MLB.com Columnist

Paul Hagen

MLB historically sensitive to outside turmoil

MLB historically sensitive to outside turmoil

BALTIMORE -- It was the middle of the afternoon in Los Angeles on April 29, 1992. A small black-and-white television was on in the near-empty press box at Dodger Stadium. Suddenly, a breaking-news alert interrupted the regularly scheduled programming. The police accused of beating a civilian named Rodney King had been found not guilty.

That night's game between the Phillies and Dodgers was surreal. Police helicopters flew back and forth across the darkened sky, searchlights flashing.

Major League Baseball, the Orioles and local city and county officials made certain a similar scene wasn't repeated Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. As reports of increasing violence from groups protesting the death of Freddie Gray, who died last week while in police custody, reached officials, the scheduled game between the White Sox and Orioles was postponed.

This came after fans were briefly advised not to leave the ballpark while marchers congregated outside during Saturday's game against the Red Sox.

Outside on Monday, at the time the first pitch would have been thrown, sirens wailed mournfully in the distance. But the streets around the park that would normally have been filled with boisterous fans and street vendors -- Eutaw and Pratt and Camden -- were eerily quiet and shut down by police barricades.

"The decision was reached after consultation with local officials," said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who was in town on a previously-planned trip. "We feel like we made the decision that would provide us the greatest possible security in terms of the fans, the players, the umpires and everybody involved in the game."

That's always the guiding principle when real life intrudes on our entertainment, of course. And, unfortunately, there have been ample precedents.

In addition to the Rodney King riots, there was a league-wide two-day postponement of Opening Day following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, the week-and-a-half hiatus during the 1989 World Series between the Giants and Athletics when an earthquake rattled the Bay Area and, of course, the delay in response to the 9/11 terror attacks on New York City in 2001.

One of the most powerful images in San Francisco came a day after the quake that damaged the Bay Bridge and devastated the Mission area. Then-Commissioner Fay Vincent held a candlelit news conference at the St. Francis Hotel and vowed that the rescue efforts would take precedence over "our modest little game."

The attack on the World Trade Center ended up providing a stirring reminder of how baseball can unite the country in a time of tragedy. When Commissioner Bud Selig called for the resumption of play Sept. 21, fans used baseball as a patriotic rallying point. Political differences were set aside when President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch before Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

There have been other, smaller incidents in recent years. Some examples:

On April 14, 1998, a 500-pound steel beam fell into the seats at the old Yankee Stadium during batting practice, forcing the ballpark to be closed. Two games against the Angels were postponed and the third was moved to Shea Stadium.

Manfred said it isn't out of the question that some Orioles games could be moved to Washington or elsewhere if peace isn't restored soon.

"All I want to say about that is that we're looking at every possible alternative in terms of completing the schedule in a timely way and making sure the games are played in a situation that's safe and secure for the fans," Manfred said. "We're going to look at every alternative at this point."

The 1967 riots in Detroit caused a series against the Orioles beginning on July 25 at Tiger Stadium to be moved to Baltimore. The game on July 26 was rained out. The game the following day was played and the other two games were made up as a doubleheader in August.

Less than two years ago, a shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, just blocks from Nationals Park, forced a postponement of the scheduled game against the Braves.

The Reds-Rockies game on Aug. 16, 2014 (water main break), the Royals-Twins game Aug. 2, 2007 (collapse of I-35W bridge) and the Padres-Expos game Aug. 29, 1986 (explosion of two oxygen cylinders at Olympic Stadium) led to postponements. So did the deaths of Darryl Kile (Cubs-Cardinals on June 22, 2002), Josh Hancock (Cubs-Cardinals on April 29, 2007) and Nick Adenhart (Athletics-Angels on April 9, 2009).

Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, by the way, was a forfeit, not a postponement. And the 1945 All-Star Game was canceled due to wartime travel restrictions.

Back in 1992, it took awhile to get the schedule straightened out. The next team into Los Angeles was the Montreal Expos. All three games were postponed and made up the next time the Expos were in town, resulting in three straight doubleheaders -- six games in three days. The Dodgers ended up playing four twin bills in six days. 

The Phillies didn't escape the unrest when they flew to San Francisco, either. The riots had spread north and a city curfew forced the postponement of their first scheduled game at Candlestick Park.

Postponements due to weather are expected. Part of the game. The events of Monday night in Baltimore isn't a first. And, sadly, it's probably not a last, either.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.