Fans of the movie Bull Durham will usually remember a great quote that said, “A good friend of mine used to say, ‘This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.’ Think about that for a while.”
When the Astrodome opened in 1965 rain-outs became a thing of the past for Houston baseball. As a result, the rain check basically became obsolete. Houston had just completed a $31 million domed sports palace under the direction of Astros owner Judge Roy Hofheinz. Standing much like a flying saucer that had landed in the middle of southwest Houston; the Astrodome featured an 18-story roof and 6,600 tons of air-conditioning keeping this new environment a perfect 72 degrees in any season. “I knew with our heat, humidity and rain that the best chance for success was in the direction of a weather-proof, all-purpose stadium,” stated Hofheinz. Baseball games would be expected to always start on time. Despite man’s best efforts Mother Nature eventually found a way to make her stance, although it took eleven years after Houston’s “Eighth Wonder of the World” opened.
A rare summer cool front passed through Houston on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 15, 1976. Mixed with the warm air off the Gulf of Mexico just 50 miles to the south, a series of torrential downpours broke from the skies across the city. People began to encounter rising water on roads and highways as rush hour approached. Over seven inches of rain fell within a six hour period with no apparent end in sight.
The Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates were set to play the second contest of a three game series that night at the Astrodome. Houston lost the series opener 2-1 the night before when former Astro Jerry Reuss won over Astros fire-baller J.R. Richard. The Astros started June on a hot streak, winning eight of the first ten games in June but were now on a four-game losing skid with a 29-33 record. Both teams already arrived to the Astrodome in the early afternoon before the weather got worse. The pregame rituals of baseball players were well underway in the dry and well-protected catacombs of the Dome clubhouses.
News of city-wide flooding spread to the Astros front office as conditions began to worsen outside the Astrodome. It was reported that streets in the nearby Texas Medical Center were flooding. The outlying areas around the Astrodome also had high water along nearby access roads. Many Houstonians across the city were caught in sudden flash flooding and were forced to leave their vehicles. As time approached for Astrodome gates to open, there was already a clear sign of trouble. A number of Astros game-day employees couldn’t get to work because of the storm and there was a clear absence of fans arriving for the game. Word soon arrived that the umpiring crew got caught in flooded streets and it appeared they would not make it to the stadium at any time soon. At the very least, this game appeared to heading for a delay in start time.
Astros General Manager, Tal Smith, quickly assessed the situation and made the decision to postpone the game. The safety of fans and employees became the main concern. “We could’ve played the game. But if we announced that it was on, we would have been inviting misfortune. Many would have tried to make it and would have become stranded. We just felt it best to postpone it,” stated Smith.
Less than twenty fans did manage to make it to the Astrodome and found themselves stranded with no game to watch. They were treated to dinner in one of the stadium cafeterias by the Astros. The players decided to set up dinner tables on the field behind second base once the game was cancelled. Many of the Astros and Pirates were already dressed for the game. The few game-day employees who were able to make it to the Dome joined dinner on the field.
History once again had been made at the Houston Astrodome. A game had been cancelled on account of rain. “It wasn’t exactly a rain-out…it was a rain-in. We were bone dry inside,” said an Astrodome spokesman. The Astrodome actually had a history of small leaks during heavy rain, but a new roof had been installed during the 1974-75 offseason. This date actually wasn’t the first time Mother Nature intervened at the Dome. Rain previously caused a 54-minute delay to the start of an Astros game in 1975 when a five-inch downpour caused players and fans to arrive late. The “rain-in” game of 1976 was the first time an Astrodome game had been called due to rain, but it was not the first postponement. An exhibition game between the Astros and Minnesota Twins was cancelled on April 7, 1968 to mourn the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, who had been assassinated three days prior. Before the days of the Astrodome, there had been just three actual rainouts at old Colt Stadium (all in 1962), where the Astros were previously named the Colt .45s.
The Astros extended their losing streak to six games following the rain-in but finally snapped it in Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium on June 20th. The June 15th game was rescheduled as part of a double header on August 15th in which the Astros were swept. In a season where the Astros were being operated by creditors following the bankruptcy of Roy Hofheinz, 1976 saw plenty of ups and downs. In the midst of it all were rumors on the sale of the Astros. On the field, J.R. Richard became Houston’s second 20-game winner, Cesar Cedeno won his fifth consecutive Gold Glove and Larry Dierker hurled the fifth no-hitter in franchise history. But no one that year will forget the day a game was called at the Astrodome on account of rain.