MLB first: Orioles, White Sox to play ‘closed to public’ game in Baltimore

Baltimore police officers stand outsideOriole Park at Camden Yards prior to the cancellation of Monday's game between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles (Reuters/Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)
The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox will play an afternoon game Wednesday with no fans in attendance, the baseball team announced. It is the first time in Major League Baseball history that there will not be a crowd by design.

After canceling Monday and Tuesday’s games between the two teams due to protests and riots throughout Baltimore, MLB announced that Wednesday’s 2:05 p.m. ET game would be “closed to the public.”

"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," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

"Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by violence in Baltimore, and everyone in our game hopes for peace and the safety of a great American city."

The game will still air on television and radio, but it’s the first time an MLB game will be played in private, according to the league. With the presence of broadcasting crews, the game will have more people watching in person than the lowest attended game in MLB history.

John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, says that the lowest-ever attendance in the majors was September 28, 1882 in Massachusetts.

Six people were in the stands as the hometown Worcester “Ruby Legs” Worcesters lost to the Troy Trojans, 4-1. It was the penultimate day of the season.

However, it’s not the first time that a professional baseball team has purposely played a game without spectators.

The Charleston Riverdogs, a Class A minor-league team in South Carolina, hosted a “Nobody Night” in July 2002. The promotional event was designed to set the record for professional baseball's lowest (paid) attendance, USA Today reported. Everybody except employees, scouts and media was barred from entering the stadium.

Teams generally announce the paid attendance, rather than the number of people who actually pass through the stadium gates. Thorn says he doesn’t know how MLB and the O’s will record the attendance for Wednesday’s game.

“That is a housekeeping matter and trivial in the present circumstance,” he tweeted.

MLB has had to deal with riots and home games before. On April 29, 1992, the Los Angeles Dodgers played the Philadelphia Phillies in LA in the midst of the Rodney King riots.

“That night's game between the Phillies and Dodgers was surreal. Police helicopters flew back and forth across the darkened sky, searchlights flashing,” Paul Hagen wrote on MLB.com. By canceling Monday and Tuesday’s games, he added, “Major League Baseball, the Orioles and local city and county officials made certain a similar scene wasn't repeated” in Baltimore.

The second series of the O’s homestand, scheduled to start Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays, will be moved to Florida. The Orioles will remain the home team.

MLB has previously flipped the location between two teams in a series, with the now-visiting team remaining the official home team. A June 2011 U2 concert in Miami forced the Miami Marlins to move a homestand to Washington state’s Safeco Field, where they “hosted” the Seattle Mariners, the Seattle Times reported.

As well as closing Wednesday’s game and moving the next series elsewhere, MLB also announced that the two postponed games will be made up as part of a single-admission doubleheader on Thursday, May 28.