Umpires and baseball officials have been trying to speed up the game since the midway part of our century. As the American attention span shortens, players are encouraged to move along quickly, taking less time to prepare and increasing the pace of play.
But for as long as the arbitrators have been trying to quicken the game, there have been players who continue to take their sweet time. And there have been none quite so deliberate as former right hander Steve Trachsel.
Known for the inordinate amount of time he’d take between pitches, the 16-year veteran earned himself the nickname “The Human Rain Delay.” To witness a Trachsel game was an entire afternoon affair, with the clock often stretching to as much as 45 minutes to an hour longer than a typical contest. His 2,501 career innings pitched (143-159 record, 4.39 ERA) were certainly some of the longest in major league history.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d been a reasonably effective pitcher. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Over his career, Trachsel allowed an average of 9.3 hits, 1.3 home runs, 3.4 walks, and 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings spent on the mound. That means that, during the time he did spend pitching, the Human Rain Delay got himself into a lot of trouble. Lots of hits and home runs with a sizable amount of walks to go with relatively low strikeout totals – all of this results in tedious, nausea inducing innings.
Unfortunately for Trachsel, his name is in the record books for an entirely different reason. The pivotal event took place on September 8, 1998 at 8:18 PM Central Time. It was then that, on the first pitch of the at-bat, Mark McGwire sneaked a home run over the left field wall for his 62nd dinger of the season. The tepid blast broke Roger Maris’ long-standing record of 61, a mark which many had deemed breakable. Trachsel, then a member of the Chicago Cubs, was forced to watch as his teammate, Sammy Sosa, embraced and celebrated with McGwire at home plate.
In many ways, the home run race was good for baseball. It brought a great deal of new fans to the game, and helped old ones swallow the bitter taste of the ‘95 strike. Even if it did turn out to be steroid fueled, the chase was exactly what the game needed at that moment in time.
But Trachsel, for his part, can now feel some vindication. It was bound to happen sooner or later, and now it has – baseball’s dirty little secret is out. But no matter what happens, the Human Rain Delay’s name will forever rest next to that of Big Mac in the annuls of sports history.