The candles Navy Coach Joe Duff lit faithfully in church each morning proved insufficient; an adverse weather forecast of strong winds and low-40 temperatures forced the Midshipmen to cancel today's scheduled exhibition game against the New York Yankees.
It was just one more chapter in the history of Navy's losing battle against major league opposition and the spring weather along the Severn. But this wipeout was particularly tough to take.
The Yankees, a surprising 10-3 in spring play, were flying north just for the one game, which was to mark their first visit to Annapolis. Duff, whose club does not begin defense of its Eastern League title until April 1, was ready to throw his top three pitchers against them.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, a strong supporter of college baseball, has promised to reschedule the game next season. It was Steinbrenner who initiated the meeting in the first place.
"A naval officer told me his boss was at dinner with George Steinbrenner and he said he was interested in playing here if I'd call him," said Navy Athletic Director Bo Coppedge. "I called and was told he was out of town, but three minutes later he called back. He said he thought major league teams should play the service academies and he made only one request.
"He suggested three or four dates in March and asked me to research past weather patterns and pick the date that would figure to have the least chance of rain. Joe and I looked up the weather records, and we decided on the 22nd. He said, 'Fine.' "
Unfortunately, the weather, so fine a week ago, did not cooperate. It rarely does when Navy schedules such games. In 1977, the Baltimore Orioles offered two possible dates, one in April and one in May. Naturally, Coppedge chose May. Naturally, the proposed April date was beautiful. When the Orioles came in May, the game had to be called after five innings because of cold.
Games were rained out against the Washington Senators in 1929, the Philadelphia Athletics in 1946, the Boston Braves in 1948 and the Orioles in 1964, 1970 and 1979.
In 1971, morning rain stopped long enough for the Midshipmen to defeat the Detroit Tigers, managed by Billy Martin, 6-5, Navy's only confirmed success against a major-league team. As soon as the game ended, the rain resumed.
The Senators made the first recorded visit in 1923 and won, 15-1. The most recent baseball celebrities in town were the Kansas City Royals, who beat Navy, 9-4, in 1978.
Baltimore, which has not returned to the academy since the 1977 shorty, is listed for a game on April 8, probably not the best day to plan a picnic. Certainly, it will be no picnic for Duff, who has Eastern League doubleheaders scheduled April 9 and 10.