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The Las Vegas 51s and the hottest games in MLB history

On Thursday night, the 51s played a game in 111 degree weather. It may have been the hottest game of all time.

The Las Vegas 51s vs. The Salt Lake Bees
Jonathan Maseng

There is hot, and then there is “so hot that your plane can’t land.” Last Tuesday was “so hot your plane can’t land,” at least that’s what Delta told me at LAX as our flight to Las Vegas was delayed for over three hours. It was 117 degrees in Vegas that day, a mark that tied it for the hottest day on record in one of America’s warmest cities. I was headed there with a purpose in mind: To see the Las Vegas 51s participate in one of the hottest baseball games ever played.

There have been some extremely hot baseball games played during the long history of Major League Baseball. What’s been the hottest game ever played though? It’s hard to tell. Weather data from early in MLB’s history is likely inaccurate, and that’s when it’s available. For instance, the New York Times reported that a Giants-Reds game in 1918 was played in 110 degree heat, which would make it the hottest MLB game of all time, but it can’t possibly be true, because NYC’s record high temperature is only 106 degrees.

The hottest MLB games for which we have accurate weather readings were both played by the Texas Rangers, and they were both night games. On August 26, 1988, the Rangers faced off against the Blue Jays in a game where the local temperature was 109 degrees at start time. Eight years earlier, the Rangers had played the Twins on a similarly scorching 109 degree evening.

Other hot games include a 106 degree affair between the A’s and Angels in Anaheim in 2007, and a 106 degree game between the Red Sox and Royals in Kansas City in 1980. Some Braves fans claim the June 30, 2012 game in Atlanta had a start-time temperature of 109 or 110 degrees, but this number is certainly exaggerated as the high temperature recorded at nearby Hartsfield-Jackson Airport that day topped out at 106 degrees -- still very hot, but not record-breaking.

Which brings me to Thursday’s Las Vegas 51s game. The high temperature at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 22, 2017 was 115 degrees, which is about as hot as it gets in Las Vegas. It also happens to be just about the longest day of the year, which means the temperature starts cooling down later because the sun doesn’t set early. Those factors combined to produce the truly dehydration-causing announced temperature of 111 degrees at Cashman Field for the 7:00 PM game between the Las Vegas 51s and the Salt Lake Bees.

What does watching a game in 111 degree heat feel like? Turn on your hair dryer and point it at your face. Now imagine that sort of heat coming at you all over your body, and you’ll understand what it feels like when a breeze blows in that kind of weather. If you think it’s bad as a fan, imagine what it’s like as a player.

Several studies have shown that the hotter the temperature is during a baseball game, the farther and faster a ball travels when hit. This is due both to how a baseball’s core reacts when it’s exposed to high heat and to air being less dense in high temperatures. As Beyond the Box Score discovered when they examined the subject, the phenomenon is quite real. One only need look at the ERA of Noah Syndergaard during his first stay in Vegas to see how the heat has affected young Mets pitchers.

Unfortunately for the 51s, it was the Bees who seemed to take full advantage of the heat on Thursday, teeing off on the hapless 51s’ pitching for 16 runs on 21 hits. The Bees’ Kaleb Cowart seemed particularly at home in the heat, and had one of the greatest games a hitter could ever have. He went 6-for-6, with five RBIs and hit for the cycle.

Even in a city like Las Vegas, where summer temperatures are routinely over 100 degrees, locals agreed that this week was one of the hottest ever. My Uber driver told me that in eighteen years of living in Las Vegas, he couldn’t recall another week where the temperature had stayed near 115 degrees every single day. When Nevadans complain about the heat, you know it’s bad.

One would think that the Diamondbacks would hold the record for the hottest MLB game ever played, but Chase Field has a roof, so whenever it’s particularly hot out, they close it up. There are no high-level minor league teams in Arizona. New Mexico has one, in Albuquerque, but the hottest day in Albuquerque history was only 107 degrees. El Paso, Texas also has a minor league team, but El Paso’s hottest day on record is 114 degrees.

It’s impossible to truly tell if Thursday’s 51s game was the hottest game in baseball history, but there’s no doubt that it’s up there in the rankings. Most cities have never even recorded a temperature of 111 degrees, let alone played a baseball game in such conditions. What I can tell you from having been there is that the experience isn’t a pleasant one. No amount of Hawaiian shaved ice or souvenir-sized drinks can dispel such heat. Even the joy of watching Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith play from seats twenty feet behind home plate can only partially compensate for the buckets of sweat generated.

While Mets fans often complain about cold weather during early-season night games, they should be glad it’s never 111 degrees in Flushing. After all, you can wear a coat to a game, but you can’t attend in a speedo. The Mets also don’t have the greatest track record in hot games. Back in 1988 they played a 103 degree game against the Cubs in Chicago, lost, and also got in a brawl that injured Ron Darling. When it comes to baseball, perhaps it’s best that cooler heads and temperatures prevail.