SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
September 24, 1979
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September 24, 1979


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Southern California last week suffered through its worst siege of smog in nearly a quarter of a century. Day after day a brownish haze hung over the land, causing respiratory problems and prompting the Los Angeles school system and a number of other districts to cancel high school football games and other athletic events. At the Los Angeles Coliseum, where UCLA went ahead with its Saturday night game against Purdue, Boilermaker Fullback Mike Augustyniak, an asthmatic, experienced difficulty breathing, apparently because of the smog, and had to be sidelined periodically.

The severe smog was caused by a combination of sweltering temperatures—they ran as high as 108�—and an "inversion layer," a cushion of hot air that settled over the Los Angeles basin like an enormous lid, trapping pollutants underneath. Conditions were aggravated by brush fires and a bus strike that resulted in heavier-than-usual automobile traffic. "Second-stage smog episodes," the term used when ozone readings average more than .35 parts per million over a one-hour period, occurred daily. During second-stage episodes, industry must reduce the emission of pollutants, and residents are advised to curtail driving, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise.

One worry raised by the plague of foul air was the question of what might happen if similar conditions prevailed in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics. Although dates for those Games have not been set, the likeliest ones would be in late July and early August, when hot weather is probable. Dr. Steven Horvath, an exercise physiologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has researched the effect of air pollution on athletes and concluded that at ozone readings of .50 parts per million, which were approached last week on a number of occasions, performances would decrease by 8% to 10%. Of the prospect of smog-bound Olympics, Horvath said, "At the very least there would be a marked decrease in performance in distance events. But certain combinations of heat and smog could create a disaster, and I'm talking about athletes keeling over. Symptoms would include acute chest pain, breathing difficulty and burning eyes."

It is hoped that last week's apparently freakish siege won't recur. Still, smog in some quantity or other is very much part of the Los Angeles environment. Accordingly, Horvath suggests that organizers consider holding the '84 Games when the weather is likely to be cooler—in the spring, for example—or at least scheduling distance events at night. That idea was echoed by Dr. Stanley Rokaw, a Los Angeles pulmonary specialist, who said, "I would be fearful of having marathon runners compete in smog like this."


Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field are the smallest and quaintest parks in the major leagues. The teams that play in them, the Red Sox and Cubs, have endured an extraordinary succession of almosts and might-have-beens and have elevated the late-season collapse to high art. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, the Red Sox in 1918—with a six-game defeat of the Cubs. Nevertheless, the two teams are blessed with some of baseball's most loyal, knowledgeable and resilient fans; they boo, second-guess and die a thousand deaths, but they go out to the ball park, hoping that sooner or later a season will have a happy ending.

This year brought typical disappointment. In mid-July the Cubs and Red Sox appeared poised to take over first place in their respective divisions, and their fans were showing early symptoms of pennant fever. But both teams have since gone into their accustomed swoons. Last week Boston was 14� games out of first and on the verge of mathematical elimination, and only Carl Yastrzemski's quest for his 3,000th hit (page 46) enlivened things at Fenway. The Cubs, who were on the road, were also 14� games out and they, too, faced elimination.

But wait till next year—or the year after, or the year after that. The Boston Globe ran a cartoon the other day in which the Red Sox were represented as a pack of cigarettes. In the manner of cigarette ads, in one corner of the cartoon was the warning that "being a Red Sox fan is depressing to your health." The drawing also showed a Boston rooter who could just as easily have been a Cub fan. Wearing a helpless expression, the fellow said, "I just can't kick the habit."


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