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Delay Gratification
Steve Rushin
May 29, 2006
I've been saving this column for a rainy day. This spring the Giants had consecutive home rainouts for the first time since 1961, the Reds were rained out of batting practice for a full week, and the Red Sox have been rained on in Boston all month in what is rapidly resembling Noah's Park. West Virginia State and Ohio Valley University recently endured the longest rain delay on record in NCAA or professional baseball history: eight hours and 54 minutes--a wet, tedious eternity that somehow calls to mind David Blaine.
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May 29, 2006

Delay Gratification

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I've been saving this column for a rainy day. This spring the Giants had consecutive home rainouts for the first time since 1961, the Reds were rained out of batting practice for a full week, and the Red Sox have been rained on in Boston all month in what is rapidly resembling Noah's Park. West Virginia State and Ohio Valley University recently endured the longest rain delay on record in NCAA or professional baseball history: eight hours and 54 minutes--a wet, tedious eternity that somehow calls to mind David Blaine.

After the seven-hour-and-23-minute rain delay that the White Sox and the Rangers absorbed at Comiskey on Aug. 12, 1990, Texas utilityman Jack Daugherty said, "Whoever is responsible for this should be slapped." (Not God but Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.) And yet rain is, by definition, elemental. "There's three things that can happen in a ball game," Casey Stengel said. "You can win or you can lose or it can rain." Rain has precipitated some of baseball's best moments. It was during a downpour that Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda urged 375-pound umpire Eric Gregg to throw his jacket over the infield.

If it hadn't been raining, Pirates skipper Frankie Frisch never would have been ejected by umpire Jocko Conlan in Brooklyn, in 1941, for trotting to home plate beneath an umbrella to urge Conlan to call the game. That incident is said to have inspired baseball's most famous painting, Norman Rockwell's Bottom of the Sixth, of three umpires looking skyward in the rain. Now hanging in Cooperstown, it's part Mona Lisa, part Pee Wee Reese-a.

Rain was the muse for baseball's best poetry, when Gerald V. Hern wrote of the Braves' rotation in the Sept. 14, 1948, Boston Post:

First we'll use Spahn / Then we'll use Sain

Then an off day / Followed by rain.

Back will come Spahn / Followed by Sain

And followed, / We hope, / By two days of rain.

Those throwaway lines achieved immortality. Children learned them as a nursery rhyme and strangers, Spahn said later in life, recited some form of it to him almost daily.

Rain has rescued countless baseball games from obscurity. It's why there's a punk band called Rain Delay Theatre. The name refers to the noble tradition of killing time during a broadcast of a ball game suspended by rain, with results often more memorable than the game itself. In many timeless installments of Rain Delay Theater, the dramatis personae were Yankees announcers Phil Rizzuto and Bill White.

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