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Should A’s and Mariners have played Monday amid smoke and unhealthy air?

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The AQI rating in Seattle was well past “very unhealthy”

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners - Game Two Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners played a doubleheader on Monday at T-Mobile Park, allowing them to make up two games that had been postponed earlier this month. But there are legitimate questions about whether they should have been playing these makeups at all.

Due to nearby wildfires, the Seattle air was filled with smoke, similar to what Bay Area residents have experienced in recent weeks. The severity of such a situation is measured using Air Quality Index, a scale that goes from zero to 500 in which unhealthy ratings begin at 100 and reach “very unhealthy” at 200.

Before the games, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times pointed out that MLB has no official threshold in terms of how poor the Air Quality Index must get before play is called off, but that the rating in Seattle was above the 200 mark considered very unhealthy. Even without putting a number on it, the problem was visible.

And yet, the first game went on as planned.

By the time the second game was getting ready to start, the AQI had risen up over 280, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. Manager Bob Melvin said nobody ever contacted the A’s about the possibility of not playing, per Slusser and Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle.

“It was pretty smoky out there,” said Melvin after the games, per Kawahara. “And guys were starting to feel it in the second game some. I think the numbers were pretty high.”

Jesús Luzardo started the first game for Oakland, and looked great through four innings before getting knocked around in the 5th. He had the following to say about the conditions, per Kawahara:

“I mean when I came out I think it was at 284. I’m a healthy 22 year old, I shouldn’t be gasping for air I guess you could say or missing oxygen when I’m getting to the line. So I’ll leave it at that.”

Reliever Jake Diekman, who is playing this season amid the coronavirus pandemic despite qualifying as a medically at-risk individual due to a preexisting condition, expressed his displeasure with the league’s lack of safety protocols in this department.

Relevant personal note: The air quality here in Walnut Creek, California, was in the mid-100s range last weekend, and because of that I chose not to go for the short bike ride I had planned, just to be safe.

There have already been so many reasons why baseball needed to be postponed this year. Coronavirus delayed Opening Day, toxic labor disputes further dragged out the resumption of the season, and social protests against racism and police violence led to boycotts by players in August, and that’s before even considering the possibility of good ol’ rain. It’s frustrating to think about adding yet another obstacle to the list, especially when the games in question were already makeups for previous postponements.

But the over-saturation of roadblocks and dangers doesn’t lessen the individual importance of each one, and our own impatience doesn’t make unhealthy air healthy to breathe while sprinting around outside for five hours. If this situation was hazardous, then it should have been avoided all the same. And anyway, the A’s and Mariners both have another shared off-day on Thursday, so perhaps they could even have called this doubleheader off and re-scheduled it three days later.

I have no idea if it was safe to play these games on Monday in the smoky air. I am not qualified nor informed to make that call. But I don’t get the impression that the league took the decision seriously or even addressed it at all, in the age of rigorous health and safety measures for a pandemic-level respiratory virus, and clearly Melvin and the players aren’t happy about that.

UPDATE:

Perhaps this episode made a difference after all. This latest update doesn’t change how the A’s and Mariners were hung out to dry on Monday, but it could represent progress on the part of the league.