With nearly every sports organization on the planet on pause at the moment as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it’s an opportune time to reminisce about some special moments in sports history.
On this day in 2015, the Baltimore Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox 8-2 at Camden Yards in the first regular season game played without fans in MLB history. To date, it is the only MLB game to be played in a crowd-less stadium, but that could change later this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baltimore in April of 2015 was at the centre of controversy after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died while in police custody. Protesters filled the streets and there were fears about public safety in the city. Camden Yards had to be briefly locked down during a April 25 game between the Orioles and Boston Red Sox as a result.
The first two games of the series between the Orioles and White Sox were rescheduled to May for public safety, but rescheduling the third game proved difficult. The Orioles eventually decided to host the game without fans as originally scheduled on April 29, but it was moved to the afternoon to accommodate a city curfew.
“It was such a weird situation because there was so much going on around the city and I think so much pain and suffering that could be helped by just turning on the TV,” Orioles first baseman Chris Davis told The Baltimore Sun. “It was a hard time for the city and I think as players, I thought we really hoped we could be a distraction at that point. It’s still tough to think about it all now. I don’t think too many of us really go down that road too often because there’s a lot of pain there and it’s not something pleasant to think about.”
While fans weren’t allowed into the building a group crowded near the outfield fence to watch and others rented rooms in hotels that overlooked the field. When Davis hit a three-run home run in the first inning, the small group of fans could be heard on the broadcast.
The Orioles scored six of their eight runs in the opening inning and starter Ubaldo Jimenez went seven innings with no earned runs and six strikeouts.
“Hearing the home-run ball clank into the seats, that was pretty odd. And every foul ball just made a clank, clank, clank,” then Orioles catcher Caleb Joesph told The Athletic “It was just so weird to see foul balls, home runs, you name it, just baseballs sitting there. And nobody runs to get it. Not a kid. Not an old man. Not anybody running to get the ball.”
Not only were the sounds of balls in the stands amplified, but the voices of the broadcasters and those on the field could be heard loud and clear without noise from fans drowning them out.
“There was a whole lot less chatter going on with each team. You’re typical ragging somebody or the hooting and hollering in your own dugout or even screaming at umpires. A whole lot of that didn’t happen because you could hear everything,” then White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers told The Athletic. “If you were talking in the other dugout, you could hear it that day. It kind of changed the way you almost played and acted, because every word was picked up by the opposing team.”
The game ended quickly, in just over two hours. The Orioles had the next day off, then flew to Tampa to face the Rays in a series originally scheduled to be played in Baltimore.
The 2020 MLB season was shutdown March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the latest reports, from USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, point to games returning in late June or early July, without fans and with a modified schedule.
Looking back on the experience of playing without fans and pondering how teams would be impacted by that now, former Orioles manager Buck Showalter is skeptical of the plan.
“I don’t see how they do it,” former Orioles manager Buck Showalter said recently. “That’s just me, but at the end of the day, what have you got if you do it?”
“When you’re watching something and there’s a full crowd, you’re thinking that this is something you really want to see,” he added. “Now, you’re sitting there and how do you get excited about a play with nobody in the stands?”