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Original Issue

Delay Gratification

I've been savingthis column for a rainy day. This spring the Giants had consecutive homerainouts for the first time since 1961, the Reds were rained out of battingpractice for a full week, and the Red Sox have been rained on in Boston allmonth in what is rapidly resembling Noah's Park. West Virginia State and OhioValley University recently endured the longest rain delay on record in NCAA orprofessional baseball history: eight hours and 54 minutes--a wet, tediouseternity that somehow calls to mind David Blaine.

After theseven-hour-and-23-minute rain delay that the White Sox and the Rangers absorbedat Comiskey on Aug. 12, 1990, Texas utilityman Jack Daugherty said,"Whoever is responsible for this should be slapped." (Not God but Soxowner Jerry Reinsdorf.) And yet rain is, by definition, elemental. "There'sthree things that can happen in a ball game," Casey Stengel said. "Youcan win or you can lose or it can rain." Rain has precipitated some ofbaseball's best moments. It was during a downpour that Dodgers manager TommyLasorda urged 375-pound umpire Eric Gregg to throw his jacket over theinfield.

If it hadn't beenraining, Pirates skipper Frankie Frisch never would have been ejected by umpireJocko Conlan in Brooklyn, in 1941, for trotting to home plate beneath anumbrella to urge Conlan to call the game. That incident is said to haveinspired baseball's most famous painting, Norman Rockwell's Bottom of theSixth, of three umpires looking skyward in the rain. Now hanging inCooperstown, it's part Mona Lisa, part Pee Wee Reese-a.

Rain was the musefor baseball's best poetry, when Gerald V. Hern wrote of the Braves' rotationin the Sept. 14, 1948, Boston Post:

First we'll useSpahn / Then we'll use Sain

Then an off day /Followed by rain.

Back will comeSpahn / Followed by Sain

And followed, /We hope, / By two days of rain.

Those throwawaylines achieved immortality. Children learned them as a nursery rhyme andstrangers, Spahn said later in life, recited some form of it to him almostdaily.

Rain has rescuedcountless baseball games from obscurity. It's why there's a punk band calledRain Delay Theatre. The name refers to the noble tradition of killing timeduring a broadcast of a ball game suspended by rain, with results often morememorable than the game itself. In many timeless installments of Rain DelayTheater, the dramatis personae were Yankees announcers Phil Rizzuto and BillWhite.

Rizzuto (singingover a closeup of a female fan in the rain): "A pretty girl is like amemory...."

White (correctinghim): "I think that's melody."

Rizzuto(impressed): "How do you know her name?"

Rain isn'tperfect. A rain-delayed NASCAR telecast this spring, without a single lapdriven, drew double the ratings of the NBA playoff game airing opposite it, afact that doesn't flatter either sport.

And how manytimes have you dozed off during the Masters and awakened to see, to yourastonishment, that Gay Brewer has seized the lead? Only after five minutes ofbefuddlement do you realize that you're watching ancient video and thetournament is in a rain delay.

During rainoutsRed Sox fans get soaked twice. They pay up to $90 to park near Fenway and someBoston city councilmen now want lots to issue rain checks.

Knowing all this,I still don't relish the arrival of summer, when the bane of rain is plainly onthe wane. I once spent a three-hour rain delay with Bill Murray at a minorleague game in Brockton, Mass. Staring into a storm that would have mortifiedMagellan, Murray said darkly, "People are praying in Portuguese."

And I survivedthe famous Wimbledon rain delay of '96, in which British pop star Sir CliffRichard--backed by Martina Navratilova, Virginia Wade and ConchitaMartínez--serenaded spectators, many of whom danced in the rain: a tennisywaltz.

But my favoriterain delays were during Twins games at old Metropolitan Stadium, where, as a13-year-old, I was a faceless foot soldier helping to drag the tarp on (Boo!)and off (Yay!) the infield.

Few thrillscompare with being cheered and jeered as you sprint across a major leaguediamond. But for tarp-pullers, there is also the ever-present prospect ofslipping on wet grass and falling beneath the tarpaulin, at which time yourcolleagues become a many-legged coroner, dragging a blue, rain-repellent sheetover your face. That's precisely the way I want to go--at a ballpark, in aBiblical rain, happily swallowed by a Venus fly tarp.

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During a downpour the Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasordaurged 375-pound umpire Eric Gregg to throw his jacket over the infield.