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The game that nobody saw

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What happens when a baseball game is played and fans aren't allowed in the stadium to watch? For the first time in baseball history, we found out.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After cancelling the games on Monday and Tuesday between the White Sox and Orioles due to the ongoing situation in Baltimore, Major League Baseball decided to move the Wednesday game to the afternoon, with the stipulation that no fans would be allowed to attend. This made for an interesting situation, and after finding the telecast of the game (long story), I decided to describe what it was like watching a game with no attendance.

According to MLB official historian John Thorn, this is the first game in baseball history with no attendance:

Six people in attendance--that's what they call a small crowd. When a historian states that history is being made, it's enough to get my attention.

The White Sox took advantage of the two days of rest and moved up Jeff Samardzija to start instead of the scheduled Hector Noesi. This didn't work out well as the Orioles rocked the Sox for six runs in the first, which would have produced a raucous crowd--had there been one. As it was, the handful of people outside looking in (I'll go with 100-200, since they never showed a conclusive view) made enough noise to be heard inside an empty ballpark.

The Sox broadcast team of Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone didn't leave much space in the broadcast, and it was hard to tell if this was by design or just happened. When there was silence in their coverage, other noises could be heard:

Sometimes it was more audible than others, but as soon as Harry pointed that out, I could hear it as well. That prompted me to try to switch to the mlb.com feed (this was the free game of the day), only to find out that I was blacked out. Sure I was--living in Daveport, IA, a mere three hours from Chicago and 1,500 miles from Baltimore, of course I had to be blacked out.

As foul balls were hit into the stands, this tweet came from WSCR, 670 The Score's morning co-host Matt Spiegel:

And they did bounce around, taking all sorts of crazy hops, and in one instance, almost bounced back into the White Sox dugout. Players looked confused as they grabbed balls in foul territory and looked to flip them into the stands, only to remember there no fans to whom the balls could be thrown.

I was interested if typical game sounds would be more audible, in particular I was hoping for a heated discussion between manager and umpire to determine what I could hear, but blowout games tend to reduce those outcomes. This was tweeted out by one of the writers for the Wall Street Journal sports section:

The popup he referred to occurred in the bottom of the second when Delmon Young popped out to Jose Abreu, but other than that there wasn't much chatter on the playing field or clear yelling. There was an occasion in the top of the ninth when Everth Cabrera made a wide throw to first, causing Chris Davis to apply a tag on Jose Abreu, and first base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt very clearly yelled "Right there!"

Invariably the Twitter crew got around to showing off their Photoshopping skills:

By the end of the game, there were conflicting tweets reports on how the attendance would be listed--one said it would be "N/A," but I suspect this one is more credible:

It will be a blip to the Orioles, who had been averaging over 33,000 fans a game so far this season, but it's not insignificant--depending on whatever dollar multiplier is desired and guessing the attendance of a mid-week day game, it cost the Orioles at least $1 million in revenue (depending on how they handle the skipped games) and probably much more. It certainly won't be the difference between profit and loss for them this year, but it's still lost money that will be difficult to get back, even if the home games are re-scheduled. This doesn't even take into account that their series against the Rays, which was supposed to be in Baltimore, has been moved to Tampa Bay. At least the Orioles got some practice playing before empty stands.

One item that will get attention is the pace of the game, with the official time coming in at 2:03, the second-fastest 9-inning game so far this year. With no distractions, mascot races, or other between-inning events to slow down the game, even one that had eight runs and a total of 66 plate appearances, the game was able to be played very quickly. Granted, there were no mid-inning pitching changes, injuries, fights, replay reviews, arguments, or any other reasons for the game to be slowed, but it's proof that games can be played faster if baseball wants them to be. So far this year, 9-inning games are around ten minutes quicker than in 2014. It's too soon to state if this will hold up when offense starts increasing with the warmer weather, but it's a positive development.

Near the end of the game Ken Harrelson said, "It's weird, but not as weird as I thought it might be with no fans." I ended up reaching the same conclusion. The two times I heard fans break into "Let's go Orioles," was disconcerting, but showed how well sound can travel in an empty stadium. In the end, the Orioles and White Sox made the best of what was a terrible situation and made the first tentative steps back to normalcy for both the Orioles and the city of Baltimore. It was a baseball first--and one that I sincerely hope never has to be duplicated again.

Scott Lindholm is a contributor to the Baseball Prospectus Cubs site BP Wrigleyville. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.