Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MLB Drops the Ball, Blames Meteorologists

Don’t like the result of your decision? Blame science!

Major league baseball made a very poor decision and attempted to play a baseball game during a strengthening coastal storm and is now blaming faulty forecasts from weathermen for their poor decision.

(Last night at the World Series, Jason Werth couldn't quite make this catch at the wall, and Bud Selig couldn't quite read a radar. Image to right from yahoo, Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB via Getty Images)

Last night Game 5 of the World Series between the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies was suspended in the sixth inning due to rain. This was a noteworthy moment as never before in the history of major league baseball had a world series baseball game been suspended in progress. Rapidly strengthening nor’easters are not to be trifled with, so it’s not surprise that the game wasn’t completed. Except to perhaps running major league baseball, who blamed the game suspension on poor weather forecasting. (Aside: Now you can see that I’ll take any excuse to write about baseball, as in realitly, I spend the majority of my days checking various excellent baseball blogs.)

Though Monday opened as an overcast but dry day in Philadelphia, the forecast grew progressively worse. The three meteorological agencies used by Major League Baseball all recommended to Selig at approximately 7:45 p.m. ET that there would be 1/10th of an inch of precipitation until midnight, and all parties involved voted to play.

"Given the weather forecast we had, and we had monitored it over and over again, it was a decision that we made," Selig said. "And obviously I made it with some significant trepidation, but had the forecast held, we would have been OK."

Rain began falling significantly in the fourth inning, and Selig met with the groundskeeper in the fifth inning. The sand-based field of Citizens Bank Park absorbs water well, but the condition deteriorated over the next 1 1/2 innings, prompting Welke to wave the teams off after the top of the sixth.

The only problem with mlb’s position is that the forecast was actually RIGHT, as reported by national weather online:

Commissioner, Bud Selig, cited faulty forecasts for the unfortunate premature halt of the game. He mentioned that the clearly erroneous forecasts had only called for a tenth of an inch of rain between 8 PM and midnight. For most who won't check their facts, this sounds like an atrocious error by meteorologists! But, a check of the numbers yields .13" of rain by the time the game was called. Though this means there was an error of three hundredths of an inch of rain at that time - and ten hundredths of an inch of rain by midnight when the official amount was .23" of rain, many would agree that's a pretty darn good precipitation forecast.

The weather forecast for last night called for a strengthening nor’easter to start blowing up the East Coast. Anyone who lives along the Atlantic knows that when a nor’easter is getting going, it’s a good night to stay inside with a warm drink and a nice book. Needless to say I was shocked when the game started last night. I was actually tuned into Monday night football instead of the world series because I assumed that the game was canceled. And so did Joe Posnanski:

They never should have started the game. That was obvious from early Monday evening, when a light rain began to mist in Philadelphia. The weather radars, at least according to a local weatherman who was on television in the press box, showed that a hard and cold rain was gonna fall. The TV meteorologist said that rain would start falling right around 10 p.m. Eastern time. That figured to be right around the fourth or fifth inning.

Let’s take a look at those radar images to see if we can notice anything ominous looming.

Here is the radar at 7pm, when Bud and crew were sitting around chatting about whether or not to play the game. An expansive region of light to moderate rain sits just off to the west moving slowly towards the east. Only 5 to 10 miles west of Philadelphia, a narrow filament of moderate rain appears to be building. And according to surface observations, it’s already raining in Philadelphia.

Now it’s 8pm. It’s raining lightly. Just about time for the game to start. The narrow filament of moderate rain sits just to the west of Philadephia. This filament continues to grow slowly. The large swath of light rain has moved a bit further east, now almost connecting with the narrow filament. It’s clear now that this rain will reach Philadelphia in the next hour or so. The area of rain is large, and slowly growing more intense. There is no reason to expect the rain will end anytime soon. Why start the baseball game?

Now it’s 9pm. It’s raining lightly, with a temperature of 45 F. The heavier filament of rain has pulled off to the north, which is good news. However, now the entire Philadelphia region is encompassed in the light rain shield that has moved in from the west, with heavier rain off to the southwest, slowly moving towards the ballpark. It’s not going to get any better from this point out.

Now it’s 10pm. The rain has picked up a bit in intensity, and the temperature is down to 43. The metro region is encompassed in a band of moderate rain, with more off to the southwest to come. Shortly after this Bud and company cancel the game.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, and you don’t need three weather forecasting firms to tell you that it was going to rain more and more in Philadelphia last night. It was obvious to anyone paying attention that it was a lousy night in Philadelphia for baseball. Give us a break here. The game should not have been played.

The talking heads, baseball’s apologists on ESPN, had a slightly different take on the events:

“There’s nothing they could have done any different.” – Peter Gammons

“Are we going to see some snow on Tuesday?” – Karl Ravech
“We might!” – Tim Kurkjian

Is there hope for the rest of the world series? Here’s what mlb has to say about today (Tuesday’s forecast):

Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's chief operating officer, made comments after tonight's game: "The weather tomorrow is supposed to be worse."

Where are you getting that from Bob? As of 9am this morning the worst was over in Philadelphia and all that remained was a bit of light rain on the west side of the storm, that should pull out by noon or so.

Sorry Bud! This one is on you Bud, just like with the '94 strike, and the '02 all star game. You made a poor decision, accept it and don't blame weathermen.


Rebecca said...

Great post.

I'm no meterologist, but I can understand the radar clear enough. Just wish winter would wait till after halloween, is all.

tCBG said...

When both managers have used all their pitchers, and have no one else to put on the mound, how is that Selig's fault?

Selig has screwed up a lot (hey, how about that steroids era?), but the blame for the ASG should be on the Joe Torre and Bob Brenly, not Selig. Plus, this was SIX years ago, and just an all-star game. Get over it.

parrotheadnj said...

I think I am more willing to trust Bud Selig in this matter instead of the meteorologists. Bud get things wrong about 2-3x a baseball season. Meteorologists get the forecast wrong 2-3x a week.

Michael said...

I disagree with parrotheadnj, that is the problem with the general public interpreting a forecast. They assume that if an weather event does/does not happen at their specific location that the forecast is wrong and this isn't the case. Usually a simple check of the radar would show that if precipitation didn't occur at a location maybe it very close. In the age of point specific forecasts the public is too greedy in what they expect and don't know how to interpret what the do receive in a forecast. Super computers can do a calculation in 1 second that it would take one person 17 million years to do by hand and the computers can't predict the exact location of a weather event. Anyone with an iota of knowledge could have looked at the radar and seen that the prognosis wasn't good. Bud Selig should bear the scrutiny not the meteorologists who put out a good forecast.

Chris said...

Great post, great points. No World Series game should be started if there is a decent chance that the games outcome would be influenced by weather conditions rather than the quality of each team.

tcbg: If Selig is the person who called the game in 2002, how can he be absolved of responsiblity?

parrotheadnj: If you just examined the facts on the ground (radar prior to game), how could you trust Selig?

enfueg013 said...

Good information. The general public's understanding of science (and math for that matter) is atrocious. Michael is absolutely correct. Forecasting complex fluid systems on the scale of regional weather is unbelievably complicated. I am no meteorologist, but I am an engineer (GO BIG RED!) who understands the intricacies of mathematical models for real world observations, and thinking about the number of variables involved in weather forecasting and the complexity of the equations involved therein scares the **** out of me.

When people hear statements like "1/10th of an inch of rain", or "doubles your risk of getting cancer", or "statistically speaking, flying is safer than driving," have no idea how to analyze the statements as presented. Hence we get the joke, "the weatherman is the only person who can do his job wrong every day and still get a raise." For shame, public. For shame.

bacbank said...

As a lifelong Phillies fan, I have attended all three World Series games in Philadelphia. I also held Bud Selig in extreme low regard long before this incident.

I sat through the Saturday delay without complaint because weather happens. I was outraged by Monday night, but only after I heard Selig's comments on the way home.

If they discussed suspending the game prior to the start, there is no excuse of letting it continue beyond the 5th inning. I believe the rain started steadily falling in the 3rd inning but intensified in the 4th and 5th innings. The basepaths and home plate had become large puddles, in spite of the efforts of the groundskeepers.

As soon as Rollins & Feliz both thought they were camped under Baldelli's pop-up and then Rollins staggered around the infield unable to catch it between the wins, rain and wet footing, it was clear to the 45,900 attendees that it was no longer safe for the players.

(NOTE: Rollins was charged with an error on the play, so extra kudos to the scorer for a job well done.)

They could have stopped the game at any point after that and I believe the fans would have understood. The fact that play continued until the game was tied is nonsense unless they admit they were waiting until it was safe.

Also, I wouldn't want the World Series to be decided by a rain-shortened game either. I agree that the existing rule is incomplete, but does the Commissioner really have the right to overrule the rulebook? Does the Rules/Competition Committee have an opinion on the matter or is Bud omnipotent?

Bethany said...

I'm not a meteorologist...yet...in May I am graduating with a BS in meteorology. I agree with enfueg, and I would add that the atmosphere is a chaotic system. Between that and the fact that we don't have continuous weather observations, it's literally impossible to make a perfect forecast intentionally, especially at such a small scale as one city. For comparison, Philadelphia's geographical size is about 135 sq. mi. Nor'easters are closer to a few thousand sq. mi. It's practically impossible to predict exactly what impact a storm of that size will have on a city a mere fraction of its size. Obviously, Bud Selig truly has no idea how difficult forecasting is.

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