Today in Baseball History: The game with no fans

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For the past month and a half, we’ve been talking about how they might be playing big league baseball games with no fans. If you’ve been watching the CPBL games from Taiwan, you can see what that looks like in real time. It’s weird to say the least.

Most of you will remember, however, that we have had at least one big league game in recent history with no fans. That came on April 29, 2015, when the Orioles played the White Sox to an empty house at Camden Yards due to a tragedy followed by civil unrest in Baltimore. Let’s take a look back at how all that went down.

On April 12, Baltimore police arrested a 25-year-old man named Freddie Gray. Gray was healthy and fine when they put him into the back of a police van. Between the time he was arrested and when he got to the station, however, Gray sustained injuries to his neck and spinal cord. He fell into a coma and was taken to a hospital where he died seven days later. The story from the Baltimore police about how Gray was injured was implausible and inconsistent. Police brutality and negligence in giving Gray medical attention was seen as the likely explanation, and prosecutors agreed, charging multiple police officers with crimes. In the event, however, none of the officers who were criminally charged were ultimately convicted.

On April 18, protests began and continued for over a week. On April 25 a major protest in downtown Baltimore turned violent, resulting in 34 arrests and injuries to 15 police officers. Gray’s funeral took place on April 27 and, in the aftermath, civil disorder intensified with looting and the burning of couple of businesses. Maryland’s governor declared a state of emergency and the Maryland National Guard was deployed to the city. On the night of the 25th the Orioles were playing the Red Sox at Camden Yards. Fans were forced to stay inside Oriole Park during and immediately after the game due to the threat to their safety.

On Monday April 27 and Tuesday April 28 the Orioles games against the Chicago White Sox were postponed. While, in the grand scheme of things, the fate of some baseball games paled in importance to what was going on in the city, it was decided that the business of Major League Baseball had to go on. The problem, however, was that due to the unbalanced schedule, the White Sox were not going to visit Baltimore again in 2015. How would any of these games be played in a manner which did not put fans at risk?

The solution? A game with no fans. It was an eerie scene, televised for all of us to see:


It’s even eerier to experience it without the announcers, as the players and the handful of people who had business inside the ballpark did:


As you can hear, a few Orioles fans braved the city’s streets and lined up outside the gates, cheering when the Orioles did good things. Otherwise, though, there was mostly silence. It was so quiet in the park that, if you were watching the White Sox’ broadcast feed, you could hear the voice of the Orioles’ announcers bleeding through the walls of the press box, picked up by the WGN microphones. You could hear the sounds of clicks from the media’s cameras in the photo well. At times you could hear the pitchers’ cleats grinding on the mound as they pivoted.

The game itself wasn’t very entertaining. The Orioles shellacked the Sox, 8-2, jumping on Chicago early. There were 15 hits, a couple of errors and sixteen total strikeouts. Normally that kind of line would make for a long and drawn-out game, but this one took a mere two hours and three minutes. To be fair, there were several double plays and a lot of first-pitch swinging — it was a getaway day afternoon game, after all — but it’s rare to see such a short game time for a game in which ten runs were scored.

Some of that was because the in-between inning nonsense was kept to a minimum. There were no kiss-cams, contests, or in-game hosts interviewing centenarians or whatever. Some of it, of course, was just dumb luck. Either way, it made for one of the quicker games of the 2015 season. And for one of baseball’s weirdest games ever.

At least until whatever happens in 2020 goes down. Then it’ll probably seem positively quaint.


Also today in baseball history:

1913: The Cincinnati Reds are in Chicago to play the Cubs but they forgot to pack their uniforms, so they’re forced to borrow some from the crosstown White Sox. The Cubs win 7-2.

1931: Wes Ferrell of the Cleveland Indians pitched a 7-0 no-hitter over the St. Louis Browns, whose lineup included his brother Rick, who went 0-for-3. Ferrell also knocked in four runs with a homer and a double. I’d say he was the player of the game.

1934: The Pirates and the Phillies become the last two major league franchises allowed to play home games on Sundays, thanks to Pennsylvania finally repealing its blue laws prohibiting the practice. Not that the state’s odd laws are completely a thing of the past.

1939: Lou Gehrig singles off of Washington Senators pitcher Ken Chase in a game at Yankee Stadium. It’s his 2,721st and last hit. He will play against the Senators the following day and go 0-for-4, and then sit out the Yankees’ next game, on May 2 in Detroit, and never play another game. Gehrig’s 2,721 hits will stand as a Yankees franchise record until Derek Jeter surpasses the total in 2009.

1983: After a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Lee Elia launches into an obscenity-laden tirade that has since become infamous. The biggest reason: he goes after Cubs fans in particular, saying “the [expletives] don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the [expletive] game. They outta go out and get a [expletive] job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a [expletive] living. Eighty-five percent of the [expletive] world is working. The other 15 come out here. A [expletive] playground for the [expletives].” And so on. I’m sure you can Google it and find the audio if you want.

1986: Roger Clemens set a major league record by striking out 20 as the Boston Red Sox defeated the Seattle Mariners 3-1. Clemens would match his own record a decade later. Kerry Wood (1998) and Max Scherzer (2016) would later tie it as well.

1987: Andre Dawson, still just beginning his MVP campaign, had five hits and hit for the cycle to lead the Chicago Cubs to an 8-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants. Dawson is in the news again today. He’s a funeral director, and his business is pretty tough these days.

1988: The Baltimore Orioles end their 21-game losing streak with their first victory of the season, beating the White Sox 9-0.