They laughed at Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker this week when he blamed Chicago mold for his team’s health issues—in particular his unorthodox decision not to use his hottest pitcher in a do-or-die Game Four.
I can promise you that thousands of Chicago area allergy sufferers weren’t laughing, although they might have stopped sneezing long enough to smirk along with everyone else when Baker reversed course Wednesday and sent the allegedly afflicted Stephen Strasburg to the mound after all.
For all the questions through the years about Baker’s handling of pitching staffs, the former Cubs’ skipper knows his seasonal allergies.
Baker was right on target. At this time of year, it’s the mold that can lay you low in Chicago, local doctors say.
Take your pick. Alternaria. Aspergillus. Hormodendrum (aka cladosporium). Penicillium.
Those are just four types of airborne fungi most commonly associated with triggering allergic reactions, although there are thousands more.
None of the other major outdoor allergens — trees, grass, weeds and ragweed — survived this far into the Chicago baseball postseason.
As is always the case in October, it’s the mold that’s Chicago’s world champion of sneezing, itchy eyes, congestion and runny noses.
The mold count in Chicago on Monday when the Cubs dropped the Nationals 2-1 was a lofty 58,434 spores per cubic meter, regarded as “very high” in the pollen counting business.
On Tuesday when the teams were rained out, the mold count had dropped to 37,124 and then even further to 16,062 on Wednesday after the rain—both still considered in the “high” range.
“The problem is the mold count. For a week, it’s been very, very high,” Dr. Joseph Leija, an allergist/immunologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park.
Every day at 4 a.m., Leija or an associate goes to the roof of the hospital to check on an air-sucking contraption that collects pollen on a slide that they then examine under a microscope to formulate the day’s count.
Leija expects local mold counts to increase again in the coming days from the humidity that follows the rain.
Back on Tuesday, Baker had sportswriters scratching their heads when he announced he was holding Strasburg back for a possible Game Five, even though the rainout meant he could pitch Wednesday on normal rest.
He made a vague reference to Strasburg not feeling well and a lot of the Nationals being “under the weather with the change of weather and the air conditioning in the hotel and the air conditioning here.”
“It’s just this time of the year for mold around Chicago — I think it’s mold. I mean, I have it, too,” Baker said.
Me, too, Dusty, so you’ll have to excuse me while I pause a moment to blow my nose.
I’ve been this way for nearly two weeks now since I made the mistake of volunteering to pull weeds in a community flower garden.
When I was a kid, a doctor diagnosed me as being allergic to all the basic outdoor things a kid can’t avoid — including the aforementioned alternaria mold.
My allergies caused asthma attacks, a shortness of breathing that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
With today’s medications, my asthma is well under control. But I’ve just come to expect that I’m going to spend a few miserable weeks this time of year with what we usually think of as hay fever symptoms until the cold weather kills off the mold.
Dr. Paul Greenberger, an allergist/immunologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said an estimated 30 percent of us suffer from allergies.
Without being directly involved in their treatment, Greenberger said he couldn’t say whether any of the Nationals were dealing with mold allergies.
But he said the possibility certainly wasn’t anything to laugh about.
As things turned out, it was Strasburg who made the Cubs’ hitters look sick while shutting them out over seven innings.
If the warmer weather holds, the mold should survive through the World Series. Just saying.