MLB game without crowd also without precedent
Uncharted territory for White Sox-O's, though events can impact attendance
They played in front of an empty house at Camden Yards on Wednesday afternoon, an arrangement that is not only unusual but, in Major League Baseball terms, unprecedented. And after their 8-2 victory over the White Sox, the Orioles packed and hit the road for three "home" games at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, an arrangement that is not unprecedented but, yes, is still pretty unusual.
In the interest of fan safety, in the midst of the ongoing riots and protests in Baltimore, Wednesday's game between the O's and White Sox was rescheduled and closed to the public. The Orioles' scheduled weekend home games against the Rays have been moved to St. Petersburg.
It's not often we can say this about a sport whose "modern era" began in 1901, but what happened Wednesday has never happened before.
"Baseball games have drawn terrible crowds," said John Thorn, MLB's official historian. "But even the resumption of protested games, like the [George] Brett-[Goose] Gossage pine-tar incident, were not played before empty stands."
A few notable games that came pretty darned close:
• According to Thorn, a 19th-century game hosted by the rather uncreatively named Worcester Worcesters on Sept. 28, 1882, currently stands as the soon-to-be-replaced all-time recorded attendance low -- at 6.
"Both clubs had already been informed that their franchises would not be renewed for 1883 and that their cities would be replaced by Philadelphia and New York," Thorn said. "These franchises -- the Phils and Giants -- thus both date from 1883 but did not 'relocate' from, respectively, Worcester and Troy."
• The modern Major League record low might belong to a Sept. 8, 1916, game between the Yankees and A's at Philadelphia's Shibe Park. The attendance for this game (in which Wally Schang became the first player to hit home runs in consecutive at-bats from different sides of the plate) has been reported as 23, which means that when each team was up to bat it had more people on the bench than fans in the seats. Alas, this total is not verified on either Retrosheet.org or Baseball Reference.
• STATS LLC's lowest recorded attendance, going back to 1987, comes from an April 9, 1997, game between the Blue Jays and White Sox at Comiskey Park. The recorded crowd was 746.
• On April 17, 1979, the A's had an announced crowd of 653 for a game against the Mariners in wind, fog and 40-degree temperatures at Oakland Coliseum. It has been reported that the actual crowd was less than half of that announced total.
• A verified box score on Retrosheet.org from Sept. 22, 1966, at Yankee Stadium reports a crowd of 413 for a game between the Yankees and White Sox.
• A fan at an Aug. 24, 2011, game between the Reds and Marlins -- the first game of a doubleheader played just before Hurricane Irene arrived -- did his own head count at Sun Life Stadium and came up with an attendance total of 347, which he then tweeted to the masses. The officially announced total was just a shade higher -- 22,505.
An empty stadium does have precedent outside of Major League Baseball.
• At the Minor League level, on July 8, 2002, the Class A Charleston Riverdogs defeated the Columbus RedStixx, 4-2, on "Nobody Night." Fans were not let into Joe Riley Stadium until after the fifth inning, at which time the attendance -- zero -- was officially recorded.
• The Triple-A Iowa Cubs did not admit any fans into a June 14, 2008, game against Nashville because Des Moines was under evacuation order due to terrible flooding. The Des Moines Register reported that there were only two seats occupied at Principal Park, both by scouts sitting behind home plate.
• In FIFA soccer, there are many instances of matches played "Behind Closed Doors," be it because of violations to the disciplinary code or to prevent potentially dangerous clashes between fans. A KNVB Cup match between Eredivisie clubs Ajax and AZ was replayed behind closed doors on Jan. 19, 2012, at Amsterdam Arena because, in the first attempt at the match, a fan ran onto the pitch and karate-kicked AZ goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado, who proceeded to kick the fans several times before security arrived and the match was abandoned.
• Just this month, a Russian Premier League team -- Torpedo Moscow -- was forced to play two home games in an empty stadium after fans displayed a banner with a Nazi symbol. Last May, a Brazilian team was given the same penalty after a man was fatally struck on the head by a toilet bowl thrown from the stands.
As far as Major League series or games being moved, a few recent examples come to mind:
• Because of security concerns associated with the G20 Summit taking place mere feet away from Rogers Centre, a 2010 Interleague series between the Blue Jays and Phillies was moved to Citizens Bank Park. The designated hitter was used, and the Blue Jays batted second.
• Milwaukee's Miller Park has opened its doors to "home" teams other than the Brewers twice. In April 2007, the Indians had to move three home games against the Angels indoors and out of state after their home-opening series against the Mariners was completely snowed out, rendering then-Jacobs Field unplayable. The last game of that Indians-Mariners series was also played well outside of Cleveland, with the Tribe serving as the "home" team in the first game of a doubleheader in Seattle near the end of the season.
• The next year, the Astros and Cubs moved two-thirds of a scheduled series at Minute Maid Park to Miller Park because of the damage Hurricane Ike inflicted upon the Houston area. Before a Cubs-friendly crowd (Chicago is less than 100 miles from Miller Park), ace Carlos Zambrano no-hit the Astros, who were the "home" team.
• In April 1998, a 500-pound expansion joint fell through the upper deck at old Yankee Stadium, and the ballpark was thereby closed for city inspection. The Yanks were forced to play a "home" game against the Angels in Queens, at Shea Stadium.