Storm too close for comfort for Astros
Some question decision to play with lightning in area
CHICAGO -- Lance Berkman stood at first base Monday night watching the lightning storm that hovered over Wrigley Field, wondering why he was standing in harm's way for the sake of a baseball game.
He also thought about Craig Biggio, who years ago had an up-close view of how devastating one bolt of lightning can be if you're at the wrong place, at the wrong time. No one knows better than Biggio, who as a high school shortstop watched his teammate and friend die from a lightning bolt only feet from him, while playing second base.
"Bidge was terrified of lightning, for good reason," Berkman said. "Ever since then, clearly, he wouldn't have gone out there at all [during a lightning storm]. He knows firsthand that lightning is nothing to play around with."
Yet on Monday, lightning may not have been something to play with, but it was something to play in. Even when the storms subsided at times Monday night, the lightning did not.
Finally, as Berkman watched a bolt hit a nearby firehouse in the eighth inning, he decided he'd seen enough. Wally Bell, the chief of the umpiring crew, came to the same conclusion and ushered everyone off the field.
"That last bolt could not have been more than half a mile away," Berkman said. "It was right on top of us. That's way too close to be fooling around. They did the right thing and pulled us off the field."
But should they have done it earlier? The lightning continued after play resumed following the first rain delay, but Bell said the reports he received indicated the players were not in danger.
"The lightning, in my opinion, even though it lit up the skies, it was deep and away from the ballpark," Bell said after the game was called. "I had talked to the groundskeeper several times about the weather, and he said there were possible storms coming in. I was concerned about the lightning."
But it wasn't until 11:15 p.m., in the eighth inning, when the lightning finally was deemed to close for comfort.
For some Astros, that was a tad too late.
"I'm not trying to put it on [Cubs general manager] Jim Hendry or anything like that," Berkman said. "But whoever is in charge of the Cubs and their operations here, if it was me, when the tornado sirens went off the first time, I would have immediately said, 'We're not playing this game.'
"We've got to keep some perspective here. This is a baseball game and these games are important because teams are trying to make the playoffs and everybody understands that. At the same time, don't lose your mind. You've got tornado sirens going off and severe weather all over the place. There's no reason for it. There's no reason to put fans at risk, there's no reason for the players to be at risk."
Hendry was quoted after the game explaining that once the first pitch is thrown, the game's fate, and the decisions that go along with it, are in the umpire's hands.
Berkman lauded Bell for making the call to clear the field, but he wondered if the decision should have come a little earlier.
"The ones that kill people, you don't wait for the thing to hit the field before you say, 'Well, there's lightning in the area,'" Berkman said. "If lightning is striking all around, I don't care if it says it's 10 miles away on the radar. It can [hit] like that.
"If we were down 2-0, I would say the same thing. It's a baseball game, for Pete's sake, and there's no need to play through a tornado. It's not worth it. I'm sure I'll get roasted, but you have to keep some perspective."
Manager Cecil Cooper has been in baseball for 41 years, and bench coach Jackie Moore has 10 years on top of that. Neither could ever remember playing, coaching or managing a game during a lightning storm.
"You don't want to take chances," Cooper said. "Everybody was at risk. Everybody. It's not like it was just a slippery field and the players had a chance to get hurt. Everybody was at risk. What if [lightning] had hit the stands?"
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.