Hello and welcome back to FanPost Friday. It’s fair to say the vibes have gone bad in Mariners-ville at this point, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss today. In light of the current climate catastrophe and wildfire smoke crisis that has hit the upper Northeast region of the country, making air quality levels hazardous to all humans for long stretches of the week, it’s time fans and players demand MLB to create a real, black-and-white policy on air quality index standards for baseball games for the sake of player and fan safety.
Mariners fans likely remember this surreal scene during the 2020 season. And there were sadly similar stretches in 2021 and 2022.
Wild to see this same script replaying from a few years ago in Seattle, where the supposed AQI cutoff was 200, yet a double-header where it was in the 280s at times.— John Trupin (@JohnTrupin) June 7, 2023
Produced one of the most surreal plays and days in my Mariners memory. https://t.co/YQvVrPaoXU https://t.co/pFPgK6tCix pic.twitter.com/kGaxZ1rSo4
San Francisco played games that year in “Blade Runner 2049” conditions, too. This isn’t the game’s first rodeo with wildfire, but did MLB leadership put anything in place as a result of those hazardous AQI games in 2020? Of course not.
Given the state of things, it’s inevitable that a wildfire smoke crisis of some degree will happen again this summer somewhere in the United States and these events will likely continue to happen most summers going forward. To an outside observer, it seems very logical and justified for the MLB Commissioner’s office to unilaterally create a safety standard that no game should be played if AQI levels are past X amount, as established by a panel of experts.
But this led me to look up what exactly are the responsibilities of the MLB Commissioner, a position currently held by Rob Manfred. According to Baseball Reference, “The commissioner is chosen by a vote of the owners of the teams. He hires and maintains the sport’s crews of umpires, negotiates marketing, labor (Collective Bargaining Agreement), and television contracts. The commissioner also has the power to fine and suspend.”
Notably absent in that list of responsibilities is anything about player safety or even the “integrity of the game,” which is something that I think a lot people began to assume was the role’s responsibility in the post-steroids era, but that seems to be perhaps buried between the lines.
So, who is in charge of player safety? One might assume the players’ union, the MLBPA, right?
Here is the mission statement of the MLBPA:
The Major League Baseball Players Association Is the union that represents Players on the 40-man Major League rosters, as well as approximately 5,500 Minor League players employed by the 30 Major League baseball teams. The MLBPA also oversees MLB Players, Inc., which exclusively represents the group commercial and licensing activities involving active players.
On behalf of its members, the union also operates the Major League Baseball Players Trust (www.trust.mlbplayers.com), a 501(c)3 charitable foundation that harnesses the expertise, influence, and passions of players to create meaningful and sustainable change in the lifelong well-being of others.
Notably absent again is anything having to do with player safety. It’s starting to become more clear why air quality is such a nebulous topic that no one has taken a clear stand on. Even establishing player safety protocols for COVID in 2020 and 2021 was a drawn out process between the MLBPA and owners.
But still, the proof has been in vivid color, right in front our eyes since at least 2020. Why hasn’t this happened yet after multiple instances of games played in hazardous AQI levels in recent years? Money and logistics, obviously. It costs teams and the league money to cancel and re-schedule games and it can cause a logistics and scheduling nightmare of moving a series to another city with better air quality. So, do the costs of canceling and re-scheduling games outweigh the benefits of protecting the respiratory health of players and fans? I think you can answer that yourself since here we are in 2023 with no clear standard set by MLB. By leaving it in the hands of the individuals teams on a case-by-case basis, MLB absolves itself from direct blame and any financial responsibility. America!
Friend of the site Bradford William Davis also went in-depth on the topic and spoke with Clint Frazier, who drew some similar conclusions. Highly recommended reading:
Does Major League Basebal have a plan for playing baseball when the air tastes of charcoal and despair? Or we just vibing mostly?— Bradford William Davis (@BWDBWDBWD) June 8, 2023
I asked Clint Frazier and an Actual Scientist (@kimkgarrett) about playing safely through the apocalypse for @HellGateNY. https://t.co/LxxMzGYl3a
Well, let’s hit some polls, shall we?
Should MLB establish a clear policy on air quality standards for games?
This poll is closed
In your opinion, what is the biggest barrier to creating such a policy?
This poll is closed
MLB Commissioner’s Office
I have no idea
Prompt: I would love to hear from anyone with law or policy backgrounds on what you think the path forward here should be. I know this topic can be contentious and certainly encroaches a bit on our “No Politics” rule in the comment section, but do your best to discuss in a non-inflammatory matter and the Mod Squad will let you know if you’re hitting the guard rails. Thank you in advance.