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Why did the Yankees play a baseball game last night?

The Air Quality Index in NYC approached “Very Unhealthy” levels last night, and yet the Yankees and White Sox engaged in strenuous physical activity (i.e., played a baseball game).

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Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Yesterday morning, as I left my home and began my daily walk to the bus for the penultimate day of the 2022-23 school year, the sun caught my eye. Rather than the shining ball of bright light that it normally is, it appeared as an orange disk that, while still too bright to look at directly, did not dominate the morning sky the way it typically does. It was oddly beautiful, bathing the early morning in a warm reddish light, as when a lighting designer puts amber gels into the lights to give the stage a warm glow. Despite the beauty, it was the first sign that something was off.

The second clue came during the afternoon. Like I said, it was the second-to-last day of school, so rather than teach lessons, we spent the afternoon having a picnic outside. By this point, we knew that smoke from the Canada wildfires had been wafting through the area. Although the sun had mostly — although not completely — returned to its normal appearance, the typically bright blue sky was dampened and took on a grayish hue. Much like the morning, however, aside from the aesthetics of the outdoors, it didn’t really affect us all that much.

During my commute home, that’s when the dangerous weather descended. Not only did the pale orange sun from the morning return, the sky turned a dull gray and the air began to smell of smoke. On my walk home from the bus, I found myself coughing, not the congested cough of seasonal allergies, but the “I’m standing downwind from a burning campfire” cough I was very familiar with from my days as a Scout in my youth.

Hazy sunrise as poor air quality grips New York City Photo by Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As I would learn later, that was around the time that the Air Quality Index in the tristate area climbed above 150 and reached the “unhealthy” threshold; because of this, the state Department of Health recommended that “individuals consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity to reduce the risk of adverse health effects.” Friends of mine from the Pacific Northwest — where smoke-filled skies have been regular occurrences in recent years — reached out to me and told me to make sure all my windows were closed and to remain indoors unless absolutely necessary. If I did have to leave my house, they suggested I wear a mask to minimize the amount of smoke particles I inhaled.

And despite all this, the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox played a game of baseball yesterday. What was Major League Baseball thinking?

I’ll tell you what they were thinking, of course. They saw a crowd at Yankee Stadium, a crowd who paid for their tickets and who were eager to shell out money for hot dogs and cracker jobs, Pepsi and beers, souvenir pennants and programs. They saw reports that conditions were likely to be as bad, if not worse, throughout the week. And they saw a schedule that saw the Yankees’ opponent, the Chicago White Sox, making their only visit to the Bronx this season, making the prospect of rescheduled games a hassle. It’s just a few hours and just a couple of days, everybody will be fine (please pay no attention to the presence of fine particulate matter called PM2.5 in wildfire, which are small enough to penetrate the human body’s defenses and settle into the lungs).

Still, the almighty dollar does not forgive the absolute lunacy of it. New York City had the worst air quality in the world last night, peaking at 196 AQI during the seventh inning. Many schools throughout the state suspended after-school activities, and the Scranton RailRiders postponed their game. Had the Yankees postponed the game — heck, even if they postponed the entire series! — people would have understood it! As much as people value home runs and doubles and walks and strikeouts, they value health and safety more.

And yet, because of MLB’s decision, the players on the field last night did exactly what experts say people ought not to do when the air quality is as poor as it was, by engaging in strenuous outdoor exercise. While the spectators may not have been doing intense physical activity, they were nonetheless outdoors for several hours breathing in the smoke-filled air.

Absolutely nothing about last night was healthy for anybody involved. And as of early this morning, there were no plans to postpone tonight’s game despite air quality highly likely to remain poor, per The Athletic.

Major League Baseball has to figure this out. In the aftermath of the storm that flooded the Somerset Patriots’ ballpark and almost killed John Sterling during his drive home, our very own Joshua Diemert wrote, “MLB is woefully unprepared for climate change.” At the time, Josh’s job entailed “evaluat[ing] the risks of catastrophe brought on by climate change,” and he identified poor air quality as one of three major symptoms of climate change that would likely affect MLB, alongside increased temperatures and flooding. You would think that, after dealing with smoke from the California wildfires annually over the last few years, the league would have put together a better plan than “Let’s just ignore the problem and continue to play baseball,” but well, that’s what the plan appears to be at the moment.

NYC Is Bathed In Smoke From Canadian Wildfires

If this were a rare occurrence, I might understand it. But it’s not a rare occurrence. Sure, New York hasn’t really had to deal with air quality this bad all that often — I certainly don’t remember feeling like I’m at a campsite in the middle of the city — but teams on the West Coast have been forced to deal with it consistently. And then there’s the extreme temperatures that have become more and more normal, the flooding and devastation that is the result of the once-in-a-generation storms that seem to happen more than once per generation in recent years. MLB needs to prepare for these eventualities, because they’re no longer eventualities, they’re realities. And if that means canceling/postponing games for the long-term health of the players, even if there’s no short-term danger, then that’s what should be done.

Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. It’s past time for baseball to join it.