Selig's order to raise the roof keeps Astros under weather

Commentary

October 26, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

HOUSTON -- It was a glorious night and the roof at Minute Maid Park - the retractable one that cost about $65 million - was wide-open, which was supposed to be the whole idea before the Houston Astros figured out that they were 40-11 this year with it closed.

So baseball commissioner Bud Selig had to order them to play Game 3 of the 101st World Series under the real South Texas sky, and there was no small amount of public grumbling about another in a long line of official postseason decisions that have gone the way of the Chicago White Sox.

It really wasn't a tough one, as Selig would point out last night.

"In these types of situations, you try to be fair and consistent," Selig said. "... The thing we have said to all the clubs with roofs is that weather is the determining factor."

Then Bud played his trump card, pointing out that the criterion Major League Baseball used to determine whether to play with the roof open or closed was the same criterion that the Astros use during the regular season. If the temperature at game time is going to be 80 degrees or higher, or if the temperature at any time during the game is expected to be unseasonably cool, the roof is to be kept closed.

The game-time temperature was 61 degrees with no chance of rain, making it a relatively comfortable night for open-air baseball - just ask the sellout crowd that sat through Game 2 in a cold drizzle at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday. The Astros, who came back from Chicago down two games to none, were just looking for any advantage that might help them get back in the Series. Can't blame them for that.

Astros officials met with MLB officials yesterday and tried to convince them that the fans would be more comfortable with the roof closed, but it was a virtually impossible case to make with afternoon temperatures in the 70s and a predicted night-time low of 62.

Truth be told, it wasn't that big of a deal. Nobody hit the ceiling, though there were the predictable whispers that MLB only intervened to guarantee that Fox would be able to get the obligatory overhead blimp shots.

"We expressed our sentiments," said Astros general manager Tim Purpura. "Major League Baseball made a decision, and we accept that decision."

Of course, this isn't the first postseason series with an edifice complex. When the first retractable roof playoff series was played at SkyDome in 1989, American League president Dr. Bobby Brown ordered the roof closed for all of the ALCS games scheduled in Toronto ... and the roof also was kept closed for all postseason games in 1992 and '93.

The issue arose again during the 2001 World Series, when Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks wanted the roof closed for the decisive seventh game. Selig ordered it to remain open.

"There is a precedent," Selig said. "I know it's unpopular here, and we're sorry about that, but we have to be fair. Weather was the sole criteria."

There have been roof issues as long as baseball has been playing indoors. The Astrodome originally was built with a transparent roof to allow sunlight for the natural grass surface, but fielders had trouble tracking the ball against the bright background, and the roof eventually was painted. The problem led to the development of AstroTurf.

Perhaps the strangest roof-related postseason incident happened in 1981, when the final game of the NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Expos was postponed by rain.

Olympic Stadium was supposed to have a retractable fabric roof, but because of design issues and cost overruns, it was still sitting in a warehouse more than five years after the stadium was opened for the 1976 Olympic Games.

The issue at Minute Maid was simply one of jurisdiction.

"If you trusted their [the Astros'] integrity for six months of the regular season, why wouldn't you now?" said former Blue Jays manager and current Orioles broadcaster Buck Martinez. "Toronto used it to their advantage every time they could. It's part of home-field advantage."

Selig obviously disagreed. The teams are given greater latitude to control the environment during the regular season, but the MLB's central authority is in charge during the World Series.

"People are saying, why is Major League Baseball interfering in the affairs of the local teams," Selig said. "Because we've been doing that since Kenesaw Mountain Landis. What you're trying to do is be fair. We don't let clubs do other things that will affect or disturb the [competitive] balance."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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