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Friday, March 25, 2005
Called because of weirdness

By Jeff Merron
Page 2

There's a lot of buzz around the office cooler this morning about Thursday's Rockies-Diamondbacks game, which was called after five innings after a swarm of bees relentlessly attacked Rockies pitcher Darren Oliver, then chased D-Backs shortstop Sergio Santos deep into center field.

Why do such things happen? Well, just bee-cause.

But games have been called for lots of weird reasons. And no doubt in a year or two the "bee game," solidly ensconsed in sports lore, will be trotted out the next time a bizarre calamity causes a sudden and rude break in the action.

Here are 10 unforgettable ones. You might remember some.

1. Beer Night (Rangers at Indians, June 4, 1974)
Ten ounces, 10 cents, not quite nine innings. That's what happened when the Indians' brain trust came up with the idea of building attendance with cheap booze. Even 30 years ago, a 10-cent beer was a bargain, and 65,000 "fans" showed their appreciation by getting completely, collectively toasted. There was a streaker. Home-plate umpire Nestor Chylak might have appreciated the amorous propensities of a smoocher, if she hadn't tried to plant one mid-game. The brawls in the stands were sometimes interrupted by real game action, but things kept getting worse as the drunken disorderlies pelted the Rangers' bullpen with beer and fireworks.

The game continued past those disturbances, but was finally called in the ninth when fans came after Rangers right fielder Jeff Burroughs. The Rangers defended their mate by coming after the fans with bats. The fans retaliated by swarming the field with broken bottles and chairs and other imaginative weapons. Four players were injured, Chylak's wrist and head were cut, and Chylak forced the Indians to forfeit the game.

The Indians decided to cancel the three Beer Nights left on the home slate.

2. A big upgrade comes (crashing) down (Bruins at Sabres, Nov. 16, 1996)
Just a few hours before the Bruins and Sabres were scheduled to face off at the brand-spanking new Marine Midland Arena, the prize jewel of the new facility recognized gravity as its righteous ruler. The scoreboard, a $4 million, eight-sided behemoth, suspended high above the ice, came tumbling down. Fortunately, nobody was on the surface. The game was rescheduled for March.

3. Disco Demolition Night (Tigers at White Sox, July 12, 1979)
Bill Veeck's son, Mike, hated disco. Bill, who never met a gimmick he didn't like, said yes to Mike's idea to boost attendance for a July 1979 White Sox-Tigers doubleheader: Blow up a crate of disco records with a quarter-stick of dynamite between games. Fans could bring an LP or 45 to the game to add to the pile and get in for 98 cents. Comiskey sold out. Extra discs brought to the game were flying throughout the first game, prompting Ron LeFlore to wear a batting helmet while he patrolled right field.

After the first game, Steve Dahl, a popular local DJ, blew up the records, and mayhem ensued as fans rushed the field by the thousands. Jim Keen, a fan who was there, recalled that the fans ran all over the field for 45 minutes. But, he told the Chicago Tribune in 1989, "It was no riot. We were just sliding into bases, running around and acting like the Sox just won the pennant. They hadn't won one in 20 years, so we figured we'd never get a real chance. Looking back, of course, we were right."

The fans did more than that, though. They also set the batting cage on fire and tore up the field so bad that the umps forced the White Sox to forfeit the second game.

4. The late, great, and incomplete College All-Star Game (July 23, 1976)
Those of us of a certain age remember, usually with some fondness, the old tradition of the greatest college players playing the defending NFL champs in the first exhibition game each season. That ended in 1976, in bizarre fashion.

Play began in Chicago on a heavily saturated field, and the rain didn't let up. Conditions eventually got so bad that officials halted play, and the crowd took over, with fans diving and belly flopping on the vacated surface, and eventually ripping down both goalposts. With the Steelers up 24-0, the game was called late in the third quarter, after thousands of fans laid claim to the field. The series, heavily dominated by the pros (12 straight wins counting Pittsburgh's victory) would never be played again.

5. In Seattle, it even rains on the Suns (Suns at Sonics, Jan. 5, 1986)
Only one minute into the second quarter of a midseason matchup between Phoenix and Seattle, the Seattle Coliseum sprung a mighty leak, soaking the playing surface despite a tarp that had been placed on the roof the night before.

The roof was already leaking when play began, but referee Mike Mathis thought the surface could be kept dry enough with plenty of towels. He was wrong. "When multiple leaks developed and two players hit the floor, I felt there was too much of a chance of a player getting injured and made the decision to stop the game," he said.

It was the first NBA game ever to be stopped in progress. The Suns were leading 35-24 when fans began unfurling their umbrellas. The next night, they wrapped it up 114-97.

6. April, in like a lion (Red Sox vs. Reds in Florence, S.C., April 6, 1939)
Ah, nothing like the relaxing fields of spring. Dandelions and warm breezes and ... wait! What's that in the infield? It's a small-model version of the Dust Bowl! Wow – did you see that ground ball go over the fence? (No, Ralph Kiner wasn't calling the game.) This all really happened as Boston and Cincy played an exhibition game in a howling windstorm that was called, with the score 18-18, in the ninth inning. The official reason for the halt: all 54 baseballs, gone with the wind. Really.

7.Expos rained out at the Big Owe (Dodgers at Expos, July 13, 1991)
Rain cascaded through a ripped Olympic Stadium roof, raining out the game. But the bigger problem came a few months later, as the Expos would play their last 25 games on the road when scheduled home series against the Mets, Phillies, and Cubs were changed to road games after the stadium lost a 55-ton concrete beam.

The Olympic Stadium saga, which is only thin-sliced here, is truly extraordinary.

8. Rained out in the Astrodome (Pirates at Houston, June 15, 1976)
The only rainout in Astrodome history: seven inches of rain caused major flooding in Houston, and although the players were able to make it to the park (and 20 or so fans, who probably came just for the good parking), the game was canceled because of ... well, the umpires couldn't get there. And neither could almost everyone else. But the dome, and the playing surface, were just fine.

9. The "good-natured" crowd (Phillies at New York Giants, April 11, 1907)
Opening day at the Polo Grounds. What a weird game (and game account). The Phillies led the Giants in the eighth inning before a crowd of about 17,000, when many fans, who had been standing behind the ropes separating them from the outfielders, decided the heck with it. They flooded the field in the eighth, were chased off by umpire Bill Klem, who delayed resuming play until – get this – no more fans were left on the field. The fans revolted again less than an inning later, surrounding Klem and the players.

"The game was halted," reported the New York Times the next day, "but instead of the situation improving hundreds joined the recalcitrants and laughed at the plea of players and officials alike." Things got worse, as "kindred spirits in the grand stand [started] throwing cushions into the mass and in an instant there was a whirlwind of cushions flying back and forth."

Klem called the game a forfeit, and the Times congratulated the fans. One of the three subheads under "Baseball Crowd Causes Forfeit," read "Only Good Nature of Crowd Prevents Trouble."

10. "That would hurt!"
Part I (Royals at Blue Jays, April 12, 2001): With the Royalstaking batting practice, several big pieces of Skydome roof siding and insulation came tumbling down into left field. The roof had failed a test opening, to almost disastrous results. Blue Jays GM Gord Ash watched as one piece of metal dangled for an hour or so before crashing down. "That would hurt," he said. The game was postponed.

See? We're not panicking. We're just being safe. Part II (Orioles at Mariners, July 19, 1994): About two-and-a-half hours before a game at the Kingdome, four 26-pound pieces of acoustic ceiling tile fell about 180 feet into the seats between third and home. No fans had arrived yet, but they landed very close to where Cal Ripken was conducting an interview (and that was before he had broken Lou Gehrig's record!).

The game was cancelled. A couple of days later, the county held a news conference -- on the field at the Kingdome -- to announce that the Mariners would have to hit the road until the roof was repared. The Mariners would have played the final two-plus months on the road, but the strike wiped out the season in August.