The Orioles will make dubious history on Wednesday afternoon by playing the Chicago White Sox behind the locked gates of an empty Camden Yards, a first in more than a century of Major League Baseball, before relocating a weekend home series to St. Petersburg, Fla.
The schedule will go on despite the ugly unrest in Baltimore and the ensuing city-mandated curfew that took effect Tuesday. Wednesday’s game will be closed to the public, marking the first time a major league game will be played without a paying crowd, according to MLB historian John Thorn. Currently, the lowest-attended game was on Sept. 28, 1882, when just six fans attended a National League game between Troy, N.Y., and Worcester, Mass.
After games against the White Sox were postponed for a second straight night Tuesday following violence that enveloped the city, the Orioles made a number of rare schedule switches for the remainder of the week, including moving this weekend’s series against the Rays to Tropicana Field.
The Orioles will play Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the Rays’ home turf. Despite playing nearly 1,000 miles away from home, the Orioles will be the home team and bat last. The Orioles will also receive the gate revenue for the series minus the Rays’ expenses for hosting the games.
The changes, which will cost Orioles fans five home dates, were made after consulting with MLB and local authorities.
“We believe that these decisions are in the best interests of fan safety and the deployment of city resources,” new baseball 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.”
Fans who have tickets to Wednesday's game or any of the three Tampa Bay games this weekend can exchange their tickets for another game on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
Club representatives assembled early Tuesday morning at the offices of managing partner Peter G. Angelos to map out possibilities for not just Tuesday’s game — which was postponed that morning — but the rest of the Orioles’ homestand. The Orioles were slated to play at home through Sunday, including night games on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
With rioting throughout the city Monday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a week-long 10 p.m. curfew to be enacted Tuesday, preventing the Orioles from playing their three remaining 7:05 p.m. games on the homestand.
The tense situation in the city has been fluid, and the Orioles attempted to play both Monday and Tuesday before those games were postponed. While thinking about ways to get back on the field, the club had prioritized the safety of its fans while allowing time for the city to return to some normalcy. And the Orioles ultimately decided on an unprecedented shifting of the schedule.
“I’ve been in all the talks and everything’s been about the city of Baltimore and the safety of our fans,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday. “It’s not about money. It’s not about a baseball season. That doesn’t come up. Believe me, I’ve been in all these [meetings]. It’s just about those two things and that’s what we’re trying to solve here.”
As for the Orioles’ postponed games from Monday and Tuesday against the White Sox, those will be made up as part of a single-admission doubleheader on May 28, which will begin at 4:05 p.m. Tickets for Monday’s game will be good for the doubleheader. Tickets for Tuesday’s game must be exchanged for the doubleheader or another game this season on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
The Orioles won’t play another home game at Camden Yards that fans can attend until May 11.
Wednesday’s game will count as a home game statistically. It will be televised locally on MASN, but it will be played in front of an empty ballpark with the exception of the media covering the game, some staff and club officials.
The smallest announced crowd in modern club history was at Memorial Stadium on Aug. 17, 1972 for another game against the White Sox, according to Elias Sports Bureau. It was an afternoon makeup game in which the official attendance was 655 fans. The lowest attendance in Camden Yards history was 9,129, set on April 12, 2010 against the Rays.
One of the problems with lowest-attendance records is that teams usually announce tickets sold and not tickets used. So there appeared to be even fewer fans at the 2010 game against the Rays than the Orioles announced.
The baseball season is all about routine. Games take place nearly every day, and players thrive on habitualness of game days. Starting pitchers grow accustomed to pitching every five days. Bullpen arms can’t go too long without work. But for the Orioles, not only have they not played for the past two days, they will play at an unusual time on Wednesday before going on the road when they were preparing to play at home.
“Speaking just in a very narrow, team-centric point of view, on our striving to win baseball games, this is tough,” Orioles reliever Darren O’Day said. “It affects your starting pitching quite a bit, and other teams are playing their games right now and it is beautiful weather, and we can’t play. But it’s all for a good reason. It’s definitely a challenge, but one that we are going to have to face either way.”
But given what has happened around the city, O’Day, one of the club’s undeniable leaders as well as the team’s union rep, said the right decisions were made to postpone games.
“Personally, I think it is the right thing to do,” O’Day said. “You watch people’s homes and businesses and personal effects be destroyed. To protect the people that will come to our games and to protect us at the stadium would cost a lot of manpower. And to me, it just makes sense to employ that manpower to protect people’s homes and businesses instead of our game.”
The Orioles did hold a workout on Tuesday at 2 p.m. – the same time they will play on Wednesday – in an empty ballpark, in front of the same number of paying fans as they will on Wednesday.
Obviously, situations like this one are rare. The 1967 Detroit riots forced the Tigers to relocate a late-July series against the Orioles to Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. During the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the Dodgers were forced to postpone four games, including a three-game series against the Montreal Expos that was made up with three straight games of doubleheaders on the Expos’ next trip to Los Angeles.
There was consideration given to relocating games to Nationals Park, which is 40 minutes south of Camden Yards, but the Nationals were not approached about the possibility of hosting games there, according to a Nationals spokesperson.
Sun staff writer Dan Connolly contributed to this report.