19to21: April 16, 2007
19 to 21
No, that wasn't the temperature in Cleveland on Opening Day (although it was close), it's, Baseball... Then and Now
At one time the baseball season opened in mid-April. Usually with the Reds and/or the Senators hosting the opening game(s) due the Cincy’s seniority as the home of the first openly all-salaried baseball team, and D.C. because, well, the president was there, and he traditionally had thrown out the first ball on the season since back on April 14, 1910 when William Howard Taft did the honors prior to a Walter Johnson one-hit shutout of the Philadelphia Athletics.
Except for Stan the Man going four-for-four, the April 16, 1957 Reds/Cards contest was totally unremarkable (unless you’re Brian Walton or Jim Hardy or some other equally-devoted Cardinals fan), with Herm Wehmeier staggering through all nine innings to pick up the win (Herm Wehmeier was the Cardinals’ Opening Day pitcher?) over a series of equally inept Reds’ hurlers, notably starter and loser Johnny Klippstein. What was notable was the fact that it was Opening Day, and the game was played on Anne Shiffert’s birthday, AKA, the day after the income tax deadline (Happy Birthday, mom!) If you’ll recall, the current baseball season has already been going for more than two weeks. And thereby hangs a tale.
Candidates for hanging this year might include Cleveland Indians GM Mark Shapiro, the various poo-bahs who currently (sort of ) run baseball, a number of TV executives (the people who really run baseball) and umpire Rick Reed… just some of the key players in one of the worst weather-related fiascos in baseball history. You’ve certainly seen the clips on ESPN… the Indians’ ground crew using snow blowers, for goodness sakes, to try and clear the diamond at Jacobs Field. A field temporarily decorated with snowmen instead of baseball players. Paul Byrd throwing pitches with his old-fashioned full windup in a driving snowstorm.
The recent snowout in Cleveland doesn’t really need to be rehashed at great length except to note that; 1) the Indians, i.e.; GM Shapiro, should never have let the first game of the series start in the first place, 2) crew chief Reed should have called off the game as soon as it started to snow again, 3) Reed then compounded his first error of omission with an error of commission, allowing Mariners manager Mike Hargrove (known as “The Human Rain Delay” during his playing days) to stall long enough with two outs in the top of the fifth so that the snow became a blizzard – then finally calling the game when Byrd was one strike away from getting in a regulation contest (and a no-hitter to boot). There are no excuses permitted. Shapiro has spent enough time in Cleveland to know what lake effects snow is, whether or not the radar shows said snow. After all, it had been snowing all day! Reed, once the game starts, has the authority to call it off, and, further, he should have told Hargrove to go back in the dugout and stop singing, “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” until the inning was over. Put it altogether, and it added up to another Cleveland Joke.
Trying to be fair to the guilty parties, there actually are a couple of, if not excuses, at least additional facts that add some perspective in light of the Indians’ next series becoming the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at the Cleveland Indians of Milwaukee because there was still a foot of snow on Jacobs Field. First, this was hardly the first time baseball officials made a bad decision regarding the weather (scant consolation there to Indians Manager Eric Wedge, after catcher Victor Martinez tweaked a quad running to first in the snow) and second, that’s the kind of weather you’re likely to get in Cleveland (and Boston, and Detroit, and Chicago, and Denver, etc.) in early April.
Probably the most famous example of baseball officials failing as weathermen took place in October, in the seventh game of the 1925 World Series, a contest featuring the Pirates and the aforementioned Messrs. Johnson and Senators. The Bucs were attempting to come all the way back from a three—one deficit against the greatest pitcher of all time, who had already beaten them twice in that same series. However, the date was October 15, 1925, and Walter Johnson was now almost 38 years old and had thrown something like 75,000 sidearm fastballs to approximately 22,000 batters. And, it was raining. Raining hard. Raining in the fog. Raining in the smoke (the game was in Pittsburgh, the Smoky City). Raining in the dark. Probably the worst conditions ever for a World Series game, to say nothing of the seventh game of a World Series. And yet, the game went on. According to what Senators’ right fielder Goose Goslin told Larry Ritter in “The Glory of Their Times,” it was pouring like mad from the third inning on, and by the seventh it was so foggy he couldn’t see what was going on in the infield. In fact, the conditions were so bad that, according to Goslin, Kiki Cuyler’s two run double down the right field line that broke a 7-7 tie in the bottom of the eighth was foul… two feet foul, because it landed in the mud and stuck there. Although other versions of Cuyler’s hit say it was a ground rule double into the crowd, you get the picture, even if Kenesaw Mountain Landis, or umpires McCormick, Moriarty and Rigler (note that all three of them have just one “i”) didn’t. Unlike Cleveland in April 2007, there wasn’t another series coming up after the Senators/Pirates affair, and, it wasn’t going to keep snowing for the next three days. Pittsburgh weather in October is generally better than Cleveland weather in April.
Judge Landis had a choice. And, as the 1000-year old knight in “Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail” said, “he chose poorly.” Did major league baseball, or Mark Shapiro or Rick Reed, or anyone else have a choice on that vile Apr. 6? Maybe not. Despite the fact that the baseball schedule seems to run forever, from March to November, there is very little leeway in the 162 game, unbalanced (it’s unbalanced alright) interleague schedule that precedes three rounds of post season play. Hence the atrocity of the Indians and the Angles playing three American League games in a National League city (which just happens to be the current commissioner’s home town). It was, after all, the only time the Angels were scheduled to go to Cleveland all year.
Much has been made of the suggestion that baseball should schedule its early season (although no one is willing to define “early season”) games in either warm weather cities, or cities with domed stadiums. Leaving aside issues of competitive imbalance – it’s easy to picture the Indians or Rockies or Cubs having to schedule their entire first month on the road – there’s one little problem. There are 16 teams in the National League and 14 teams in the American League, meaning you need eight warm/domed sites for the NL, and seven warm/domed sites for the AL. Guess what? Unless you want to consider Washington a “warm weather city,” there are only seven such locations in National League cities, those being Atlanta, Florida, Houston, Milwaukee, Arizona, San Diego and Los Angeles. And the low temperature in Atlanta on Easter Day, the day of the last snowed-out doubleheader in Cleveland, was a balmy 28. It also flurried a little on the north side of Atlanta on Apr. 10 and Apr. 15. Furthermore, there are only five such sites in the American League, namely Tampa Bay, Toronto, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Texas. In other words, the warm weather/domed scenario is impossible.
So what to do? Try looking back at baseball history. As previously noted, Opening Day 50 years ago was on April 15 in Washington and April 16 in Cincy. (In case you’re interested, 100 years ago, in 1907, Opening Day was April 11.) In the five seasons prior to the first baseball expansion in 1961, the American League’s Opening Days were held on April 17, 15, 14, 9 and 18 (when, for some reason, the AL didn’t open its 1960 season until six days after the NL). In the five seasons prior to the National’s first expansion in 1962, the Senior Circuit opened on April 16, 15, 9, 12 and 11. Add them together, and you have an “average” Opening Day on April 13.6… which is pretty hard to do.
Next came the 162-game season. Take the next seven years in the National League, and the next eight in the American League, which takes us up to the 1968 season, just before the second expansion and the division into divisions. On the average, the National League opened on April 10.6 from 1962 to 1968. The American on Apr. 10.4. Maybe three days earlier on average than before the first expansion. Now look at Opening Day from 1969 on. In other words, after both leagues split into divisions while also playing the 162 game schedule. The average Opening Day during those 37 seasons is April 4.4. That’s more than a week earlier than 50 years ago. And, if you take the past 10 seasons since the last expansion, the average Opening Day is April 1.6… practically April Fool’s Day. How appropriate.
While there may not be a complete answer to the problem of potential snow outs, freeze outs and flood outs, there is clearly an initiative that would help. Move Opening Day back closer to where it used to be! Sure, it’s not a perfect solution, you’ll still get really cold or foul weather now and again in northern cities. After all, no less than five major league teams postponed games yesterday, royally messing up Jackie Robinson Day (April 15 was Opening Day in 1947), due to a Northeaster stalling off the Atlantic coast. And, the April 11 Cubs/Astros game was also called off because of frozen precipitation... considering the Astros’ bullpen woes, Phil Garner may well have also been singing, “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Going back six years, the Cubs had an April 16, 2001 game with the Phillies snowed out as well. Go back another four years, and eight teams had to call off games on April 12, 1997. Still, moving Opening Day back to mid-April will at least help the odds a little bit. Combine that with trying to get most of the first week of games at warm weather sites, and you’ve got a fighting chance to avoid another repetition of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at the Cleveland Indians of Milwaukee.
Will this happen? As our British forbearers, who gave us English base ball, would say, not bloody likely. With the disappearance of the scheduled Sunday doubleheader (the games are too long now, and twinbills cut into revenue too much) and three layers of postseason play, the season is already scheduled so tightly that the Indians were willing to try to schedule a day/night/snow make up doubleheader. For certain, cutting out the open days in the first two weeks of the season won’t help – they’re there to provide makeup dates for bad weather. Of course, as they found out in Cleveland, bad weather in early April can last more than a day.
No, the only way is pushing Opening Day back two weeks. And the only way that will/could happen would be to cut back to a traditional 154 game schedule, and/or ditch out the Wild Card and the first round of the post season. And both of those would cut into revenue even more. Besides, the TV people won’t like it. And, in an atmosphere where the baseball season now opens on Sunday night to give ESPN a special feature, that’s a big deal. Better get used to trailing managers singing, "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."