In the spring, I have counted 134 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” Mark Twain

As of April 16th, 22 major league baseball games have been canceled since opening day due to Mother Nature. The fact that a spot needs to be found this summer to make these games up demands the commissioner to do some evaluations on not only opening day, but scheduling in general. Some say there is no easy solution in this battle. I disagree. Clearly, the owners are making no money when games are played in cold and unfavorable conditions. Not yet clear, but a definite problem will be attempts to make up these games with the current schedule and still being able to execute quality baseball late in the season. Therefore, drop inter-league play. That will lessen the amount of games played by 20; not enough for fans to complain nor owners to worry about loss of revenue. Start the season April 15 and end the season September 15th. The will open up time for make up games if needed and take out most of the cold weather both early and late in the season. Problem solved.

 

First, let me say when games are called due to inclimate weather, player comfort is only a small factor. So needless to say we don’t need the chants of “these guys make millions, make them play.” It is about the bat, the ball, the field, and the safety of valuable players. Lets take a look at some of the differences encountered when playing in 40 degrees as opposed to 95 degrees. Pitchers can be cold or warm weather pitchers, but they cannot be both effectively. Pitchers have to be able to “feel” the ball and in cold weather they can often experience numbness in the fingers making that impossible. Therefore, their pitching inventory must change due to both control issues and the direct effect cold weather has on the ball itself. Cold weather will make the ball feel much luck a cue ball-harder and slick making a good grip nearly impossible. This could be the reason we have seen hitters hit by a pitch much more this spring as well as the amount of walks given up. Pitchers simply don’t have the same control in cold weather as warm weather. If your fingers are dry and the ball is slicker then it becomes dangerous. Pitchers who rely on sinkers and curve balls will suffer more than fast ball pitchers. When temperatures are 40 degrees and below, balls will have about 3% less movement due to air density, which also affects trajectory by 10%. This can result in 40% slower ball travel after it is hit; a ball hit in 100 degree weather could travel 400 feet whereas in 40 degrees it will only travel 392 feet. So for pitchers, weather 40 degrees and below make grip very difficult, exacerbates slippery ball issues, ball has less movement and drop. Former Cub pitcher Mitch Williams, Wild Thing, has been quoted as saying, Do you want to face me when I have no control? Because that is what playing in cold weather will get you.”

Not only does ball density make it heavier, therefore traveling much less farther, hitting the ball in cold weather hurts, especially when they are jammed and hit closer to the hands. If you get jammed with a pitch or hit one off the end of the bat that is going to sting for an inning or even two. Batters know curve balls and sliders will either hang, or have no movement and pitchers will rely more on fastballs. However, they must also be aware that control will be a problem and be prepared to move out-of-the-way to avoid being hit by a pitch.  And as seen early this year, walks are up considerably when weather is cold due to those issues.

 

The field itself is also affected by cold temperatures. The ground is harder and spikes can’t dig into frozen earth therefore they lose grip. When balls come in contact with frozen ground the action taken is completely different from a ball hitting the field in 90 degree temperatures creating more errors by players who, remember, are playing with numb fingers making it harder to field and throw the ball.

 

Weather has so much impact on the baseball itself, that MLB is contemplating universal humidor storage for game balls next year. The Rockies have been using a humidor for several years and Arizona will also begin this storage. A large reason for this would be to improve the grip of the ball. A dry ball is more difficult to grip, so balls stored in a humidifier will make the grip better. However, it will add density to the ball much like you see in cold wet conditions. This will make the ball heavier and offense might suffer. In 2017 we saw plenty of balls leaving the park and during the world series heard complaints from pitchers about balls being slick and possibly juiced. The great humidor experiment is one way commissioner Manfred is showing he is taking those complaints seriously and contemplating a change. Major league baseball guidelines state baseballs need to be stored at 70 degrees with 50 percent humidity which is the main reason Coors Field has used humidors for many years and why the Diamondbacks will also begin doing so. Chase Field has always been considered a hitters ball park in the hot dry months because the balls are less dense and travel farther. Using a humidifier, though stated the main reason was for pitchers to grip the ball better, could change all that.

 

The weather has always been a factor in baseball and players have learned to adapt. But that does not mean the game was meant to be played nor should it be played in extreme conditions. Baseball played in winter-like conditions is not high level baseball, will not draw fans to stadiums and is unsafe. Not only should scheduling be reviewed and concessions made but there needs to be in place a universal system regarding the weather and when games should be called. This will make a much better fan experience and allow players to play the game at the highest level possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

statistics from Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois

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