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Staffing issue may have been responsible for Cubs ‘tarp gate’

Updated: August 21, 2014 2:23AM



A staffing decision by the Cubs’ stadium operations might have made as big a difference as any “mechanical’’ issue in creating the tarp-related mess Tuesday night that led to the historic decision Wednesday to uphold the San Francisco Giants’ challenge of what was originally ruled a rain-shortened Cubs victory.

Sources said the Cubs ordered grounds-crew staffing reductions this week to cover recent “overages” in hours by the crew.

The crew’s failure to quickly cover the field with the tarp during a sudden heavy shower in the fifth inning Tuesday night — and spillage while removing it — created unplayable field conditions that could not be resolved during a four-hour, 34-minute delay.

The Giants filed a protest. And a swift review by MLB officials resulted in the first successful protest in the majors in 28 years.

With Cubs’ baseball officials supporting the Giants’ efforts, MLB determined that the tarp had not been properly rolled up after its previous use, creating a “malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club” — the only provision in the rule book allowing for a “regulation” five-inning game to be suspended.

It’s scheduled to resume at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, with the Cubs leading 2-0 to start the bottom of the fifth inning. Pitcher Jacob Turner will take over for starter Tsuyoshi Wada. The teams then play their regularly scheduled game at 7:05.

“I think it was a just outcome,” said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, taking responsibility for the Cubs causing the problem. “I hope to win the game, but they’ll get a fair shot at winning the game now.”

Hoyer lauded the quality and efforts of the grounds crew and did not attribute the problems to staffing. The Cubs’ baseball department appeared to have no knowledge of the details of that department.

But he did say the club planned to review what went wrong Tuesday night. Widely respected head groundskeeper Roger Baird was not available for comment.

But a source with knowledge of the crew working Tuesday night said only 12 regular members of the grounds crew staffed that game, instead of the typical 25. Inexperienced “facilities employees” supplemented the more seasoned crew members.

Whether that was the direct cause of the problems, it took two tries by Tuesday’s crew to cover the infield — failing the first time after stopping the roll at a bad angle and winding up with third base and home plate uncovered.

The Cubs’ business and stadium operations dispute any unusual staffing measures for Tuesday’s game or any staffing decisions based on budget overruns.

Spokesman Julian Green said the “morning crew” stays to help the night crew if rain is in the forecast but that because rain was not in the forecast, that crew was not there.

“That said, we had enough people on the crew Tuesday night and every night to pull the tarp when warranted, and the number has never presented a problem,” Green said via email. “We believe we have the best grounds crew in the business and this was simply an extraordinary occurrence given the bizarre weather system.”

Yet one source said more than 20 crew members typically pull the tarp when needed, but an unofficial count from Tuesday showed 15 on the first try (with 10 jumping to the side to try to adjust the errant angle) and 20 then pulling on the second, more successful try.

NOTES: An unsuccessful part of the Giants’ protest included an effort to have the game forfeited by the Cubs.

◆ Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was put on the bereavement list Wednesday and returned home to the Dominican Republic after learning he lost four friends and family members in a car accident Wednesday. It’s unclear how long he’ll be gone.

◆ Rookie Javy Baez moved from second to make his major-league debut at shortstop in Castro’s place.

Edwin Jackson (6-14, 6.09 ERA) suffered his worst start, allowing seven runs in 22/3 innings in the Cubs’ 8-3 loss. He has the worst ERA in the majors, by more than a full point, among qualifying pitchers.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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