Baseball’s Weather Problem
Another day, another rain (or snow) out. Early April baseball is not working to the favor of MLB teams and their fans. From Detroit to Boston, New York to Chicago, more than half of MLB cities have experienced rough weather in the first couple weeks of the season. And for all the emphasis the placed on “pace of play” issues, the league has not given much consideration to scheduling that allows games to actually be played.
There are a few basic realities, you will never completely avoid the issue, so long as most MLB teams play in outdoor stadiums (without retractable roofs). There are 162 games in a season, and teams play six games a week. As a fan and writer, it is not my job to design the schedule, but here’s a few creative ideas MLB could consider to address weather issues.
Schedule early April games in warm weather cities and stadiums with retractable roofs. This would be the ideal solution, if more teams played in warm weather cities or had stadiums with retractable roofs. Right now, perhaps 14 teams could fit this bill (Toronto, Tampa Bay, LA Angels, Houston, Seattle, Oakland, Texas, Atlanta, Miami, Milwaukee, Arizona, San Francisco, San Diego and LA Dodgers). If there were a 15th team this might work, it might be DC. Though none of this accounts for all potential rainouts, just cold and snow.
Should MLB expand, as it is discussing, a city like Montreal should definitely have a retractable roof stadium and geography could play a factor in deciding on potential franchises. Charlotte or Las Vegas would certainly be more applicable to April baseball than many existing MLB cities.
More teams should consider retractable roof stadiums. Baseball is an outdoor sport and we like it that way. There’s nothing like live baseball on a sunny summer afternoon or a warm summer night. Domes that used to exist in Houston, Seattle, Minnesota and still exist in Tampa Bay are not the ideal places to watch baseball. However, in places like Houston, Seattle, Milwaukee and Miami, they have the best of both worlds. Sunshine and open air when the conditions are right and coverage to avoid harsh conditions and rain outs. They have real grass too.
Toronto was the first to build the retractable roof in the early 1990s, but modern technology has made the ability to make these ballparks better. It takes approximately 10 minutes to close the roof at Saefco Field in Seattle. The windows along the side of the stadium also allow for an open air feel during games when the roof is closed. Milwaukee is the only cold weather city with a retractable roof.
The biggest obstacle is that most existing MLB ballparks have been built in the last 20 years — which means most teams will not be building ballparks in the near future. This could be a more of a long-term solution.
Consider scaling the season back to 154 games. Prior to 1961, MLB had a 154 game season and they could do so again my eliminating eight regular season games — two from each division rival. Returning to this schedule would cut the season down by over a week, allowing games to begin over a week later than it does right now.
Let’s play two! Schedule real double headers again. Scheduled doubleheaders were eliminated in the 1990s, but they should be considered as part of this scheduling solution. Owners may not like giving fans two for one tickets (they could charge more) and the players union might not like it either, but the fans would. And it would not have to be many either. Even if each team scheduled one doubleheader a month in May, June, July, August and September it would shave five days off the schedule. If that were coupled with a 154 game schedule, it would take 13 games off the current MLB schedule. Those 13 games off the schedule could be applied either entirely to the front end of the schedule or partially to the back end, to get the playoffs started sooner.
A combination of all four of these proposed solutions could begin to address baseball’s disruptive weather issues. These are problems mostly unique to baseball, as other sports like basketball and hockey are played indoors and football is scheduled to run into early winter and most weather conditions do not prevent games from being played (lightning and hurricanes aside). Also, unlike the rest of the major sports, baseball is six days a week event, with little wiggle room for making up games. In other words, baseball problems deserve baseball specific solutions.
These may or may not be the best solutions, but they can certainly help get this much needed discussion going.