How baseball games might be impacted if they’re played without fans

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On an episode of Inside Corner last week with teammate Marco Gonzales and play-by-play broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith, Mariners catcher Tom Murphy was asked what it would be like to play baseball games with no fans in attendance. Murphy said, “Without any crowd noise, the hitter’s going to know exactly where I’m at. That’s without question. I’m almost terrified of it because how are you going to throw a fastball in at any point?” Gonzales chimed in, “You’re not.”

It’s a point that hasn’t been brought up often, if at all, in discussions about kicking off the baseball season some time this summer. Lots of other aspects have been rightfully brought up, such as accounting for pay and service time, testing players regularly for coronavirus, limiting their exposure to society at large, etc. However, the game itself may be impacted in many other subtle ways.

In 2015, the Orioles hosted the White Sox in what is to date the only Major League Baseball game played without fans in attendance. Caleb Joseph caught the game and mentioned a bunch of weird things he noticed throughout the course of the afternoon. Per The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath, Joseph said he could hear conversations going on in the opposing dugout. He could also hear Gary Thorne calling the game in the broadcast booth above the field.

“It was so quiet that I could hear him in the press box (above), where he broadcast the games, saying, ‘and the 2-1 pitch on the way’ as it’s happening. I could hear him calling it. I felt like I was not only living the game but watching and listening to it at the same time,” Joseph said.

Some players feed off of the energy fans provide. Joseph likened going from playing in front of fans to playing in front of no fans to having coffee in the morning to start your day, then having to do it without coffee. Even fans of opposing teams can provide players an adrenaline rush, Joseph noted.

We have heard, among the many hypothesized ways MLB can salvage a 2020 season, that players will get an abbreviated spring training to get back into playing shape. Rosters would be adjusted to account for starting pitchers not being as able to pitch deep into games. Along with the potential for players to overhear strategy as well as catcher positioning, stats created during this time will have to be taken with a grain of salt.