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March 12, 2012

The BP First Take

Monday, March 12

by Daniel Rathman

There are few more frustrating experiences for fans than going to a game, watching four-plus innings of baseball, and then having a rainstorm set in that forces the grounds crew to bring out the tarp. Those rain delays are at least equally loathsome to the players, particularly when they happen amid a rally and dim their team’s momentum.

It’s understandable, then, that first-year Cardinals Mike Matheny was miffed by the fifth-inning hiatus during the game against the Marlins on Saturday. But what really irked Matheny was the MLBPA’s decision to hold a mandatory meeting with the Marlins, even as the showers moved away yielding clear skies and playable conditions.

With the resumption of the game firmly in the hands of the host Marlins, the Cardinals sat in their dugout waiting for the meeting to conclude. The delay ultimately lasted an hour and 49 minutes—nearly as long as the two hours and 19 minutes of actual game time—and was, in Matheny’s opinion, handled unacceptably by all parties.

Spring training is spring training for everyone; it can be as much a time for teams and the league to evaluate policies as for players to get back into shape for the 162-game season. But extended delays are at least as much a safety concern in March as they are in May, especially considering that players are not yet conditioned for the upcoming grind.

Forcing players who had warmed up and played to cool down and then warm back up again on relatively short notice increases the risk of muscle strains and other injuries. Though the strategic implications of a rain delay are much greater when the games actually count, deciding which players to keep in the game and how to amend pitching plans is important in Grapefruit League play as well. If the Marlins, the umpires, and the league left the Cardinals in the dark, then Matheny’s complaints are justified.

As Matheny said, “If they’re out there for the safety for the players, I’m always supporting it.” Rain delays are an unfortunate but necessary part of the game, and they exist first and foremost to prevent injuries. The problem and the irony is that by prolonging the delay with the meeting, the MLBPA put the teams at a greater risk of injury once the game resumed. And whether it’s spring training or the regular season, mistakes like that are unacceptable.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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