How Climate Change Will Affect Baseball

This article was written by Lawrence Rocks

This article was published in the The National Pastime: The Future According to Baseball (2021)


Dr. Lawrence Rocks (THE TOPPS COMPANY)What does climate change have to do with baseball? There are various factors: First, the relationship of climate to athlete health; second, the relationship of climate to analytics; third, the relationship of fans to the weather; and fourth, the relationship of weather to the business of baseball, as new construction of ballparks will have to take climate into account.1

In the past, many fans, rather than attending in person, have opted to watch games via video, whether on TV or streaming at home, or in local venues offering the broadcast, such as bars, resorts, etc. But in the 2020 season we saw the first time MLB fans had no in-person option. The COVID-19 pandemic mandated social distancing, resulting in the closing of schools, theaters, stadiums, restaurants, and other places where people gather. The 2020 season start was delayed, and when games finally did resume it was for a truncated 60-game season, played in empty stadiums. This was a first for Major League Baseball, where fans were forced, for the first time, to endure a period with no baseball at all not because of economic work stoppages or weather, but because of a pandemic, and then when the season started, to watch their favorite teams on TV only.2 Some stadiums were filled with cardboard cutouts instead of real people.3 Perhaps having seen the disruption on a grand scale that a global phenomenon like a pandemic can wreak on baseball, we are ready to envision what climate change might require of the sport.

MYSTERIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Before we get into baseball specifics, let us establish some basics about climate that will be relevant to our discussion. In 1972 I said that “a hotter world climate due to the ‘greenhouse effect’ will happen by the year 2030.”4 I am now adding to it a prediction of a “windier” climate. Why? There are contradictory forces at work on the future of weather. First, Nature has its own cycle of climate change, and second, human activities are changing the atmosphere. Let us consider Nature vs. Human contributions to climate.

Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has risen by 40% in the latest half-century due to human activities. However, atmospheric temperature for this time period has risen only a few percent, not anywhere close to 40%. This is a non-correlation between carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. Other forces must be at work. What could they be? The study of ice cores from the Greenland ice cap suggest that the Earth has previously experienced four “ice ages,” and that we are “overdue” for another one. The layered structure of the ice cores includes layers that go back 400,000 years. The ratio of isotopes of oxygen in the ice—namely oxygen-16 to oxygen-18—reveals the existence of these previous “ice ages.” The ice core data are compelling evidence that some large-scale changes in Earth’s climate are natural phenomena.5 Nature’s climate changes occur in periods of tens of thousands of years. We can’t make climate policies based on such long periods of time. It is apparent that in the near-term, the direction of the change will be towards a hotter climate, and that’s what we must concern ourselves with.

My judgment is that the forces of Nature are getting ready for an ice age in the long term, in spite of human greenhouse gas emissions. But for the near term, we are due for unstable weather patterns, as the Earth’s climate does a rollercoaster ride down into an ice age, due to arrive in a millennium or more. There will be warming spells that suddenly change into cooling spells—and vice-versa—where these spells last for hundreds of years, thus making both “changeable” and “unalterable” seem to be correct judgments about climate.

It seems self-evident that more information is needed about the temperature and the cloud cover of the Earth. For this reason I have made the following proposal for a weather observatory on the moon, which Topps commemorated with a special edition baseball card on January 27, 2021.6

THE NEXT FRONTIER: WEATHERSTATIONMOON OBSERVATORY

As I wrote in 1972, the “real value of Space will come in the area of special technologies and scientific research.”7 As it relates to harnessing space exploration for purposes of climate study, “the fabrication of special electronic components, the relaying of TV and other communication media by satellite, measurements of the Earth’s resources by infrared photography, surveillance of weather by satellite.. .are Space’s possibilities.”8 I have suggested that NASA deploy an unmanned weather station on the Moon to track climate changes. WeatherStationMoon would take the Earth’s true temperature, in totality and in its regions, by telescopic observation of the infrared light emissions coming from the Earth. This will measure “climate warming.” The station would also measure the Earth’s cloud cover, in totality and in its regions, by telescopic observations of the visible and ultraviolet light reflections from the Earth’s cloud cover (the Earth’s “albedo”). An increase in cloud cover will make the Earth’s climate colder.

An increase in greenhouse gases and an increase in cloud cover are opposing forces to each other. It is uncertain which will prevail. However, I believe that the opposition of these forces will make the near-term climate unstable, and likely more windy. This may or may not determine the future of climate. However, if a WeatherStationMoon was in operation, it could contribute to answering the question. Heat Energy is the flow of thermal energy between bodies of different temperatures; thus there is a distinction between heat energy and temperature.9 The earth is likely to experience an overall temperature rise, but it could happen without an equal distribution of heat. Thus, the poles could become warmer and the equator cooler, without any overall temperature rise, or vice versa. This is yet a question for WeatherStationMoon to answer, if allowed to come to fruition.

Both detailed temperature mapping and detailed cloud cover movements would aid weather forecasting. Obviously, better long-range weather forecasts greatly help in commerce, shipping, air travel, virus and pathogen movements, military strategies, and planning all outdoor sports. The unmanned Weather-StationMoon would only need a small telescope, a solar array to generate electricity, and a battery pack to store electricity for the Moon’s night, which is 14 Earth days long. The proposed WeatherStationMoon could be placed on the Moon by remote control, as the Mars vehicle was, or placed there by the astronauts of Project Artemis—which will send a mission to the Moon in 2024. From any landing site on the Moon, the Earth appears 3.5 times bigger than a full Moon appears from the Earth, changing phases of full-to-new Earth every 28 days. A moon-based observatory will see all the continents every day, and give a total picture of the Earth, as well as detailed parts of it, providing critical climate data to the United States and the Paris Accord Nations, who are in the process of drawing up economic solutions to climate change. I call upon the Paris Accord scientists to support such a project, whether by NASA, some other country, or private enterprise. Climate change should not become politicized. Observations from the Moon, if taken over years, should yield important data that could show whether the Earth’s climate changes are mostly due to Nature’s forces or human activities, and could serve to measure the effectiveness of government policies in the wake of the Paris Accords.

CLIMATE CHANGE EFFECTS ON BASEBALL

Now that we have some understanding of the large scale picture of climate change, let us talk about how the hotter and more volatile climate we will experience in the coming years will affect the sport of baseball. Did you know that as an elastomer, a baseball will lose elasticity in high temperatures, thus there is an optimal temperature range for the baseball’s flexibility?10 As we are learning, even small changes in the ball can have large effects on the field.11 But the coming warmer climate will likely adversely affect the player (and spectator) more than the baseball. Baseball, as an industry, will need to make the following adjustments:

  • Baseball stadiums will need new roof design
    Sudden adverse weather events will become more frequent in our near-term climate. Roofed stadiums will be a defense against such events as dust storms, very high temperatures, and very high humidities, all of which can reduce attendance. The domed stadium has been a developing design since before the climate change issue arose. These roofs should incorporate solar energy. I wrote in 1980 that “possibly no single energy system has greater public support than solar heating. It is desirable, ultimately inevitable, and presently capable of conserving conventional heating fuels. Solar heating may have the potential to displace almost half the present consumption of natural gas and about 10% of oil-derived fuels.”12 Solar architecture will be the wave of the future for stadium construction.
  • Player facilities should be “on the roof” instead of in the basement
    Present stadium designs place most player facilities deep underground, and that is injurious to the health of the players. Such facilities as locker rooms, training gyms, medical stations, physical rehab facilities, and conference rooms can be difficult to ventilate. This can lead to poor air quality from viruses, bacteria, dust, cleaning agents, and other chemicals, leading to headaches, mood changes, and airborne illnesses.
  • Ventilation will be more important than filtration
    It has been well established by air quality studies that in closed or indoor spaces, “ventilation” of air is far more important to health than is the “filtration” of air. Ventilation, which brings in fresh air, has less “air drag over persons” than does filtration, which recirculates air. The latest studies have come from COVID-19-related research on eliminating viruses from hospitals, restaurants, schools, and so on.
  • Rebuilding and retrofitting of stadiums should be done quickly
    And it can be. The 1950s is an example. During the 1950s the major leagues expanded across America from 16 teams located mostly in the American Northeast, to what is now teams spread across the continent. Almost every team built a new stadium during the “epoch of expansion.” We now face another reason for the physical reformation of stadiums in baseball, which might be called the “epoch of climate adaptation.”
  • Regional contests should be favored
    In the future, fans may consider “regional contests” more interesting than East coast vs. West coast games. From a historical perspective, many of the most fierce baseball rivalries have been from teams with regional proximity: Yankees/ Red Sox in the Northeast, Cubs/Cardinals in the Midwest, and so on. In the heydey of the 1950s there were fierce “crosstown” rivalries between the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and New York Yankees—and the Dodgers and Giants continue that rivalry on the West Coast today.13 Thus, regionalism could be good for MLB’s economics, not only because it would require teams to make less cross-continental travel, but because of heightened fan interest.
  • Long-Stay Scheduling will be economically favored
    In an age of unsettled weather, air travel will need to be reduced for reasons of safety and economics. This would favor long-stay scheduling, with regional teams playing in blocks of 5 to 7 games, instead of the 2- to 4-game series the schedule currently favors. If weather conditions are unpredictable, and rescheduling becomes increasingly expensive, why wouldn’t team ownership elect long-stay scheduling?
  • Spring Training sites may need to relocate
    If the weather in Florida becomes too humid and Arizona too hot, MLB teams will need to relocate their spring training sites, and rather quickly. Many teams have already made the move from Florida to Arizona recently, as well as consolidating their Arizona facilities nearer to Phoenix. Teams would need to coordinate their moves, as well, since each team needs others to play exhibitions against. But to where? California could become too dry, etc.
  • Players may experience loss of muscle power
    As temperature rises, the body will need to cool itself more. Most body cooling is accomplished by water evaporation from the lungs, not by sweating as is commonly believed. This will increase cardiovascular work of respiration, and that, in turn, will reduce body energy available for playing ball. Even if there is just a few percent drop in skeletal muscle energy the professional athlete will feel it.14
  • Player stats will be affected
    A generally hotter climate will lessen air density. This will cause fly balls to travel further, fastballs to be faster, curveballs to curve less, and spin rates of pitches to be higher. These factors will cause pitchers to change their usage percentages on their pitch selection, and probably continue to fuel MLB’s “launch angle revolution.”
  • Eras in baseball will become statistically incomparable
    Baseball statistical comparisons will change. In addition to the changes mentioned above due to hotter air, if player health is chronically impaired even by a small amount, “metrics” will follow the decline in their health. This affects the ability of teams to project success for players and draft picks, for coaches and players seeking to improve or diagnose the cause of slumps, and of fans to enjoy the performance of their favorite players. If the statistical record becomes meaningless for comparing players across eras (and some would say it has already become so), perhaps the “intangibles” of character, “clutch” performance, and teammate support will become more important in comparing players of the future with players of yesteryear?
  • Personal pollution-detection devices will become popular
    Health concerns will foster a new industry for wearable pollution-detection devices. These are solid-state devices the size of a wrist watch that measure particles and gases in the air. They can be plugged into a cell phone for data transmission to others. In theory, millions of people could monitor our environment in real time. Many companies are making such devices. The technology is already here, but the popularity of the devices remains to be created. (If the capability were built into one of the name-brand “smart” watches like the Apple Watch or Fitbit, the technology would instantly gain millions of users.15)
  • Teams must prepare to handle an increase in respiratory illnesses
    As the Earth moves into more unstable weather, it will become windier. A windier climate will mean more dust in the atmosphere, and more respiratory stress for players (and spectators). Inhaling very fine dust particles inactivates the cilia in a person’s mucous membranes, allowing the particles to enter the lungs. Asthma, or chemical emphysema, will result. Will the longevity of career necessary to reach the Hall of Fame be attainable for the players of the future, if air quality is so negatively affected?

CLIMATE POLICIES NOW

The question remains: if we want to mitigate the circumstances outlined above, what can we do? I have proposed an energy policy for the United States that will lessen human contribution to climate instability. This policy is the result of some fifty years of involvement with energy and environmental issues, beginning with my book The Energy Crisis in 1972. Among the steps we should take:

Nuclear electricity should be developed by making small reactors of no more than 300 megawatts.

Wind electricity should be harnessed by a “North American Off-Shore Wind Alliance” between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Solar power is best harnessed in “solar architecture” for heating and cooling of homes.

Abandon biofuels since they take more energy inputs than they yield as a fuel.

Recycling capabilities must be included in manufacturing to lessen resource consumption and to lessen waste disposal sites.

I believe that lessening the human contribution to climate change can only begin in meaningful ways when we have more accurate information about the Earth’s temperature and its cloud cover dynamics. That’s the best way to get consensus among the peoples of the Earth for policy-making support.

DR. LAWRENCE ROCKS has had a research career that has spanned from analytical chemistry to sports biochemistry to novel antiviral research. His 1972 book, The Energy Crisis, published just prior to the 1973 oil crisis, was widely acclaimed by both national television and print media, and influenced the creation of the US Department of Energy during the Carter Administration. He has been featured as an energy expert in the New York Times, Time Magazine, and National Review, and he has addressed the United Nations, and appeared on shows spanning many decades from the Today show to MLB Network. Dr. Rocks has been honored multiple times with commemorative baseball cards, including the 2019 official Lawrence Rocks Topps Allen and Ginter card, a 2020 Topps of the Class card, a 2021 Topps Now WeatherStationMoon card, and an Upper Deck WeatherStationMoon hockey card. On Earth Day 2021, the New York Islanders honored Dr. Rocks with a special commemorative silver hockey puck. Dr. Rocks, Professor Emeritus at Long Island University, received an MS in chemistry from Purdue University and his DSc (Doctor of Science) from Technische Hochschule Vienna. He and his wife Marlene are supporters of Ronald McDonald House Charities and have one son, Burton.

 


A Broadcast from the Future

Hello, everybody! The game Is about to start. Looking at the scoreboard weather conditions, I see:

Temperature 98 degrees Fahrenheit, Wind 15 MPH, Humidity 60%, and the Air Quality Index at 26 “Good.” But the big picture Weather Map shows a chance of a wind storm coming our way. The Caution Sign says a roof closure may be announced shortly.

Well, here comes the first pitch. Ball one. A 103 MPH fastball. Next pitch. There’s a fly ball to dead center field, and over the 415 mark for a home run. It must have gone 500 feet. Well, that’s the thin air for you, balls are thrown faster, and balls are batted further.

Next batter. An inside pitch. A curve ball that didn’t curve much. It had high spin rate, but it didn’t grip the thin air, so it didn’t curve. Here’s the next pitch. A ground ball past shortstop for a single. Wow. That grounder had speed. The hard infield made for a grounder too fast to field. Next batter stands in. Wait. A stolen base. Man on second base. Runner calls time. Needs to catch his breath. In high humidity he needs to breathe more for body cooling, and he needs to regain his oxygen level. Okay. Here’s the pitch. A line drive to right center field, one bounce and off the wall for a double. One run in. It certainly looks like we’re in for yet another high scoring game, folks.

Hold it. Folks, the wind is picking up. The umpire is coughing so much he has to call time. It looks like that wind storm is arriving. The roof will take ten minutes to close. It’s getting dark and dusty in here. The air conditioning will take time to cool and clear such a big volume of air as our ballpark holds. So, let’s count on a 20 minute delay.


The Sequence of Chemical Events Causing Respiration Stress

  1. Pollutants inactivate both lung enzymes and hemoglobin in red cells.
  2. Oxygen blood-levels drop, in consequence.
  3. The involuntary nervous system responds to increase the breathing rate.
  4. Heart and respiration rates increase to raise oxygen blood-levels.
  5. Adrenalin is released to activates the hormone system of the brain.
  6. The voluntary nervous system is activated to help in respiration.
  7. Extra breathing produces extra body heat.
  8. Extra body heat is dissipated by lung evaporation of water.
  9. Lung cooling causes even more work for the cardiovascular system.
  10. Muscle-oxygen levels require the absorption of extra oxygen.
  11. An exhaustion is felt at the conscious level.
  12. Muscle coordination, from eyesight to movement, is impaired.
  13. Physical performance, and emotional moods, become impaired.
  14. A heart attack becomes increasingly more likely.

 

Photo credit

Topps/Allen & Ginter commemorative card of Dr. Rocks

 

Notes

1. Hot Stove, “DeJong, Dr. Rocks discuss climate,” MLB Network, January 28, 2021. https://www.mlb.com/video/dejong-dr-rocks-discuss-dimate.

2. Bob Nightengale.,”Coronavirus: Doctor says baseball can ‘lead the way’ on coronavirus response,” USA Today, March 18, 2020.

3. I was one of them. Ken Davidoff, “The drastic 2021 changes MLB teams should make to combat COVID-19,” New York Post, December 9, 2020.

4. Lawrence Rocks, Richard Runyon, The Energy Crisis (New York: Crown Publishers, 1972), 177.

5. Jessica Stoller-Conrad, “Core questions: An introduction to ice cores,” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, August 14, 2017. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2616/core-questions-an-introduction-to-ice-cores.

6. Topps Now WeatherStationMoon commemorative baseball card, January 27, 2021. https://www.topps.com/cards-collectibles/topps-now/weather-stationmoon-mlb-topps-now-regcard-wsm-1.html.

7. Rocks, Runyon, The Energy Crisis, 129.

8. Rocks, Runyon, The Energy Crisis, 129.

9. Lawrence Rocks, Developing Your Chemistry Fundamentals (Tulsa: PennWell Publishers, 1979).

10. CBS New York. Steve Overmyer report. November 9, 2017. “Cardinals’ De-Jong, Renowned Scientist Test Effects of Heat on Baseball.”

11. Meredith Wills, “How One Tiny Change to the Baseball May Have Led to Both the Home Run Surge and the Rise in Pitcher Blisters,” The Athletic, June 6, 2018. https://theathletic.com/381544/2018/06/06/how-one-tiny-change-to-the-baseball-may-have-led-to-both-thehome-run-surge-and-the-rise-in-pitcher-blisters.

12. Dr. Lawrence Rocks, Fuels for Tomorrow. (Tulsa: PennWell Publishers, 1980.)

13. Carl Erskine, Burton Rocks, What I Learned from Jackie Robinson. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005).

14. John Brewer, Run Smart: Using Science to Improve Performance and Expose Marathon Running’s Greatest Myths. Bloomsbury Sport, 2017. https://research.stmarys.ac.uk/id/eprint/2102

15. Emily Vogels, “About One in Five Americans Uses a Smart Watch or Fitness Tracker,” Pew Research, January 9, 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/09/about-onein-five-americans-use-a-smart-watch-or-fitness-tracker.

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