During a baseball game I was attending, some clouds were rolling in and there was some chatter among the fans around a potential rain delay. Rain delays in baseball are fairly common so everyone understood that a rain delay meant the game could be temporarily paused with the potential of the game ending early, but then I heard a kid ask his dad why they can’t play baseball in the rain.
The dad quickly explained that the field needed to be protected, but this question also had me thinking about all the reasons why baseball isn’t played in the rain. So I did some research into why there are rain delays in baseball.
As a general rule, baseball games aren’t played in the rain as a way to protect players from injury and to prevent damage to the field. Heavy rain limits the visibility of the baseball while also making the baseball heavy and slippery.
Even though there are many reasons baseball games aren’t played in the rain, baseball games are still allowed to continue when there is only light rain.
How Does Rain Affect Baseball?
1) Heavy Rain Ruins the Infield
One of the biggest reasons why baseball isn’t played in the rain has to do with how the rain impacts the baseball field.
Whenever a rain delay happens in the MLB, the first thing you’ll see is a large tarp that covers the entire infield. This tarp has the job of protecting the infield from the rain while also allowing the possibility of continuing the game after the rain delay ends.
As you can see from the video below, the tarp covers the entire infield. This includes protecting the pitcher’s mound and the batter’s box, which are the most used spots within the infield and are the most prone to getting ruined when play resumes from a rain delay.
2) Rain Often Comes with Lightning Strikes
Whenever it rains, there is also the very real possibility of a lighting strike that comes with the rain. As someone who has played numerous baseball games in the rain, I can verify that it’s quite concerning to be playing baseball while you see a lighting strike nearby.
When it comes to players’ safety, umpires will call for a rain delay whenever they see a lightning strike nearby and then resume the game when the storm has passed. As a ballplayer, you definitely don’t want to be standing on the field with a metal bat or a wood bat while there is lightning close by.
The video below does a great job of showing why baseball games go into a rain delay whenever a storm is passing through.
3) It is Difficult for Players to Catch a Fly Ball in the Rain
Being able to see and catch a fly ball is a crucial aspect of defense. Whenever it’s raining and a batter hits a fly ball, the defensive player will have to look directly up at the sky in order to track that fly ball down and catch it.
If the rain is coming down hard enough, there’s a good chance that one of the raindrops lands in that player’s eye. This could easily cause that player to drop the ball or, even worse, misread the baseball and get hit by the fly ball.
The video below is a good example of how rain can negatively impact a player’s ability to catch a baseball. Luckily for Elvis Andrus, he was able to adjust and still make the catch.
4) Low Light Makes it More Difficult to See the Ball
Whenever there is rain, there are also clouds. These clouds leads to low-light conditions, which is not ideal for baseball.
This problem is more prominent in non-professional leagues, where some fields do not have lights. This can vary from field to field and from league to league, but the ball is a lot harder to pick up once it starts raining and the amount of light gets dimmer.
When there is less light on a baseball field, it also makes it more difficult for players to pick up on the spin of a baseball. Not being able to pick up on the spin of a baseball is problematic for hitters because they rely on seeing the spin of a ball to know what type of pitch is being delivered.
5) The Baseball Becomes Slippery
The baseball itself will become slippery once the rain begins. This causes an issue because the pitcher and the defense need a good grip on the baseball to make a play.
If the pitcher were to throw a slippery baseball, they could lose control of the baseball and hit the batter. If a defensive player were to lose control when throwing a baseball then the ball could be thrown in any direction, including into the stands.
The reason that a baseball being slippery is different than the ball being slippery in other sports is that baseball players are able to throw the ball 90+ miles per hour. In baseball, the ball is a lot smaller and can be thrown a lot harder than most other sports. So it is imperative that players are able to maintain control of their throws.
Some people also claim that rain can help pitchers throw a spitball, which is an illegal pitch in baseball. A traditional spitball has unusual spin and was banned from baseball in the 1920 season.
6) The Baseball Becomes Heavy, Wet, and Discolored
When it rains at a baseball field, a dirt infield will begin to turn into mud. This is problematic for all players because the baseball can easily become heavier, wet, and discolored. When a baseball becomes altered this way, it is harder for the batter to see the ball, which poses additional risks to the batter.
Most amateur baseball leagues don’t use as many baseballs as the Major Leagues will use, but the main reason the Major League uses a lot of baseballs is to make sure there is always a new ball in play. This is specifically to prevent the use of an altered baseball.
In fact, prior to the death of Ray Chapman, it was common for baseball teams to rough up a baseball. This gave the pitcher an advantage because it made the ball harder to see, but the death of Ray Chapman led to a new rule where umpires must make sure the game is played with a new baseball fairly regularly. In general, discolored baseballs pose additional risks to batters and defensive players.
If you’re interested in reading more about this rule, check out a previous article I wrote on why catcher’s change baseballs.
7) Bat is Harder to Grip
Slippery bats pose a risk to anyone within the throwing distance of a bat. As you can see from the clip below, even Major Leaguers can have difficulty gripping the bat when it rains. So for the players’ safety, it makes sense to temporarily pause the game with a rain delay once the weather picks up.
8) Offense has an Advantage
Another reason why baseball isn’t played in the rain is because the offense has an advantage over the defense and, when the inning ends, the rain could stop and the opposing team would not receive the same advantage.
The offense has an advantage in the rain because the pitcher typically throws slower in order to have more control over the ball. It can be difficult to throw a wet ball, so pitchers tend to sacrifice speed for control.
In addition to pitchers throwing slower, it’s also more challenging to field a ball while it’s raining. This can be due to the rain getting into the eyes of the fielder, the fielder having to field a wet ball, or the fielder having to throw a wet and heavier ball.
If you’ve ever felt a ball that has been waterlogged from being in the rain too long, then you know that baseballs that get too wet just simply feel heavier and different. Baseball coaches will typically remove waterlogged baseballs from their buckets of baseballs because of how different these baseballs are.
9) General Player Safety
As a general precaution, baseball games are halted during rain to protect player’s safety. There can be numerous reasons that an umpire will call for a rain delay or for cancelling a game due to rain, but some of the common reasons include thunder or lightning in the area, puddles on the field, limited visibility, and unplayable conditions due to excessive rainfall.
When playing on wet fields, players are more prone to slipping. Slipping can be especially dangerous on the base paths when baserunners are trying to get safe by stepping on a base, which can be slippery from rain.
Puddles on the field can also make it impossible to slide into a base and make it impossible to field a ball. There are lots of safety reasons as to why baseball players don’t play in the rain, but ultimately the call for a rain delay will fall onto the shoulders of the umpires. The umpires must determine if weather conditions and playing conditions are safe for both the offense and defense.
How Much Rain to Cancel a Baseball Game?
Rain delays, postponing games, and cancelling games due to rain are not uncommon occurrences in baseball, but some people may also wonder just how much rain is needed before a game is cancelled.
In general, it is up to the umpires to determine how much rain is needed before a baseball game is canceled. Umpires will always try to complete the game, but if they do not see any potential for the weather to improve they will cancel or postpone a game.
In the MLB, the rule is that the head umpire must first delay the game. After 30 minutes of a delay, the head umpire is able to make the decision to cancel/postpone a game if they believe there is no reasonable end in sight to the rain. If the head umpire believes there is a chance the game can be completed, they will continue to delay the game. (See rule 4.03(e) of the official MLB rules).
This means that there is no rule around exactly how much rain is needed. The amount of rain needed to cancel a game depends on factors like how much time has passed since the game was postponed and whether or not the head umpire believes it’s reasonable to complete the game.
Can You Play Baseball in the Snow?
Even though baseball starts in the spring and ends in the fall, there is still the potential for snow to occur at baseball games. Is it possible to play baseball in the snow?
Baseball games can be played in light snow, but during heavy snow, there is a potential for a snow delay. Ultimately, the decision to play in the snow is up to the umpire, who determines whether or not the playing conditions are safe for players.
Much like rain delays, snow delays come down to player safety. The one thing that makes it more difficult to play in the snow is how well players can see the ball. A white baseball can easily blend in with the white snow, making it far more difficult for players to see the baseball.
As someone who has played baseball for most of his life, I’ve also had the experience of playing a few games in the snow. Playing a game in the snow is cold, wet, and pretty miserable (especially when you’re not dressed for the weather, like I wasn’t).
In fact, some Major League Baseball games have been played in the snow. If you’re interested, below is a quick clip that shows a few plays from some snowy games that have happened in the MLB.