Mitch Haniger’s wild game-winning home run in Seattle last week – as the roof was closing and rain was falling in the ninth inning – reminded me of a contest three years ago when the Miami Marlins had a similar weather situation at their relatively new ballpark.
The Marlins, however, weren’t as fortunate as the Mariners. A sudden pop-up spring shower on Opening Day 2015 in Miami sent fans scrambling and forced a brief rain delay in the bottom of the first inning, an embarrassing situation for a ball club with a retractable roof and a tarp tucked away somewhere in the nether regions of Marlins Park.
I wrote about the game for the Spring edition of the SABR Research Journal.
For the article, I interviewed then Marlins President David Samson, who detailed how the Marlins made decisions about when to close the roof. Spoiler alert: They used phone weather apps, something Meteorologist John Morales told me he is not a fan of, for good reason.
If Mike Trout is the king of California, baby, then Mitch Haniger is king of the rain.
King of the rain-drenched walk-off home run, that is.
As a steady drizzle fell and the Safeco Field retractable roof slowly chugged across the top of the ballpark, Haniger clubbed a two-run home run Wednesday over the left field fence to give the red-hot Mariners an 8-6 come-from-behind win over the Los Angeles Angels.
The homer completed a three-game sweep for Seattle over the Angels, a club they are battling against for the lead in the American League West.
The Mariners grabbed a 4-1 advantage early in the afternoon contest, but fell behind 6-4. Trailing 6-5 in the eighth, Seattle’s Ryon Healy smacked a pitch into the upper deck to tie the game at 6-6. Statcast measured the home run at 441 feet.
In the ninth, Juan Segura singled to center as rain began to patter the ballpark.
The Safeco roof takes about 10-20 minutes to close, depending on wind and other weather conditions. The sudden Seattle shower left some spectators popping umbrellas or clumsily donning ponchos – Is there any other way? – and it further decorated the dramatic stage for Haniger’s heroics.
He took the first pitch he saw from Angels’ hurler Oliver Drake for a ball, but then lined the next, an 84 mph splitter, through the rain drops and into a crowd of joyful Mariners fans, who were jumping with their hands high in the air in the left field seats.
Haniger quickly rounded the bases and was mobbed and doused with an unidentified clear liquid as he crossed home plate.
It was the newly crowned rain king’s 16th home run of the season.
As we look ahead to the 2018 MLB season – and wonder why the offseason is moving slower than Justin Smoak – we are reminded that no matter how hard we wish it were spring, winter is just getting into its windup, man. This week’s “bomb cyclone” exploding on the East Coast, including Yankee Stadium as seen above, is our latest evidence.
Yeah, pitchers and catchers report to warmer environs in Florida and Arizona in about six weeks, but we still have a long way to go before Opening Day.
Below are more images from East Coast ballparks that likely will make you wish spring could get here faster than Trea Turner stealing third.
And one more from the Bronx
When I write my long-promised Top 10 list of World Series weather games, the 1925 championship finale will certainly rank high on the chart.
It had almost all the makings of a fall weather classic: pounding rain, vision-obstructing fog, ballplayers’ mud-caked habiliments and thousands of rain-drenched foul-weather fans, so to speak. ‘You could cut the mirk with a cleaver,” The Evening Star of Washington, D.C., reported on the gloomy mid-October afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Game 7 also had a fire on the field, a blaze intentionally set by Forbes Field groundskeeper Jack Fogarty in an attempt to dry the uliginous infield. There’s no report, however, of fans roasting marshmallows.
This nutty game, in which the Pirates bested the Senators 9-7, also produced one irritated journalist.
Among the many World Series recap stories The Sporting News published in its Oct. 22 issue, Joe Vila held no punches in expressing his displeasure over the treatment of writers at the ballpark.
“I do not know who was directly responsible for the press accommodations at Forbes Field, but it’s enough to say that they were outrageous,” wrote Vila, who covered baseball for three decades.
“The press box, instead of being located in the grand stand, under cover, was arranged on the ground in front of the ordinary backstop. Reporters and telegraph operators, who had no redress, worked on Tuesday and Thursday in the mud and rain. They had no protection from the storm and were drenched to the skin.
From Vila’s writing, it’s as clear as mud to determine whether he was actually dodging raindrops and slogging through mud at Forbes Field or if he simply was piping up for those writers who were covering the game.
Under the sub-headline of “Press Handled Like Bleacherites,” Vila continued his salty assault, writing, “If the Pittsburgh Club had entertained the proper respect for the newspapers which spent many thousands of dollars to spread to spread the details of the World Series all over the United States and other parts of the civilized world, such uncomfortable conditions under which the writers and keymen tolled would not have existed.”
Digging through various other newspapers has not revealed, so far, any other scribes complaining about improper working conditions at the ballpark.
Ralph Davis wrote in the Pittsburgh Press that he “leaped” from his seat in the “press box at Forbes Field” at the end of the game, not because his pants were soaked, but from the sight of “Old Rube” Oldham firing the third strike past the Senators’ Goose Goslin, who was “standing there flatfooted, for the final out of the game of the world’s baseball series.”
If you scroll through enough baseball newspapers articles from the early 1900s, you’ll inevitably stumble upon an anecdote or two claiming a rogue infield pebble got in the way of a bouncing routine ground ball, causing the ball to take an unexpected hop past a fielder and cost the fielding team a run or two, or maybe even a game.
Heck, Game 7 of the 1924 World Series turned in favor of the Washington Senators when Bucky Harris hit a grounder toward third in the bottom of the eighth that ricocheted off a small rock and squirted past New York Giants’ third baseman Freddie Lindstrom, allowing two Senators to score and tie the game at 3-3. Washington eventually won the series in extra innings.
I’m not sure if Lindstrom took issue with the Griffith Stadium grounds crew, but in a series of profile stories about the profession, Pirates head groundskeeper Jack Fogarty told The Sporting News in 1938 that players, even Hall of Famers, would occasionally blame their miscues on infield pebbles left behind by him and other grounds crew members.
“…Once in a while a player tries to use me for an alibi,” Fogarty said.
“Old Honus Wagner did that once in his active playing days. He used to carry around a bunch of pebbles in his uniform pocket, and if he booted or fumbled, he’d come in and toss one of those pebbles at me, as if to let everybody know I left a stone out there big enough to deflect the course of a roller.
“Other players have tried that trick, too, but it doesn’t get them anywhere. If there’s ever been a pebble half as big as a marble on the skinned part of that infield, I’ve never found it.”
Fogarty became Pittsburgh’s head groundskeeper in 1919 and was known to sometimes douse the Forbes Field infield with gasoline and set it ablaze in an attempt to dry the playing surface after a lengthy rain. Days after his death in 1995, the Pittsburgh Press described Fogarty as a man “who devoted his lifetime to the tender care of the grass at Forbes Field and a man who took great pride in his work.”
If a player complained about the smoothness of the infield, “the next morning Fogarty went to work to smooth out the rough spot that caused the player to make his complaint and he wasn’t satisfied until the player approved,” the Press reported.
“Fogarty winced when he read that a ball took a bad hop over a player’s shoulder because he felt like this was a reflection on his ability, although it never was written with that in mind. But John Fogarty was a deeply sensitive and was highly regarded in his field.”
There’s not much time for writing The Rainout Blog these days – maybe soon – but I did want to make a quick post to 1) Note how hot it was in Los Angeles for Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night, and 2) Bump the previous post from the top spot. No one wants to see a black and white photo from the 1918 at the top of the blog, right?
The game-time temperature was 103 degrees when Clayton Kershaw threw the Fall Classic’s first pitch at about 5:08 p.m. L.A. time, and it’s going to be toasty again tonight for Game 2. I wish I had more time to write about Kershaw’s thoughts on pitching in such extreme temps or that Justin Turner thinks his game-deciding homer would not have left the park on a cooler evening. Maybe I’ll get to all of that at a later time.
Enjoy the Series everyone. I’m hoping it goes seven games, but I’m picking the Dodgers in 6.
There he was, foot skating across the base, knee grossly folding in the wrong direction, body somersaulting through the misty late night air – hair still looking glorious – and then crashing in pain onto the infield dirt.
Man, it looked awful. It looked like the end.
Just like Adam Eaton months earlier, Bryce Harper’s mishap at first base would, it seemed in the moment, put the Washington Nationals’ star slugger out for the season, further depleting a team that has so many weapons already on the shelf.
“Nationals Park is in a total hush,” Nats radio guy Dave Jageler said as trainers rushed out to Harper.
But the sun did rise the morning after that wet night in the District. An MRI revealed no structural damage, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo assured us it was only a deep bone bruise on Harp’s left knee.
Nats fans exhaled.
“Thank you, Lord, that Bryce Harper did not shred any ligaments,” Grant Paulsen said on his D.C. sports radio show Monday morning.
The news that Harper was being placed on the 10-day disabled list, with a return projected sometime before the playoffs, was like a total solar eclipse happening on your birthday, which also happens to fall on Thanksgiving Day.
This near tragedy, however, was yet another soggy side note to what otherwise has been a season as bright as the rainbow emblazoned on the team’s new Skittles-themed tarp that had covered the field for three hours before the Harper’s calamity.
As I write, the Nationals stand 14 games ahead of the Miami Marlins in the National League East. Harper is having another MVP season. Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman are fueling a high-powered offense.
They’ve had their fair share of injuries (see: Eaton, Turner, Werth, Strasburg, Glover, Taylor, Drew, Ross and so on) but guys named Difo, Sanchez and Goodwin have surprisingly kept the team moving forward. Not treading water, but building upon the division lead.
And Rizzo’s annual trade deadline wizardry has made the bullpen great (maybe) again.
But when it comes to dealing with rainy days, the Nats play the game like the 1886 version of the Washington ball club.
When it rains, and even when it only threatens to rain but doesn’t, the Nats have issues. Criticism has been plentiful, from fans, media, old clown play-by-play announcers of a division rival… and even from Washington players. Gio Gonzalez let his frustration show when the team delayed a game start for hours even though it barely sprinkled.
And Harper, the day after his slip and spill, took a slight shot at the decision to play Saturday night following a 3-hour delay and rain still drumming the field.
“I don’t like wet bases,” he said between games of a day-night doubleheader Sunday with the San Francisco Giants.
Harper thought about Eaton, he said, while he was rolling on the ground, clutching his knee, giving us all heart attacks.
“Then I thought to myself, it’s 10 o’clock at night and we’re playing the game in the rain,” he recalled. “So, I was really upset about that as well. But you know, it’s just a freak accident, a freak situation.”
True, but was it avoidable?
Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, is asking Major League Baseball what it can do to ensure the safety of its players when rain, falling light enough to continue play, is turning the base bags into a slip and slide.
“In this instance with Bryce’s injury, you step on a base and you cannot have it be that slick and it obviously was caused by precipitation and inclement weather. The safeguards are so simple and immediate,” Boras said.
“You can certainly have people, the umpire checking the bag, even pitch-by-pitch. You can have the grounds crew, certainly, called in, or you can have it done between each field exchange by the teams. So, there’s a number of things that aren’t done that could be done rather simply.”
In another interview earlier in the week, Boras made comparisons to the NBA, where action is quickly stopped to wipe up sweat, or whatever, from the court.
Is that a practical solution? Should it be a job for the umpires to periodically wipe off the bases? Every few pitches? How often, I guess, depends on how steadily the rain is falling.
Since Harper’s injury, much discussion has been focused on improving base technology, giving the bag more traction as runners make contact.
“When you have an elite athlete touching in the very middle of the bag and just sliding across, it’s like ice on cement,” Boras said. “So, it’s really something we need more clarification and standards and study to ensure player safety.”
Maybe Boras is on to something. If there’s a base technology that can be used that would allow the bag remain relatively dry throughout a steady rain and not cause players to slip like they were in the shower, as Harper said he felt Saturday night, then the simple logistics of replacing bases is well worth it to save a player’s health, his season and potentially his career.
Are the Nationals the baseball weather story of the year?
Each year, I think about writing a post listing the top 10 baseball weather stories of the year. I haven’t done it yet, but maybe this is the year. Last year’s top story developed during the final game of the season, the World Series Game 7 rain delay that allowed the Cubs to regroup and capture the team’s first title in 108 years. Hands down, that was the baseball weather story of the year.
Not nearly as significant and captivating is this year’s top story… so far: the Nationals struggles with weather delays. Are the Nats really this bad at dealing with the weather, or have they simply had a run of bad luck this year?
I’d like to think it’s the latter. However, after tracking the events of Friday night, it’s difficult to not believe the team just can’t get its stuff together.
After a long rain delay of the series opener with the San Francisco Giants that night, the game was finally called and postponed more than two hours after the scheduled start. Players were seen leaving the ballpark. Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy was called in to chat with media around 9:15 p.m., according to the Washington Post. There was only one problem: Someone forgot to tell the fans at the ballpark until about 30 minutes later.
Rain Delay Theater… on Twitter
During Friday night’s lengthy rain delay, Nationals TV play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter answered questions on Twitter. Of course, I had to jump in with a weather-related question, but nothing hard-hitting about the Nats’ weather problems. On short notice, the best I question I could think of was: What’s your most memorable rain delay moment?
Yeah, I know. I could have done better. But to my surprise, Carpenter quickly answered with this witty gem:
Not for publication. What happens in the booth when we’re off air, stays in booth.
— Bob Carpenter (@scorebook_bob) August 12, 2017
Picturesque PNC Park
The week’s post can’t be all about the Nats, so to close, let’s go out the PNC Park where, rain or shine, it’s always postcard-perfect. The Pirates posted this photo on Twitter Thursday night to announce the team’s game with the Cardinals would be briefly delayed by rain.
A little delay tonight due to the weather, but we anticipate a 7:25pm first pitch. pic.twitter.com/6WdExlmaTy
— Pirates (@Pirates) August 17, 2017
And later, this:
— Matthew Frey (@mfreyd) August 18, 2017