Andy Larsen: Would Utah’s MLB ballpark need a roof for snow, rain? Here’s what the data shows.

The Salt Lake Bees show rainouts and other weather cancellations happen less than you might think.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 18, 2020.

No less than twice was it uttered at the news conference announcing the Miller family’s intentions to bring Major League Baseball: Utah has “the Greatest Snow on Earth.”

Insert a ™ if you’d like.

It was a funny thing: the snow, while beautiful and great for our ski resorts’ black diamonds, isn’t a selling point on the baseball diamond. And as we’ve seen this year, the spring can be full of both snow and rain here in Salt Lake City.

So I was curious: how much of an impact do Utah’s famously varied seasons and weather patterns have on the baseball played here? How much would it affect a potential MLB season schedule? How does that compare to the other markets in MLB?

And, the big question hanging overhead: Currently, eight MLB stadiums have roofs, retractable or permanent. Would we need one in our stadium?

To get data for Salt Lake City, I figured the most sensical thing to do was to ask the Salt Lake Bees. After all, since 1994, they’ve had to host baseball games in our weather patterns, too. Sure, their season is a little abbreviated compared to the major league schedule — they’ve played anywhere from 143 to 150 games per season over the years — but we can adjust for that. Critically, that schedule also includes the early April games we’re most worried about; this year’s season was even scheduled to start on March 31, though that game was snowed out.

Since their rebirth in 1994 through the end of the 2022 season, they’ve had 69 games postponed due to weather. Thirty-four of those were in April, 20 in May, with the others scattered out in the remaining months.

Finding the number of postponed games for MLB markets was trickier. Baseball famously has intricately kept statistics, as a math nerd, it was actually the first sport I really got into. I figured Baseball Reference or FanGraphs or some other site would tally those postponements. Unfortunately, no dice.

In the end, it was Retrosheet, the very first publicly available sports stats database, that was able to help us out. Since 1877, they have the full planned MLB schedules for each team in text format, including the postponed games. Throw that data in Excel, and we’re cooking. And for each postponed game, they give the reason why it was postponed.

Most of the time, that’s due to weather — usually rain. Snow, wind, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods have wreaked some havoc, too. But in the last 30 years, lighting and power failures have also caused postponements, as have water main breaks. Games were postponed due to 9-11. Minnesota Twins games were postponed due to the I-35 bridge collapse that killed 13, and also after the police shooting of Daunte Wright. The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber caused a Red Sox game to be delayed. The Colorado Rockies postponed their game on the day of the Columbine shooting. The deaths of players Darryl Kile, Josh Hancock, Nick Adenhart, Jose Fernandez, and Tyler Skaggs caused games to be postponed, as did the death of umpire John McSherry.

For the purposes of this study, though, we’re just looking at the weather postponements. To get closer to apples to apples, we’re comparing the same 1994 to 2022 years that we have data for with the Bees here in Salt Lake.

Here are the results:

It’s actually Cleveland that’s seen the most weather-related postponements since 1994, with 82. The New York markets are next, followed by Baltimore and Boston. The Salt Lake total of 69 ranks right in between those two last cities. Interestingly, Denver’s team, the Colorado Rockies, has only seen 48 weather-related postponements. At the end of the list are the always-nice L.A. and San Diego, along with the cities that have stadiums with roofs: Arizona, Toronto, Seattle, Tampa, and Houston. (Texas and Milwaukee have more recently also installed roofs.)

That being said, we have to adjust the Salt Lake total a bit, thanks to AAA baseball’s shorter seasons. The 69 in the shorter seasons is probably equivalent to about 76 postponements overall — or about 2.6 per season.

To be honest, that’s significantly less than I would have expected. But most of the time, baseball finds a way to get played — or at least, started. This analysis doesn’t include games that are suspended midway due to weather.

But if Cleveland, New York — and Colorado’s team just across the Rockies — can play ball without a roof, it seems as if Salt Lake could, too.