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Friday, October 21, 2016

Soon after the Monday funeral service for Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody, riots erupted in the city of Baltimore. The violence, fires, and chaos consumed the city and sparked a conflagration that the national media flocked to and fed.

For those news outlets that cover professional games and sports, such as ESPN, the overall view was a solemn declaration that Monday night’s Baltimore Orioles vs. Chicago White Sox game was postponed.

Plans to resume play were put on hold, as Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a weeklong 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for the city, apparently canceling or postponing the remainder of the Orioles’ night home games through Sunday. Yet Monday night’s game was scheduled to take place as usual long after it should have been called off.

The Baltimore Sun reported on the surreal event of fans making their way to the ballpark, entering through Babe Ruth Plaza, as both police in riot gear and ticket hawkers greeted them:

It was obvious that many fans were deterred by the violence occurring throughout the city… As the Orioles took batting practice, police and news helicopters circled the downtown area and faint police sirens could be heard in the background.

Playing a game while violent rioting occurs nearby might diminish the gravity of the events bringing Baltimore to its knees, to say nothing of the perverse feeling one might get from watching a typically quiet game like baseball while a loud uprising occurs outside the stadium.

John Angelos, executive vice president of the Orioles, struck the right tone when he tweeted a series of condemnations in response to the riots, upbraiding American society for ignoring the poor and disenfranchised. The violence consuming the city “…makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

Undoubtedly, there will be diehard baseball fans out there who will disagree with the postponement of the ballgames. To such people, no amount of money lost or nights out at the ballpark cut short could make the cult of sport less relevant than the anger of a marginalized community.

When Chris Rock went viral last week with his monologue about African-Americans’ lack of interest in baseball, he pointed out that the (overwhelmingly white) fans of the sport tend to get more worked up about baseball games than about police brutality in their cities. The crowds at St. Louis Cardinals games, he remarked, “were over 90 percent white — that’s like the Ferguson police department.”

Nor should it escape notice that the media coverage of the unrest in Baltimore is strikingly different from that of the (mostly white) sports fans who rioted after games in Vancouver, Boston, and Lexington, Kentucky.

The MLB’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, has naively suggested that the games “could be played elsewhere” at a nearby field, perhaps, where it would be undisturbed by police sirens and looting. But such moves would be problematic, as Joe DiMaggio knew when he said, “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game.”

Though Manfred’s push for relocating the Orioles-White Sox games at a different field is uncouth, it would not be the first time the league has grappled with a similar question of whether to play ball or not. In 1992, the Dodgers had four games postponed in L.A. during the Rodney King riots and, hauntingly, two 1967 Orioles-Tigers games were moved to Baltimore following riots in Detroit.

Major League Baseball is a for-profit organization that puts on a great show. One that may be seen by nobody but the athletes themselves and people viewing at home, as the Orioles organization came to an agreement with city officials and the league on what to do about the postponed games. Wednesday’s scheduled game “will begin at 2:05 p.m. ET and will be closed to the public.”

So don’t worry, folks… MLB still plays ball. But for now, with a state of emergency in effect for the city, Camden Yards will remain sealed, as Baltimore battles itself just outside the gates.

Photo: jpellgen via Flickr

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