‘Very unhealthy’ air quality forces MLB to reschedule games
By Benjamin Hoofman
A compressed schedule forced by the coronavirus pandemic has led Major League Baseball to find creative solutions to get a 60-game season completed by October.
That determination took a turn toward dangerous Monday when the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners played a doubleheader despite wildfires on the West Coast sending smoke pouring into Seattle, lowering the air quality to “very unhealthy” ratings by some measures.
With conditions only getting worse Tuesday, two games between the Mariners and San Francisco Giants were postponed and moved to San Francisco’s Oracle Park instead. The Mariners were still to be the home team in the games, which were rescheduled for Wednesday and today.
The wildfires, which have caused enormous damage, along with plenty of dystopian images from California, Oregon and Washington, have brought Air Quality Index (AQI) into the public vernacular. At the start of the first game in Seattle on Monday, the AQI was 220, according to AirNow, and the website reported that the number reached 240 during game play — anything over 200 carries increased health risks for anyone outdoors, with strenuous activity heavily discouraged.
Multiple A’s players expressed a concern at being asked to play despite the low air quality on Monday.
“I’m a healthy 22-year-old,” said Jesús Luzardo, Oakland’s starting pitcher in the first game of the doubleheader. “I shouldn’t be gasping for air or missing oxygen. I’ll leave it at that.”
Oakland manager Bob Melvin said in a postgame video conference that his team had not been consulted about whether the games should proceed, and that he had been under the impression that games would not be played with an AQI in excess of 200. While AirNow had the AQI in excess of 200 throughout both games, at least one other website, IQAir, did not record an AQI higher than 198 in Seattle on Monday.
Addressing Monday’s games, Pat Courtney, a spokesman for MLB, said the league had monitored the situation all day with medical experts — and was in contact with both clubs — while consulting with multiple air quality experts in making the determination about whether or not to play.
On Tuesday, with AirNow reporting an AQI of 241 at 4 p.m. Eastern time, the conditions were determined to be too dangerous to risk.
Oakland and Seattle split the doubleheader on Monday, with the Mariners winning the first game, 6-5, and the A’s taking the second, 9-0.
Seattle center fielder Kyle Lewis, who robbed Ramón Laureano of a potential grand slam in the first inning of the second game, talked afterward about the strange scene.
“I think it was OK breathing, but we definitely noticed it,” Lewis told reporters. “The sky was all foggy and smoky; it definitely wasn’t a normal situation, definitely a little weird.’”