“When the Crowd Didn’t Roar: How Baseball’s Strangest Game Ever Gave a Broken City Hope”
The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press, $27.95, 192 pages, released April 1
The review in 90 feet or less
The New York Times Magazine recently had a cover story: “How an American city falls apart: The Tragedy of Baltimore.” The story’s research points out that since Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of the local police in 2015, violent crime “has spiked to levels unseen for a quarter century.”
The story’s author, Baltimore native Alec MacGillis, writes: “Nearly four years after Freddie Gray’s death, the surge of crime has once again become the context of daily life in the city, as it was in the early 1990s. I have grown accustomed to scanning the briefs column in The Baltimore Sun in the morning for news of the latest homicides; to taking note of the location of the latest killings as I drive around town for my baseball coaching and volunteering obligations. In 2017, the church I attend started naming the victims of the violence on Sunday services and hanging a purple ribbon for each on a long cord outside. By the year’s end, the ribbons crowded for space, like shirts on a tenement clothesline.”
Four years ago today, the Baltimore Orioles played a home afternoon game against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards. No one was allowed in to witness what became an 8-2 Orioles’ win.
There were no real winners.
For something that has its own Wikipedia entry, this is as tough forget as it is to remember.
It happened two days after the latest rioting that followed Gray’s funeral. A few dozen fans watched from outside the gates down the left-field line. Others lined some balconies at a hotel that overlooked part of the park, with obstructed views.
Over and over, Cowherd writes about how odd this all was. How nothing was quite like it in the game’s entire history, and hopefully never will be gain. How surreal it felt watching 45,000-plus empty seats while the players went through all the usual rituals of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch as well as the lining up for the National Anthem.
Most poignant is his accounting of how this affected Adam Jones, the Orioles’ All-Star center fielder and one of the lone African-American voices on the team who could put much of this into context, having grown in San Diego and watching the reaction in L.A. from the Rodney King 1992 jury decision for the policemen accused of beating him and setting the city ablaze.
Cowherd, who spent 30-plus years as a reporter and sports columnist at the Baltimore Sun, lived through it, and wrote about it, so he has the proper perspective on how it went down.
Four years later, do we get much context of what it meant? Not so much, despite what title would like to suggest. The most poignant commentary about any of it comes in the final few paragraphs:
“In February 2018, USA Today named Baltimore the deadliest big city in the country.
“As for Freddie Carlos Gray, the main protagonist in the tragic drama that began on that sunny April morning four years ago, his grave sits on a sloping rise near the entrance to Woodlawn Cemetary in the Baltimore suburbs.
“The grave is marked by a rose-colored headstone affixed with a photo of Gray gazing serenely into the camera. Not far away is a giant spreading oak tree and a shimmering lake where geese father at the water’s edge.
“Visitors come occasionally and leave flowers, tiny wooden crosses, and other tokens, although their numbers seem to dwindle with each passing year.”
After all that, the game he just wrote about seems inconsequential and out of context, something that could have just been canceled under the circumstances or moved to another city – as was the following three-game series against Tampa Bay that was relocated, allowing the Orioles to be the home team.
The game healed the city? Doesn’t look that way.
Perhaps the Dodgers games that happened after those ’92 riots are worthy of a book. The wounds of that are still open in some ways — Rodney King’s daughter is trying to find a silver lining in all this 27 years later, as reported in today’s L.A. Times.
Again, trying to look to baseball as something that made a city feel “normal” again kind of misses the larger picture.
How it goes down in the scorebook
A very empty feeling, sure. Here is how the Baltimore Sun covered it.
In closing, we’ll offer up this from David Simon, who created the HBO series “The Wire” about Baltimore crime and corruption, and wrote for the back-cover blurb:
“Kevin Cowherd has written a remarkable sports book that isn’t actually about sports. Instead, it is a reflection on a single professional contest played in silence — a historical anomaly in which an American city, challenged by both legitimate protest and grievous violence that followed the unnecessary death of a man, took a deep breath and played a baseball game in a locked stadium, without fans. And in that empty space, everyone — from the teams’ owners, to the players, to the politicians, journalists, fans, and ordinary citizens — had to contemplate the hopes and fears and the failures and strengths of their city.”
Also books related to the Baltimore Orioles out
== “A Season to Forget: The Story of the 1988 Baltimore Orioles,” by Ron Snyder (Sports Publishing, $24.99, 216 pages, released April 2) goes back to that 0-21 start the Orioles had that season and the toll it took on all involved.
== “Just Show Up: And Other Enduring Values from Baseball’s Iron Man,” by Cal Ripken Jr. (Harper Publishing, $25.99, 208 pages, due May 14) where the Orioles great gives eight “rules for the game of baseball and life.” Because, of course, he wore No. 8. And he showed up pretty much every day. BTW, did you know after Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s MLB record with 2,131 consecutive games, he played another 501 more? Also did you know, during that streak, in August of 1997, the Orioles helped Ripken keep it alive by having a convenient “power outage” with the lights not working, forcing the cancellation of a game against Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners that Ripken didn’t intend to play in because … it doesn’t matter. The whole thing is just a rumor according to snopes.com.