After storm of boos, refund policy relaxed


Anger over rainout call prompts team to honor all cash, exchange requests

October 01, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

In a make-good gesture to fans inconvenienced by Wednesday night's bizarre "rainout," the Orioles yesterday announced they will honor all requests for refunds and ticket exchanges by fans. Club officials insisted the decision was made by umpiring crew chief Durwood Merrill without their prompting, but with their consent.

About 30,000 fans reacted noisily when the game was called at 7: 34 p.m., nearly 2 1/2 hours before a promised deluge reached Camden Yards.

Those circumstances, coupled with only one remaining weekend on the schedule, prompted the club to relax its refund policy.

"Wednesday night's game was postponed at the direction of the umpiring crew on the basis of the meteorological information available at the time," said Orioles executive vice president John Angelos.

"In recognition of the difficulty fans would undoubtedly face in attempting to attend [Thursday]'s rescheduled game, and in light of the very limited remaining opportunities for fans to exchange their tickets for another game this season, the club offers all fans the option to receive a refund."

The Orioles typically allow refunds to fans living outside a 75-mile radius of Camden Yards. In addition to requesting refunds, fans may seek a ticket exchange during this weekend's three-game series against the Boston Red Sox or for any game next season.

Merrill, acting on information supplied by head groundskeeper Paul Zwaska's office radar and conversations with meteorologists at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, decided it prudent to call the game and preserve a pitching matchup of Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens within the Yankees' pennant race.

Merrill felt "vindicated" for his call because of ensuing conditions that would have made it virtually impossible to complete a nine-inning game. Merrill said he noticed a drizzle begin falling around 8: 50 p.m. He conceded that the game would have continued under such conditions, but was sure that the tardy arrival of the promised cold front would have assured an abbreviated game.

"I wouldn't change anything," Merrill said.

A number of fans, however, were fully prepared to wait. When the postponement was announced at 7: 34 p.m., a number turned toward the owners box to vent their displeasure.

"I do know that when you look out and it ain't raining, and you walk to home plate and [wave off the game], that's not easy," said Merrill. "The toughest thing for an umpire is a rain situation because you're representing the league. The Orioles people were the greatest top to bottom. They were in the bunker with me. It was a total consensus."

Hoping to avoid a further delay where fans would have been left waiting for it to rain, chief operating officer Joe Foss suggested that any postponement be announced promptly.

Merrill agreed with the club's recommendation, saying, "I think the Orioles knew if we could not finish, then two good pitchers were going to be shut down before a game was completed. So we get 4 1/2 innings in and have to quit, then we have to sit there until midnight."

Safer at the park

Perhaps the worst victim of Wednesday's premature rainout was Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson, who broke the small toe on his left foot while at home and will miss his final start tonight.

Johnson said he stubbed the toe on a coffee table around 9: 30 p.m., when he would have been at Camden Yards if the game had been played.

"It didn't start raining until around 10: 30. I would have been home about 11. Unbelievable," he said, smiling at the irony.

Johnson had little else to smile about yesterday. He had won his last five decisions, including three consecutive starts, to improve his record to 8-7. This was no time to shut it down.

"I'd love to end the year 6-0, but these are circumstances beyond my control. I can't do anything about it," he said.

Johnson had the toe X-rayed yesterday, when the break was confirmed. Before seeing trainer Richie Bancells, he had hoped to find a way to deaden the pain and make the start.

"I can barely walk," Johnson said.

Johnson's turn will be taken by Doug Linton, who last pitched on Saturday, when he allowed three bases-empty homers over six innings in a 4-1 loss to Boston.

Linton was given the news yesterday by pitching coach Bruce Kison. He had been expecting the opportunity to come at the expense of last night's Game 2 starter, rookie Matt Riley, or tomorrow's starter, who now will be Doug Johns instead of the originally scheduled Scott Erickson.

"[Kison] came in today and asked me if I was a good boy last night. I said, `Yeah.' He goes, `You got your sleep?' and I said, `Yeah.' He goes, `Well, you're starting.' You don't get a lot of advance notice," Linton said.

Erickson has been bothered by stiffness in his right forearm. Johns had been unavailable since Saturday because of a strained muscle in his right side.

"It's just a precautionary thing," Miller said. "If we were in the race, [Erickson] would pitch. We don't see any reason to pitch him."

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