Blame It On the Rain: What Are the Official Weather-Delay MLB Rules?

Last night, after Jack Flaherty had completed his 5th Inning of work, the Cardinals/Cubs game was delayed for 3 hours, 37 minutes. Ultimately, around 11:20 PM local time play was resumed, and around 1:00 AM the game was finally completed (although without victory fireworks -- perhaps due to a local ordinance?). Clearly, a 3.5+ hours delay in the game radically alters the game, as neither starting pitcher can continue after such a delay and players have to restart after resting for so long. Additionally, the playing field – after such a long period of rain – is altered.


Thus, two questions arise: (1) Who has the authority to decide on delaying or resuming an MLB game? and (2) Is a 3 hours, 37 minutes delay legal under the MLB Rules?


First, under the MLB Rule 4.04(a), with a few exceptions, at the start of the game, “home team shall be the sole judge as to whether a game shall not be started because of unsuitable weather conditions or the unfit condition of the playing field.” This Rule 4.04(a) home-team-sole-judge condition does not apply, however, to the second game of a double header (“umpire-in-chief of the first game shall be the sole judge” for those games) or in during the closing weeks of the season (“league may permanently authorize its president to suspend the application of this rule as to that league during the closing weeks of its championship season”).


Second, under MLB Rule 4.03(e), once the home team’s batting order is handed to the umpire-in-chief, “the umpires are in charge of the playing field and from that moment the umpire-in-chief shall have sole authority to determine when a game shall be called, suspended or resumed on account of weather or the condition of the playing field.” Thus, once the batting order is submitted to the umpire-in-chief, the home team no longer has any control as to whether a delay or suspension of the game occurs due to weather or conditions.


Finally, the MLB Rules are completely silent regarding the permitted length of initial delays in the game starting time or length of mid-game delays. Rather, in conditions such as the long delay within last night's Cardinals/Cubs game, the MLB Rules only state that the (1) “[t]he umpire-in-chief may continue the suspension so long as he believes there is any chance to resume play” and (2) “[t]he umpire-in-chief shall not call the game until at least 30 minutes after he has suspended play.” MLB Rule 4.03(e). While last night’s 3 hours, 37 minutes delay seemed long, keep in mind that in 1990 the Rangers and White Sox held a rain delay for 7 hours, 23 minutes (the game was ultimately called).


Thus, the home team and the umpire-in-chief have a lot of discretion in deciding when to delay or suspend a game and how long a weather-related delay can occur. And, as for last night, the umpire-in-chief's 3.5+ hour delay was completely legal under the MLB Rules. And, most important, the resumed game resulted in the second-consecutive Cardinals win over the Cubs.

Adam Van Grack is an attorney at the law firm of Longman & Van Grack, LLC practicing litigation, business law, and sports law. Adam is a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals having attended Washington University in St. Louis for college and law school. Adam has been previously appointed as the Chair of a U.S. Olympic National Governing Body.