The rains have arrived. Last week’s record-setting deluge brought floods, chaos, and an estimated $6 billion worth of damage to North Texas, and summer thunderstorms continue to crisscross the state this week. One business that managed to carry on without much interruption throughout last week’s tempest was the Metroplex’s MLB franchise, the Texas Rangers. The team’s games take place under the shelter of three-year-old Globe Life Field in Arlington, and rainouts are no longer a threat. 

Welcome to our world, say Houston Astros fans, whose team has played beneath the roof of Minute Maid Park since 2000 and spent the previous 35 seasons in the Harris County Domed Stadium—better known as the Astrodome.

But even the Eighth Wonder of the World was no match for Mother Nature on a particularly dire Tuesday in 1976. On June 15 of that year, the Astrodome experienced its only baseball rainout—well, a rain-in, actually—caused by massive flooding that made reaching the stadium problematic at best and impossible at worst.

The rain in greater Houston began around noon that day, and the unrelenting storm continued pelting the city for hours into the evening. The highest reported rain total in the area was 13.06 inches at the Ship Channel on the city’s east side. (That’s roughly the same amount of rainfall recorded last week in East Dallas.) In downtown Houston—not far from the Dome, which is located down on the South Loop—rainfall was measured at 7.48 inches.

That evening, the Astros were scheduled to host the Pittsburgh Pirates. The visitors were staying only a few miles from the stadium at the Shamrock Hilton. In normal weather, that would have been about a ten-minute drive from the Shamrock to the Astrodome. But as the downpour continued through the afternoon, Pittsburgh players could see from their hotel-room windows that the conditions outside were anything but normal. Outside in the street, a manhole cover floated in six-inch-deep water, with a plume gushing up from beneath.

The team bus driver fulfilled his duty, navigating the streets gingerly and delivering the Pirates to the Astrodome—though it took a half hour to make the trip. Astros players didn’t have the luxury of such large, sturdy transportation, and some didn’t make it to the venue. Those who had to abandon their cars were not alone, as roughly seven hundred vehicles were towed in metro Houston that day.

About fifteen minutes after the Pirates arrived, the umpires placed an urgent call to the stadium: all four of them—Tom Gorman, John McSherry, Paul Pryor, and Art Williams—sent their regrets. Their car had stalled out in high water and they wouldn’t be able to call the game.

It’s possible that some higher up in the Astros organization or at MLB headquarters told the umps to keep trying, because the game wasn’t officially postponed until an hour after their call. By then, it was only a couple of hours before the 7:35 p.m. start time. The Astros’ general manager then, Tal Smith, said in a 2020 interview with KHOU-TV that he received some pushback from others in the front office about not playing. Perhaps they felt protective of the Dome’s reputation as, in the words of the franchise’s founding owner, Judge Roy Hofheinz, a “weather-proofed, all-purpose” stadium. “There were some people that thought that would be a negative,” Smith recalled. “I said, ‘On the contrary, I think it’s the practical thing to do.’ ”

Once the decision to call off the game became final, the Astros issued the following statement:

While the Astrodome was dry and the two teams were in uniform, the streets of the city of Houston were flooded. The Houston Weather Bureau advised the Astros management that no immediate relief from the storm was in sight. The primary consideration was the safety and convenience of the fans and the employees. The game umpires and many of the Astrodome staff were unable to reach the park as a result of the flooded condition. The game will be replayed in August.

Had the game been played that night, there would have been no telecast back to Pittsburgh. Early in the flooding, the station’s producer decided to move the TV production truck and all its expensive equipment out of the stadium’s outdoor parking area. He made that decision after leaving his car two miles from the Dome and walking—wading?—the rest of the way.

With conditions too dangerous for many attendees to make the trip to the park, those who had managed to get inside weren’t yet able to leave, even after the game had been called. So the group of rained-in players, team employees, and concessions workers decided to set up rectangular tables and folding chairs right behind second base and serve the dinner of salad, steak, and fried chicken that had been planned for guests of the Astrodome Club.

“The players were in their uniforms, but some of them were wearing shower flip-flops on their feet,” former Astros team historian Mike Acosta told the Houston Chronicle in 2009. “The Astrodome staff ate with the players, too.”

“Buffet-type, if I recall,” Al Oliver, a Pirates outfielder who later played four seasons with the Rangers, said in a recent interview. “The Astro organization really did a great job. I tip my cap to ’em.” And the players didn’t seat themselves Astros at one end, Pirates at the other. They mixed and mingled. “Most of us knew each other,” Oliver added.

About twenty resourceful fans made it into the Astrodome that night, and they were rewarded with free dinner—though not alongside the big leaguers.

Astros who tried to drive home after the meal found their usual path to the players’ parking area flooded. “It was under water,” pitcher Larry Dierker told Texas Monthly in an email. “We couldn’t get to our cars without getting soaked. We might have had to swim part of the way.”

Instead of rushing home, Dierker said, he joined a handful of teammates and repaired to the press club for after-dinner drinks. “After half an hour or so, [fellow Houston pitcher] Tom Griffin and I decided to explore the catwalk that went from the sky boxes to the gondola at the top of the building. It wasn’t scary because it was encaged. We had to crawl the last fifty feet or so. I suppose we are the only players who ever went up there.”

The Pirates boarded their bus around 8 or 9 p.m. Upon arrival back at the Shamrock, they cheered their determined driver. Some of the Astros, unable to get home, opted to bed down in the clubhouse that night.

Could it ever happen again? Weather has disrupted baseball in Houston long beyond the great rain-in of ’76. When Hurricane Harvey hit late in the 2017 season, an Astros home series against the Rangers was moved to Florida’s Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

These days, with both the Rangers and Astros playing in state-of-the-art indoor stadiums, the chances of another MLB rainout in Texas are exceedingly slim. Last week, when an average summer’s worth of rain fell on Dallas in just 24 hours, the Rangers were on the road in Minnesota, so Globe Life Field was not put to the test. 

John Blake, the team’s executive vice president of communications, said there would have been no issue playing that night. He’s probably right. But if the weatherproof Astrodome—the Eighth Wonder of the World!—could be rained out, then just about anything’s possible.