2, not bad pitching for a
pitcher thought to be through as a big leaguer.”
Remember the one about Cleveland Indians pitcher Ray Caldwell getting struck by lightning?
He was standing on the mound, needing one more out to finish the game when…
Caldwell and the Indians were leading the visiting Philadelphia Athletics 2-1 on a warm August day when a storm rolled off Lake Erie and approached League Park. As rain fell, Caldwell quickly recorded two outs on the A’s and was facing Joe Dugan when lightning flashed down on the ballpark.
It sent spectators scurrying for safety. It put Caldwell on his keister.
“It felt just like somebody came up with a board and hit me on the head and knocked me down,” Caldwell told the Cleveland Press after the game.
Some accounts say the lightning bolt knocked Caldwell out for five minutes. Other reports say the pitcher got up, brushed himself off and recorded the last out. It seems the latter is the more prevalent story.
Players rushed to Caldwell’s aid. Some, such as teammate Ray Chapman, said they felt the “juice” run through their bodies.
When I first began delving into the details of this game back in the spring – I’m writing a story about the contest for the SABR Games Project – I emailed lightning researcher Joseph Dwyer, asking for his thoughts about the players’ claim of felling lightning in their bodies and the subsequent numbness.
“When lightning strikes the ground, the current flows across the surface creating a step voltage. Someone standing with their feet apart can have current go up one leg and down the other,” wrote Dwyer, a professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire. “I would think such a large current through the legs could explain the numbness afterwards.”
One of the players who complained of numbness was Chapman, who nearly a year later was killed after being hit by a pitch thrown from Yankees hurler Carl Mays.
Newspaper reports say lighting danced along the rails of the ballpark.
“Lightning certainly can travel along metal railing,” Dwyer said, a phenomenon he called side flashes.
“When lightning strikes, there is often tens of thousands of amps of current and very large voltages,” the professor said. “If some of this current goes into a metal conductor such as fences or railings, the current can travel long distances, causing sparks to other objects along the way.”
One interesting side note from newspaper accounts says that Indians’ catcher Steve O’Neill tossed his metal mask as far away as possible to avoid being struck by subsequent bolts.
I asked Dwyer if O’Neill’s mask toss was a necessary move.
“It is a very good idea to take lightning seriously, but the approach was wrong,” Dwyer wrote. “The only way to be relatively safe from lightening is to go inside an enclosed structure like a house or a building.”
But “not a dugout,” Dwyer stressed.
Speaking of the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) Games Project, I recently had story published there about Joe DiMaggio tying the Yankees’ consecutive game hitting streak at 29. It happened on June 16, 1941 when DiMaggio lined a double to left field shortly after rain had delayed the contest for more than an hour at Yankee Stadium. (Of course rain was involved, right?)
I made a silly prediction earlier today that Game 7 of the World Series would go 13 innings and have a brief rain delay in the 11th. I missed it by one inning. The delay came just as the 10th was about to begin.
Update: The tarp has been rolled off the field and we’re back to baseball.
What a game!!!
Good news for those of us who have become somewhat sleep deprived during the Major League Baseball playoffs: Tonight’s World Series Game Two start time has been moved up one hour to 7:08 p.m.
Now the bad news: The change was made because of a threat of rain tonight in Cleveland. According to forecasts, rain is expected in the city this afternoon before tapering off.
The chance of precipitation is around 35 percent at 8 p.m. and increases to 50-55 percent in the next couple of hours. At 11 p.m., the chance of precipitation jumps to about 80 percent and 90 at midnight.
Look out if the game goes into extra innings.
The last time a World Series game was suspended for weather was Game 5 in 2008 when rain drenched Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies and Rays were tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth when the Monday night game was called. It was resumed two days later.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was skipper of the Rays, who lost to the Phillies in five games.
Cold temperatures could also be a factor in tonight’s contest at Progressive Field. Game-time temps are expected to be in the high 40s with a wind chill of around 42 degrees. In the opener, in which Cleveland won 6-0, temperatures hung around 50 degrees.
Everyone has to deal with the cold, but a lot of eyes will be on Cubs’ starter Jake Arrieta. You may remember Arrieta’s velocity dipped a bit last October as he struggled in Game 2 of the 2015 NLCS on a 45-degree night in a 4-1 loss to the Mets. Many believe the cold played a role in right hander’s struggles.
The Indians last played in the World Series in 1997 against the Marlins. The games in Florida were nice weather-wise, but Game 4 in Cleveland had a game-time temperature of 41, which dropped to the mid-30s throughout the contest.
But tonight, our biggest concern is rain… and for me, getting to bed at a decent time. So, the hour-earlier start time is just dandy. Tribe manager Terry Francona does mind either.
“Shoot, it just means we start an hour earlier. We can handle that,” Francona said. “I don’t care what time they tell us to play. I’m sure they have good reason. If it’s supposed to rain late, I don’t really have a reaction. I’m going to be here anyway by 10 (a.m.) So it doesn’t really matter.”
Judging by the Tweet below, Pirates third base coach Rick Sofield has had it with the Pittsburgh weather.
Tonight, his club will host the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park were temperatures are forecasted to be around 59 at first pitch and fall to the low 50s by the time the Bucs wrap up a win over the last-place, manager-firing-for-no-good-reason Braves. There’s a small chance of precipitation during the game – very small – with a slight breeze blowing in from center field.
The weather looks a little better for Thursday night with temps in the low 60s for the Bucs/Braves series finale.
Is that a little more encouraging Rick?
Sof's weather update.
— #VotePirates (@Pirates) May 18, 2016
Monday night’s game in Kansas City between the Royals and Boston Red Sox was postponed by a rainstorm that refused to go away.
Rain fell throughout the day, and as game time neared, the forecast showed no signs the precipitation would cease enough to play. The game will be made up Wednesday as part of a day-night doubleheader with Game 1 beginning at 1:15 p.m. local time. Wednesday’s forecast shows a sunny day in Kansas City with the high temperature hitting around 67.
This is the Red Sox only visit with the Royals in Kansas City this season.
In case you missed it, rain didn’t stop Hanley Ramirez from getting in a workout while teammate and American League player of the week Jackie Bradley Jr. was being interviewed live on the MLB Network.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) May 16, 2016