BALTIMORE: After a pair of postponements caused by rioting in Baltimore, the Orioles and Chicago White Sox will play Wednesday at Camden Yards in what is believed to be the first game without fans in Major League Baseball’s history.
Because of the unsettled environment in Baltimore, where rioters burned a drug store and set police cars ablaze on Monday night, officials moved the game up five hours from its original 7:05 p.m. starting time and closed it to the public
“It’s all about what’s best for the city and the safety of our people,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “The last thing you want to do is put the fans in harm’s way. You have to err on the side of safety.”
Schools were closed Tuesday and the mayor imposed a 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew. The announcement of the unique closed-doors game came late Tuesday afternoon, after the Orioles postponed games against Chicago on Monday and Tuesday.
The Baseball Hall of Fame and John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, said they did not think there ever had been a closed-doors big league game, although there have been instances in the minor leagues.
“It’s definitely going to be unchartered territory,” Showalter said.
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, has a listed attendance of 413.
Thorn said the lowest attendance for a major league game appears to be six when Worcester hosted Troy in a National League game on Sept. 28, 1882.
At the minor league level, Iowa hosted Nashville in a June 2008 game played behind closed doors because of flooding in Des Moines.
Closed-door games are more common in soccer. In the Russian Premier League, Torpedo Moscow was ordered on April 7 to play two home games in an empty stadium after fans displayed a banner with a Nazi symbol, the club’s fourth racism-related punishment this season.
In addition, Baltimore’s Friday-to-Sunday series against Tampa Bay was shifted from Camden Yards to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, with Baltimore remaining the home team and batting last.
“Nobody likes to lose home games, and this season we will be playing more games on the road than at home,” Showalter noted. “But there are more important things involved here. We discussed every possible scenario, and this is what fits the best.”
Losing money by giving away the three home games was not an issue with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, according to Showalter.
“Peter said it was the right thing to do,” the manager said. “This has nothing to do with money or gate recepits.”
Baltimore is off Thursday. MLB said the postponed games against the White Sox will be made up with a doubleheader on May 28 at 4:05 p.m.
Monday’s game was postponed around 40 minutes before the scheduled 7:05 p.m. start. The decision came after riots broke out following the funeral of Freddie Gray, who died April 19 of spinal cord and other injuries sustained while in police custody.
Tuesday’s game, also scheduled for 7:05, was called off shortly after 11 a.m.
Also Tuesday, the uneasy situation also caused the Baltimore Ravens to cancel an NFL draft party for fans at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
The team said the decision was made “out of respect to the curfew.”