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Ominous Sign Of The Times: Baseball In Baltimore Without Fans


The Baltimore Orioles postponed a couple of games earlier this week because of riots near Camden Yards. With the situation still in flux in Charm City, the Orioles had a few options:

  • Go ahead and play the games, perhaps earlier in the day to control the situation better.
  • Play the games nearby at the Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C.
  • Postpone the games for a later date

Team officials went with the first option — but with quite the twist. If moving the game up five hours from its original 7:05 p.m. start time helps control the situation, imagine what happens when you lock out fans to keep them from coming into the park to watch the game! It’s the perfect solution. No one has to worry about any shenanigans at the ball park and Orioles owner Pete Angelos can make sure the Nationals don’t make any revenue from TV broadcasts of the game. The entire next home stand is being moved to the Rays’ stadium in Florida.

It’s certainly a fix for the problem, but it’s also creepy. Empty stadiums are things European soccer teams occasionally play in when hooligans engage in too much violence. That’s right: European soccer teams. That’s how bad of an idea it is. Not that such a move from Angelos, who made his money in class action suits, is necessarily surprising. One fun story about Angelos is that a former employee claimed that the team never hired any baseball players who escaped from the Communist dictatorship of Cuba out of Angelos’ “respect” for his friend Fidel Castro.

It’s completely understandable that natural or human-caused events may force postponements in the game. When Los Angeles erupted in riots in 1992, the Dodgers postponed four games. When the earthquake hit the Bay area in 1989 during the World Series, games between the A’s and Giants were postponed a full ten days. When madmen commandeered passenger aircraft in the 9/11 terror attacks, all the teams in both the American and National Leagues postponed games for a week. Just three years ago, hurricane Irene caused a bunch of postponements.

Still, this is the first time in Major League Baseball when fans were locked out of a game that will be played.

Historic firsts can be cool. The game will be televised so folks can still observe from a distance. What will a game without fans sound like? Will anything play on the Jumbotron? Will there be any music? Baltimore doesn’t have an organist but was the first team to pipe in rock music instead (way back in 1975). Will that play? Maybe it will just be at-bat music. Will the Jumbotron feature the eeriest kiss cam in Major League Baseball history? Dot races? A blooper reel for the benefit of the White Sox and Orioles players? And how will we know? Will there be a 7th-inning stretch? Will the teams sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game?” Will the music play without any crowd support, sounding like a dirge?

If a baseball game is played but no fans are there to witness it, does it make a sound? Either way, does it count? Even President Obama’s longtime advisor David Axelrod knows that there is something both sad and symbolic about this decision:

We live in a time when Americans feel a certain separation from institutions. Politics is increasingly controlled by crony capitalists who buy and sell policy ideas, regulatory restrictions and subsidies. The media are completely out-of-touch with average American concerns. They spend time partying with celebrities, fawning over certain politicians while derisively mocking others, and covering complex issues with one-sided hysteria instead of dispassionate fact-gathering. Individuals are less likely to be involved in social clubs and life-long marriages than were their parents and grandparents. We’re too separated from each other in too many ways.

The idea that baseball doesn’t truly require fans’ presence is somehow ominous, portending a dystopic future where even baseball is severed from average Americans, where teams are solely profit-making entertainment as opposed to communal celebration.

In the liturgy of baseball, all senses should be engaged and the worship should be done in congregation. Yes, the Orioles are only locking fans out of one game. But that no previous baseball team found it necessary to lock fans out of games — despite far more serious security concerns — should have been a good sign that one game is one game too many. This is a line that should not be crossed. Fans are integral to the game as it’s understood. We need witnesses — true witnesses — lay people beyond the radio and TV announcers, people who are looking where the TV cameras aren’t. People who are talking to the folks in the seats around them and connecting on things that have nothing to do with work or politics.

Besides, the return of baseball after periods of tragedy and calamity can be such a healing balm to communities. The first games of baseball after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 gave people permission to return to a version of their normal lives. There are really so many reasons why — particularly in times of strife — baseball teams should recognize the importance of playing games in the presence of fans.

Interestingly enough, three of the lowest attendance games in baseball will have all involved the White Sox. At least that’s what the Associated Press says:

Since 1987, the lowest attendance has been 746 when the White Sox hosted Toronto at Comiskey Park on April 9, 1997, according to STATS. The New York Yankees’ home game against the White Sox on Sept. 22, 1966, had a listed attendance of 413.

And now they’re going to obliterate that record, with an attendance of zero.

That AP story also quotes White Sox manager Robin Ventura as saying, “Major League Baseball is doing everything they can to be safe,” and “To be safe is the best thing.” Well there’s your problem. There are only about a million things in life better than being safe, however important safety is. If safety is your highest value, you’ll do anything to keep it. Including locking out fans from the national pastime.