The Roof Will Set You Free. Sort Of.

“There’s a rain cloud coming.”

So said Mitch Moreland’s teammates, in apocalyptic tones, following the first baseman’s grand slam during a 2012 game in Arlington. A year earlier, Moreland had watched his first career grand slam go down the gutter when rain arrived at Rangers Ballpark to wash away the game and its stats, and now his pals were forecasting another granny-deleting downpour. Weathermen, his teammates were not.

Wisenheimers, they were.

Rain-free, Texas secured a 12-3 defeat of Baltimore on the strength of Moreland’s first official grand slam. Beginning on March 31, when the Rangers set feet on Globe Life Field for their 2020 home opener, it won’t much matter if a rain cloud is coming. For the first time in their 48-year history, the Rangers will play their home games beneath a (retractable) roof. What that means for the Rangers is no more rain and its frustrating fallout: the delays, the postponements, the sloppy conditions.

What it also means, however, is that the Rangers will no longer invite the weirdness that rain has long delivered to baseball. Indeed, across the 149-year history of the big leagues, rain has produced an indelible history of its own. Where does one begin?

One might begin at the beginning, or near it. On June 12, 1880, Lee Richmond took the mound at Worcester’s Driving Park to begin the second game of his Ruby Legs’ three-game series against the Cleveland Blues. For seven innings, he baffled the Blues with his “fade-away” pitch and unusual assortment of curveballs. So dominant was Richmond that he entered the eighth with what baseball had never witnessed, what no one had a word for, what the sport would later call a perfect game. After retiring the first batter of the inning, Richmond looked up to see rain come down.

Weirdly, this wasn’t the first time a Richmond no-hitter had been affected by rain. A season earlier, Ruby Legs manager Frank Bancroft had coaxed Richmond out of Brown University to pitch an exhibition game against the mighty White Stockings. After issuing a leadoff walk, Richmond retired the next 21 batters in the lineup.

For the first time, yet not for the last, he had a no-hitter through seven innings.

And that’s when the rain arrived. Following a delay, officials put an end to the contest. Richmond had just crafted a rain-shortened no-hitter in his unofficial major league debut. Would the same thing happen now, one season hence?

Nope. After a five-minute delay, play resumed. Using sawdust to dry the ball before each pitch, Richmond retired the next five batters to secure the first perfecto in major league history. Nearly a century later, on Aug. 6, 1967, Twins righty Dean Chance held the Red Sox hitless through three innings and was prepared to begin the fourth when the rain came down. Following a 25-minute delay, play resumed, and Boston leadoff man Mike Andrews immediately leveraged the rain to his advantage by attempting to bunt for a hit on the slippery field. Chance fielded the ball, secured his feet and, despite the slick conditions, tossed out Andrews at first base.

Chance had kept the Sox hitless, and off base, through five innings when plate umpire Jim Odom suspended play once more. Ten minutes later, after the rain had subsided, the grounds crew began to remove the tarp. Then, suddenly, the clouds let loose. After a third delay, this one lasting 57 minutes, Odom called the game. With four innings forever unplayed, Chance had crafted history’s ninth perfecto.

Mike Andrews was hardly the first player to bunt on a wet field in efforts to end a no-hitter. On Sept. 20, 1958, with rain falling on Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, Hank Bauer tried to bunt a knuckler from Orioles starter Hoyt Wilhem for the Yankees’ first hit. As the ball trickled foul, the crowd cut loose with boos. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Bauer popped out. Wilhelm had the first and only no-hitter of his career.

That’s right: Bauer had bunted, in the rain, with one out to go for a no-no.

If rain has produced high drama when pitchers are trying to secure no-hitters, it has also done so when hitters are trying to produce career-changing hits. On June 16, 1941, Joe DiMaggio entered Yankee Stadium with a 28-game hit streak, one game shy of the club record. In each of his first two at-bats, he lined out sharply. With his streak in the balance, DiMaggio looked on as rain began falling in the fifth. Once the Indians had finished their at-bats in the top of the frame, plate umpire Bill McGowan suspended play with the score at 3-3. Inside the locker room, DiMaggio smoked cigarettes and drank coffee. Would play resume? Following an hour’s delay, it did. With two outs in the fifth, DiMaggio tied the club mark by stroking a double to left.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

One month later, on July 17, the Yankees again faced Cleveland as DiMaggio stood poised to extend his streak from 56 to 57 games. In the first, he clubbed an Al Smith curveball down the third-base line. Playing deep, third baseman Ken Keltner backhanded the ball. Would DiMaggio beat the throw to extend his streak? Nope.

In dirt dampened by rain, DiMaggio had gotten a slow start from the box.

Another Yankee legend saw rain affect his own run at an all-time mark. In 1921, Babe Ruth hit a record 59 homers. But as Jim Rygelski wrote in the Baseball Research Journal, “The Babe became — and remains — the only person to bid for the single-season homer record (those who have hit 56 or more) whose team didn’t play a full schedule.” Ruth had entered the Sept. 4 game against the Senators with 50 home runs. He singled in the top of the first inning that day, but a rainstorm in the bottom of the inning caused its eventual washout and the game was never made up.

Who knows? Ruth might have hit 60. What we do know is this: The Yankee legend who hit 61 actually hit 62. On July 17, 1961, in game two of a twin bill, Roger Maris homered to give New York a 4-1 lead entering the fifth. That’s when the rain came.

If not for the washout, Maris would have finished with 62 — or more.

Maris is among the multitude of players to have had a homer erased by rain. (I outlined many victims here.) Sometimes, though, rain can’t erase even the ones it touches. On Sept. 30, 1945, Hank Greenberg stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning of Detroit’s season finale. His Tigers trailed the Browns, 3-2, as a steady rain fell. Greenberg, a two-time MVP, had returned from his 47-month military stint just three months earlier. Crack!

Through raindrops, Greenberg launched a grand slam to win the game and send the Tigers to the World Series, where they defeated the Cubs in seven games. One suspects that in the aftermath of Greenberg’s grand slam, his teammates were less weisenheimer-ish than Moreland’s. After all, the rain cloud was already there.


Rain clouds come and go, of course, and now that they had come to the Polo Grounds, Giants manager John McGraw desperately wished them gone — at least for a few more minutes. Entering their Sept. 29, 1916, game against Boston, the Giants had gone 26 games without a loss. Their only blemish: a 1-1 tie. McGraw wanted not only to extend the win-streak record, he wanted to catch the first-place Robins.

Leading by a run in the top of the fifth, the Giants needed just three outs to make it official and secure the victory. The problem? The rain was falling harder, and with the Braves coming to bat, plate umpire Lord Byron called the game.

If rain affects players, and it does, it also affects teams. Does it ever.

One of history’s most famous rainouts occurred on Aug. 8, 1988, with the Cubs playing their first-ever night game on the North Side. It began with a bang, as Phillies leadoff man Phil Bradley clubbed Rick Sutcliffe’s third pitch onto Waveland Avenue to give Philly an early lead. Following a Ryne Sandberg homer, the Cubs were leading 2-1 when rainfall began between the fourth and fifth innings.

Following a delay of two-plus hours, officials called the game.

Wrigley’s first official game beneath the lights would occur one night later.

On other occasions, rain delays are just that — delays. They don’t end in postponement. One extreme example occurred on the Fourth of July, 1985, when 44,947 fans packed Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in anticipation of baseball and fireworks. What they got, for two full hours, was heavy rain.

Finally, at 9:04 p.m., the game began. And it just kept going.

In the top of the ninth, a game-tying single by Lenny Dykstra sent it into extra innings. In the bottom of the 13th, a two-out homer by Terry Harper sent it the 14th. In the top of the 18th, Braves reliever Rick Camp yielded a go-ahead sacrifice fly.

Then, in the bottom of the frame, Camp hit a two-out homer to tie it.

Along the way, rain had interrupted the game to push play later and later. In the top of the 19th, the Mets exploded for five runs to lay claim to the win. After starting two hours late, the game had lasted six hours and 10 minutes. At 4 a.m., the skies above the stadium — and the neighborhood — erupted not with rain but with pyrotechnics.

A decade earlier, rain had wreaked havoc on another extra-inning game. Hosting the Astros on Aug. 25, 1975, the Cardinals held a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning when closer Al Hrabosky surrendered the tying run. The Astros took a 3-2 lead in the 10th, but the Cards then tied it. Rain began falling in the 11th as onetime ace Bob Gibson entered in relief for St. Louis. After retiring the first two batters, Gibson faced Cliff Johnson. Johnson had homered in five straight games. Make that six straight. He sent a Gibson fastball deep into the left-field seats to give the Astros a one-run lead.

As rain fell harder, Houston reliever Jim Crawford got set to face Ted Simmons with a runner on second and two outs in the bottom of the 11th. The clouds lost their grip. At 10:11 p.m., play was suspended. Two hours later, the game was called. With the 11th unfinished, the rules dictated that the entire inning be erased and the game revert to its 10th-inning score. One out shy of victory, the Astros had a tie. One out shy of defeat, the Cards had a tie. One out shy of six straight, Johnson had five.

If rain affects teams, and it does, it also affects players. Does it ever.

“That’s the way it goes,” Johnson said. “At least the rain will help the farmers.”


Farmers get what they get whenever they get it.

Rain falls when rain falls. It stops when it stops.

Entering the seventh inning of Chicago’s May 6, 1998, home game against Houston, Cubs starter Kerry Wood had given up just one hit — a weak infield single — and no walks. What’s more, he had struck out 12 batters and seemed poised to whiff more.

One hitch: Rain had begun to fall.

Wood looked fearless, but he was afraid.

“I specifically remember standing on the mound and looking over my glove and saying, “Don’t call this, don’t call this,” he said years later in an interview.

But plate umpire Jerry Meals did not stop the game, and the rain did not stop Wood. He struck out Jeff Bagwell to begin the inning, then whiffed Jack Howell and Moises Alou to complete it. The skies over Wrigley stayed gray but the rain stayed away, and in the top of the ninth, Wood whiffed Derek Bell to end the game with his 20th strikeout. By game score, it remains the greatest game ever pitched. With a few more raindrops, it might have been over in the seventh, with the Cubs leading, 1-0.

At other times, during other soon-to-famous games, rain holds off even longer. When Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard ’Round the World to give the Giants the 1951 NL pennant, more than 20,000 seats at the Polo Grounds were empty.

Why? The forecast called for rain. It never came.

At still other times, rain does come. It keeps coming.

On Oct. 4, 1902, the Pirates stood one win away from the greatest wins total in big league history. The Pittsburgh squad had posted 102 victories to tie the 1892 and 1898 Beaneaters for the best season ever. Only the 70-win Reds, and one fierce rainstorm, separated the Pirates from glory.

The rain kept falling at the Palace of the Fans. The Pirates were 27 games up on their nearest pursuer, the Superbas, but owner Barney Dreyfuss insisted that the game be played. He wanted that record. And after a game played in rain and mud, a game described as “farcical” and “disgraceful,” a game that the Cincinnati Enquirer deemed not “worth 10 lines,” he got it. The Bucs sloshed their way to an 11-2 win.


So constant a threat is rainfall, so common a foe, that baseball gave rise to official recourse. In 1870, a year before the advent of big league baseball, clubs were issuing tickets for games canceled due to rain. In 1877, the St. Louis Brown Stockings became the first major league team to issue what now was called the “rain check.”

Abner Powell, a onetime major leaguer turned minor league manager, further refined the rain check by adding a detachable dated stub. He also helped establish the use of tarps to cover the field. By 1884, the Browns had begun covering bases and base paths during storms, but Powell introduced a way to cover the diamond. By the early 1900s, the Browns were covering the entire field with huge canvas tents.

Of course, no amount of rainproofing can stop the rain.

And no rain check can guarantee it won’t fall again.

Witness, if you will, more of what rain has delivered.

  • On Sept. 17, 1912, Dodgers rookie Charles Stengel retreated to the Brooklyn clubhouse with teammates during a rain delay in a game against the Cubs. There he played poker with the veterans but did not play it well. When at last he won a hand, a teammate said to the Kansas City-born Stengel, “It’s about time you took a pot, Kansas City.” Teammates began calling him K.C.
  • On Sept. 8, 1916, A’s catcher Wally Schang hit two home runs against the Yankees — one left-handed, one right-handed. But no reporters were there to record the feat. So much rain had fallen that they just didn’t show up.
  • On Aug. 24, 1919, righty Ray Caldwell stood on the mound with one out remaining for a Cleveland victory when a rainstorm announced its presence with a lightning strike. It knocked Caldwell unconscious. Minutes later he rose and retired A’s batter Joe Dugan for the final out.
  • Due to rainouts, the 1951 Cards played a doubleheader — against two teams.
  • On Aug. 24, 1967, with his Phillies rained out, outfielder Dick Allen went home to work on his 1950 Ford. While he pushed it up the driveway in the rain, Allen’s right hand slipped through the headlight. A nerve was severed. Two tendons were cut. Surgeons gave him a 50-50 chance of playing again.
  • On June 15, 1976, the Astros experienced a rainout — at the Astrodome.
  • On Sept. 8, 1985, at Wrigley Field, Pete Rose tied Ty Cobb’s hits record with a fifth-inning single. The crowd wanted to see Rose break the mark. They’d have to wait. An eighth-inning rainstorm delayed the game for 123 minutes. Some stuck around to see Rose go down swinging in the ninth.
  • On Aug. 12, 1990, officials delayed the start of the Rangers-White Sox game because of rain. The rain kept coming. The delay kept going. Finally, with 500 fans remaining at Comiskey Park, officials called the game at 8:48 p.m. A record delay of seven hours and 23 minutes had just been established.
  • On July 19, 2006, just prior to a game at Busch Stadium, heavy winds launched vendors’ carts into fans, sending several to ERs. The stadium became so flooded that one worker had to swim through the bleachers to unclog a storm drain. After a two-hour delay, the Cards beat the Braves, 8-3.

Whatever drama rain brings to the regular season, it brings more to the postseason.

Witness the 1908 World Series, between the Tigers and Cubs. With their team trailing, 4-1, on a rain-soaked Bennett Field in Game One, Tigers fans began chanting, “Rain! Rain! Call the game!” Officials didn’t call it, and Detroit fought back to take a 6-5 lead into the ninth. That’s when Tigers catcher Boss Schmidt slipped on the wet field while attempting to field a bunt. The batter was safe, the runner scored, and the floodgates opened. The Cubs won the game and series.

Witness these, as well:

  • During the 1911 World Series, between the Giants and A’s, rain fell so hard on Shibe Park that one observer suggested slathering the field in oil and setting fire to it. Ultimately, the rain delayed Game Four by one week.
  • Prior to Game Seven of the 1925 World Series, groundskeepers did set fire to the field.
  • After playing a rain-delayed Game Five of the 1962 World Series in New York, the Giants and Yankees returned to San Francisco and encountered heavier rain. Game Six was delayed for three days. Game Seven would end in sunshine, with Willie McCovey’s lineout to second base.
  • Game Six of the 1975 World Series, which ended with Carlton Fisk’s legendary 12th-inning blast, came after a two-day rain delay.
  • In the ’86 Series, Boston appeared to catch a break when rain delayed Game Seven for a day, giving the Sox a chance to forget Bill Buckner’s Game Six error and to start ace Bruce Hurst. The Mets won anyway.
  • In 2008, weirdness reigned. With a Series lead of three games to one, the Phillies were poised to claim the crown by way of a rain-shortened Game Five win over the Rays. Leading by a run to begin the fifth, they needed to hang on for one more frame. By rule, the game could then be called. The teams played on. In the sixth, Tampa tied it at 2-2. Minutes later, officials suspended the game. Two nights later the Phils got wet, with bubbly.
  • Finally, there’s the 2016 Series, when, after Cleveland tied Game Seven, the Cubs ended a 108-year drought by waiting out a 17-minute rain.


For teams like the ’16 Indians and ’86 Sox, there might seem no greater tragedy than a World Series loss, wet or not. Even the ’85 Cardinals have a right to cry. Their World Series loss to the Royals is attributable in part to umpire Don Denkinger’s infamous blown call, but rain is also to blame. Or at least the threat of it.

Just prior to Game Four of the NLCS, the Cardinals lost outfielder Vince Coleman to the weirdest mishap in postseason history. With rain looming, St. Louis activated the automated tarp at Busch Stadium. It rolled right over Coleman. The Cardinals won the pennant but, without their leadoff man, lost the Fall Classic.

As tragic as these losses were, they don’t rank as baseball’s worst rain-related tragedies. On Aug. 16, 1920, Yankees starter Carl Mays hit Indians batter Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch. Chapman had been the Indians shortstop when Ray Caldwell got hit by lightning, and now he’d gone down as hard. Early the next morning, he died from his injuries. Mays would later claim that the ball was wet from rain that had fallen earlier.

Decades later, in the early-morning hours of May 26, 1996, eight-year big league veteran Mike Sharperson lost control of his car on a rain-slick road and suffered a fatal crash. He had been en route to the airport following a call-up from Triple A.

No tragedy is greater than death. Sometimes, though, misfortune can take a heavy toll on a life. On Sept. 5, 2006, Phillies southpaw Brian Mazone stood ready to make his major league debut in a game against Houston. Rain arrived in Philadelphia, though, and washed out his chance. Mazone pitched six more seasons in the minors but never made it back to the majors.

As cruel as its dispensations can be, rain is impartial to its consequences. It stole Mazone’s shot at the bigs but gave Steve Kuczek his. On Sept. 29, 1949, rain fell so heavily on game two of the Dodgers-Braves doubleheader that the Braves built a fire in the dugout as a signal to umpire George Barr to call the game. He didn’t. Braves infielder Connie Ryan then stepped into the on-deck circle wearing a raincoat.

Barr tossed him. Pinch-hitting was Kuczek, who, in his first big league at-bat, hit a Don Newcombe curveball for a double. It would be his only at-bat.


As funny as Ryan’s raincoat act must have been, he was hardly the first player to don rain gear in efforts to incite a reaction. Once, while his Giants were playing the Cubs in a rainstorm, pitcher Dummy Taylor retreated to the clubhouse and returned wearing rubber boots. His goal: to get the game called. Instead he got tossed.

Thus began, or continued, baseball’s rain-related shenanigans. Germany Schaefer’s career began in 1901, a year after Taylor’s. His sideshow act began then, too. An infielder, Schaefer improved on Taylor’s act by incorporating umbrellas and raincoats. Per one anecdote, he once ran to his position wearing a raincoat and galoshes. On another occasion, he wore the ensemble to the plate. So popular did his clowning become that Schaefer assumed the unofficial role of baseball jester, entertaining fans between games and, yes, during rain delays.

In one bit, Schaefer would sit in a puddle and use two bats like boat oars, rowing his invisible skiff in the rain-soaked grass. Player/clowns Nick Altrock and Al Schacht later incorporated the boat-rowing bit in their own acts, entertaining crowds before and after games and during rain delays.

With little to do but watch puddles gather, fans have long appreciated a jolly good show during rain delays. In that spirit, fans at Fenway Park certainly enjoyed Rick Dempsey’s routine late in the 1977 season. During a rain delay, Dempsey ran onto the wet tarp and, in his words, “skated around” while the organist played Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.

Later, upon putting a pillow beneath his jersey to create a fake gut, Dempsey stepped to home plate and pointed to the stands in a pantomime of Babe Ruth’s Called Shot. He then pretended to hit a mighty drive and began his Ruthian trot. He stepped around the bases and, in a now-famous flourish, slid headlong into home plate, whereupon he demonstrably called himself safe. Fenway went bonkers.

Rain falls to fall again. The hydrologic cycle demands it. And so Dempsey continued his act. Once, during a rain delay in Milwaukee, he pantomimed Robin Yount’s two-homer performance against Jim Palmer in the 1982 season finale. To complete the scene, Baltimore pitcher Sammy Stewart wore a pair of briefs over his uniform pants to mimic Palmer, who’d been doing Jockey underwear ads.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does baseball. Rain creates dead time, and baseball has to fill it. What we call it today is Rain Delay Theater, and it comes in three versions: TV, radio and live performance. Live acts have dwindled in recent years. In 2008, the Rangers famously went sliding across the wet tarp at Shea Stadium. But clubs fear injuries to expensive players, and so tarp-sliding is a lost art. Unless you consider watching the grounds crew struggle with a tarp entertaining, live Rain Delay Theater is a thing of the past. The scoreboard act has replaced it. During a rain delay at PNC Park, the scoreboard showed a reenactment of the final scene from The Sopranos. Notably, it starred the Pirate Parrot, Jolly Roger and two giant pierogies.

On TV, fans are typically subjected to interviews with franchise players or fluffy segments that the crew produced in spring training. Rain Delay Theater on radio, by contrast, can be pretty entertaining, and it has deep roots. Onetime hurler Waite Hoyt served as a popular play-by-play man from the early 1940s through the mid-1960s, and in that time he earned fame as a guy you wanted to hear during delays.

“The audiences would pray for rain,” broadcaster Red Barber once said, “so that Hoyt could tell baseball stories.” He often recounted anecdotes about Babe Ruth, his teammate with the Yankees. His rain-delay raconteuring became so popular that he released two albums of baseball tales, one titled The Best of Waite Hoyt in the Rain.

People were listening. Fellow broadcaster Herb Score confirmed as much during a rain delay in game two of a doubleheader between the Indians and Royals. The time: 1:45 a.m., and Score and broadcast partner Joe Tait decided to stage a contest to determine if anyone was still listening. Their station, Cleveland’s WWWE, pumped out 50,000 watts, so Score and Tait offered a baseball and an Indians press guide to the listener living farthest from Cleveland. Later, they received responses from Canada, Mexico and about 20 U.S. states. The co-winners lived in the Virgin Islands.


It takes more than a rain gauge to measure what rain amounts to.

And so, one wonders. Once the retractable roof closes, what’ll the Rangers miss?

Before we answer, let us recall that the SkyDome/Rogers Centre in Toronto has experienced five rain delays despite its retractable roof, including one in 2003 that lasted 26 minutes. Sometimes, that roof doesn’t close fast enough.

Let us recall, too, that in 2018, Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger hit a dramatic walkoff homer in the rain, launching it before the Seattle ceiling could close.

A roof doesn’t preclude all possibilities. It only limits them. Then again, when it comes to Globe Life Field and its retractable roof, I hear what you’re saying.

It’s not the humidity. It’s the heat.

John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.
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4 years ago

Safeco Field (as it was then) also experienced a 54 minute rain delay in 2000, in its first full season of operation (and the first in an MLB game in Seattle since the Pilots played outdoors in their only season). The roof wasn’t broken; apparently they just had to turn if off and back on again, but getting that information from the engineers to the operator took most of an hour.