Baltimore could be Arlington – What to do?
We could be Baltimore.
That’s not a protest chant; it’s reality. Dallas, like Baltimore, has enough racial diversity to face the same challenges of prejudice, perceived racism, law enforcement aggression, fear, and simmering anger to find itself in Baltimore’s burning days and nights of rage.
I will not begin to address what happened in the Baltimore Police Department vs. Freddie Gray case. The opening paragraph above is as dicey as I’ll get.
But one thing I’ll stand on is this: Camden Yards should not have been held hostage on Wednesday. From Detroit in 1967 to Los Angeles in 1992, we have precedent for teams and riots. And the precedent is, the gates are open, or the game is off. It’s not a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too proposition.
Do I agree that Baltimore was no place to play a baseball game Wednesday, let alone Monday or Tuesday? Absolutely. From public officials to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, public safety (and player safety) had to take precedent. It largely did, but in the wrong way.
The White Sox and Orioles played in a stadium without fans.
Surreal as it was, it was not enthralling, or poetic, or moving. It was sorrowful. The games should have moved to Chicago, or been moved to later in the season, or simply cancelled, with schedulers left to figure it out if either team needed the games for draft or playoff position later in the season.
In 1967, with fires burning and smoke billowing above the upper decks on all sides in the distance, the Tigers, having to move games to Baltimore in the middle of a pennant race, helped reunite a city, although at least as much is owed to the likes of Willie Horton for standing on top of a car in the middle of the riots with pleas for peace. Similarly, in 1992, the Dodgers realized the Rodney King riots made Chavez Ravine no place to be, and simply postponed four games. (Jon Weisman has a great piece on the experience of being at the last post-postponement game in 1992).
In my mind when I saw the news coverage from Baltimore, I thought back to the amazing warmth of the city a bit over two decades ago. A then young Camden Yards hosted my first All-Star Game. An entire city embraced visitors and showed what a true ballpark, and baseball city, should be. Racism and social class divides were not gone, merely swept under the carpet of socioeconomic benefit, but at 13, I knew nothing of that.
But more than that All-Star celebration, I flashed to a fresh commissioner’s words at the onset of the greatest disaster to ever beset baseball’s greatest event. As the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake erupted across two major cities and Game 3 of the Bay Area series between Oakland and San Francisco, and left devastating images from Interstate 880 to the Bay Bridge to the Mission District, Fay Vincent faced an unprecedented situation.
His words should have echoed in Rob Manfred’s mind as Baltimore burned this week. Faced with a Series on the brink, Vincent determined, “We will not play baseball while either of these communities are in the early stages of recovery”, and that “we are not going to be able to play baseball in either of these two communities” for at least five days.
It was, in fact, ten days before the Series resumed. As it should have. With a full house at Candlestick. With two competing cities, united by devastation.
I would not want to be Commissioner on such days as these in Baltimore or other rioting cities. But in the light of a night lit by a riot’s fire, without benefit of hindsight, I’ll put my mind on the line:
On Tuesday, the crowd at Camden was silent and spectral, while the game echoed empty, and the echoes will ring poorly in the annals of baseball history.