Major League Baseball has been around since the year 1876. So you’d think that there’s not much it hasn’t seen. But a game played in front of zero fans? That’s a first.
Today, the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Chicago White Sox, 8-2, in front of an empty Camden Yards. Fans were left out of the stadium, and the game was pushed up to a 2 p.m. start time, in response to violent protests against police in Baltimore.
The previous two games against the White Sox had been postponed, and instead of calling off the final game in the series the league decided to play but to keep the stands empty in the interest of safety.
"After conversations with the Orioles and local officials, we believe that these decisions are in the best interests of fan safety and the deployment of City resources,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday.
That made for a strange experience in Baltimore this afternoon. Two professional baseball teams and a crew of umpires took the field. Batters were introduced by the stadium’s public address announcer. Swarms of media filled the press boxes. Photographers and scouts got close to the action.
But there were no fans to cheer big plays, like Chris Davis’ first-inning three-run home run. Or boo errors, like Manny Machado’s errant throw to second midway through the game.
It was so quiet at Camden Yards that every sound a player made could be heard on TV — and by officials.
“A lot of guys on the bench will have to shut up more so they don’t get tossed,” shortstop JJ Hardy told the New York Times before the game. “The umpires can hear everything we say.”
The small group of people in the 45,971-seat stadium could also hear a couple dozen or so Orioles faithful pressed up against a gate far removed from the action, cheering their team on as best they could.
This was the first time an MLB game had been played without a paying crowd. The previous low attendance mark was set by six fans who turned out to watch teams from Troy, NY, and Worscester, MA, on September 28, 1882.
Players tried to make the best of things today. They pretended to sign autographs for invisible kids, and threw foul balls into the stands like they would during a normal game.
But the reality of the situation the led to the empty stadium was never far away.
National Guard vehicles were parked outside Camden Yards, and state trooper helicopters flew low overhead.
“This isn’t the way you want to make history,” Davis told the Times.
Photos: Greg Fiume/Getty Images (Davis), Al Tielemans for Sports Illustrated (stadium, crowd)