BALTIMORE (AP) - 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 145-season 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.
In addition, Baltimore’s Friday-to-Sunday series against Tampa Bay was shifted from Camden Yards to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, with the Orioles remaining the home team and batting last.
“All of the decisions in Baltimore were driven first by the desire to insure the safety of fans, players, umpires and stadium workers,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Only after we were comfortable that those concerns had been addressed did we consider competitive issues and the integrity of the schedule.”
Although the Orioles won’t be performing in front of their fans Wednesday and will lose three home games, they understood the situation and had not complaints.
“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 AP. “The last thing you want to do is put the fans in harm’s way. You have to err on the side of safety.”
The looting and rioting broke out Monday just hours after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody.
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 after the Orioles postponed games against Chicago on Monday and Tuesday.
“We were just trying to respond to the wishes of the public officials and protect the integrity of the schedule,” Dan Duquette, the Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations, said in a phone interview.
This was Chicago’s only scheduled visit to Camden Yards. The first two games will be made up as part of a doubleheader on May 28.
“It would have been very difficult to make up all three games, so we needed to play that game on Wednesday,” Duquette said. “You just try to do the best you can in this kind of situation.”
The Baseball Hall of Fame and John Thorn, Major League Baseball’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.
Said Duquette: “It’s not ideal, but at least our fans will be able to follow the game on TV.”
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, the White Sox are on the verge of performing in front of no one.
“Major League Baseball is doing everything they can to be safe. They’re taking precautions,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. “To be safe is the best thing.”
Thorn said the lowest attendance for a major league game appears to be six when Worcester hosted Troy in a National League matchup on Sept. 28, 1882.
At the minor league level, Iowa hosted Nashville in a June 2008 game of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League played behind closed doors because of flooding in Des Moines.
Closed-door games are more common in soccer. European soccer’s governing body last October ordered CSKA Moscow to play two Champions League matches behind closed doors for fan racism and told Serbia to play a pair of European Championship qualifiers without fans because of crowd disturbances and fireworks and missiles that were set off during a game against Albania.
By moving their weekend series with the Rays to Florida, the Orioles are poised play 78 games at Camden Yards and 84 on the road.
“Nobody likes to lose home games,” 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 receipts.”
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, will have the distinction of being the visitor in its own stadium.
“It’s not a good situation there,” Rays star Evan Longoria said. “I don’t know that anybody that is bringing their family or has family there would be able to feel very safe going there right night now. It’s sad. I love playing in Baltimore. Camden Yards is one of my favorite places to go.”
Monday’s Orioles-White Sox 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.
Also Tuesday, 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.”
One of the team’s most famous players, retired linebacker Ray Lewis, intends to remain at home in Maryland rather than work the draft in Chicago for ESPN.
“I felt that it was more important for me to stay in Baltimore and try to help the city I love,” Lewis said in a statement. “I did not feel right leaving the city at this time.”
AP Baseball Writers Howie Rumberg and Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
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