The date is April 29, 2015. Baltimore is reeling from the devastating riots sparked by the death in police custody of twenty-five-year-old African American Freddie Gray. Set against this grim backdrop, less than thirty-six hours after the worst rioting Baltimore has seen since the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox take the field at Camden Yards. It is a surreal event they will never forget: the only Major League game ever played without fans. The eerily quiet stadium is on lockdown for public safety and because police are needed elsewhere to keep the tense city from exploding anew.When the Crowd Didn’t Roar chronicles this unsettling contest—as well as the tragic events that led up to it and the therapeutic effect the game had on a troubled city. The story comes vividly to life through the eyes of city leaders, activists, police officials, and the media that covered the tumultuous unrest on the streets of Baltimore, as well as the ballplayers, umpires, managers, and front-office personnel of the teams that played in this singular game, and the fans who watched it from behind locked gates. In its own way, amid the uprising and great turmoil, baseball stopped to reflect on the fact that something different was happening in Baltimore and responded to it in an unprecedented way, making this the unlikeliest and strangest game ever played.
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About the Author
Kevin Cowherd is an award-winning sports columnist and features writer who worked for the Baltimore Sun for thirty-two years. He is the New York Times best-selling author of Hothead, The Closer, and four other baseball novels for young readers written with Cal Ripken Jr. Cowherd is also the author of four books of nonfiction, including Way Down in the Hole: The Meteoric Rise, Tragic Fall and Ultimate Redemption of America’s Most Promising Cop.
Read an Excerpt
The tragic saga of Freddie Gray begins a little over two weeks earlier on a forlorn corner of West Baltimore notorious for drug activity.
Early on the morning of April 12, unseasonably warm in the city, four police officers on bicycle patrol attempt to stop Gray and another man in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. The cops will say Gray made eye contact and fled "unprovoked."
After a brief chase Gray gives up and is arrested near the Gilmor Homes, a dilapidated public housing project nearby. No drugs are found in his pockets. A knife, though, is. He's placed facedown on the sidewalk and handcuffed.
Cell phone video produced later will show Gray yelling in pain as he's dragged to a waiting transport van, his legs seemingly limp. At some point he asks for an inhaler. He's placed in the back of the van as a crowd gathers and nervous officers hasten to leave the scene.
Gray is already well known to law enforcement officials as a street-level drug dealer and lookout, having been arrested more than fifteen times on various narcotics-related charges. A lead-paint poisoning victim as a child, with parents who themselves were drug abusers, he's a high school dropout caught up in the familiar inner-city cycle of poverty, incarceration, and dead-end prospects for legitimate employment.
What happens next inside the van is not entirely known.
The odds are that it will never be.
Police will deny accusations that he was given a "rough ride," a form of punishment for giving cops a hard time that involves having a handcuffed prisoner tossed about helplessly on the floor of the van while the driver swerves and corners erratically.
The driver of the van will say that Gray was "acting irate." At one point the van stops and, after police complete paperwork, Gray is placed in leg irons.
When, after making several stops, the van arrives at the Western District police station some forty-five minutes later, Gray is found unconscious. He is treated by paramedics and finally taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he is diagnosed with a severed spine.
For a week he lies in a coma as the first protests against police brutality begin outside the Western District station. Police defend their handling of the Gray arrest and deny using excessive force. But while the initial protests remain peaceful, the fury of the crowds seems to increase daily.
On the morning of April 19, despite two surgeries in an attempt to save his life, Gray takes his last breath.
He thus joins Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Tamir Rice in Cleveland; and Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, on the ever-growing list of African Americans who have died recently following questionable encounters with police officers.
A prominent Baltimore attorney representing the Gray family delivers a scathing indictment of the police handling of the case.
"What we know is that while in police custody for committing no crime — for which they had no justification for making the arrest except he was a black man running — his spine was virtually severed, 80 percent severed in the neck area," William "Billy" Murphy Jr. says.
Now the protests in Baltimore increase in scope and intensity.
They move to police headquarters and to City Hall downtown. Seething residents are joined by Black Lives Matter organizers, with many in the crowd holding their hands in the air and shouting, "Don't shoot!" at officers keeping a wary watch.
The six officers involved in the Freddie Gray arrest and transport are identified and suspended. The U.S. Department of Justice will also open a criminal and civil rights investigation into Gray's death.
Coming so soon after the chokehold death of Eric Garner and the fatal shootings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Walter Scott, the Gray case ignites a national furor.
Little wonder that droves of media begin pouring in, eager to cover this fresh tumult in a city already portrayed as bleak, murderous, and drug-riddled on every program from national news shows to podcasts (Serial), documentaries ("Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City"), and award-winning HBO dramas (The Wire, The Corner).
On Friday, April 24, city officials hold a news conference at which police commissioner Anthony Batts acknowledges that serious mistakes were made by his officers during Gray's arrest.
The prisoner was not buckled properly in a seat belt in the transportation van, Batts says. Nor was he provided timely medical attention on several occasions during the arrest and ride to the police station.
With angry protests entering their sixth day and organizers planning a massive demonstration the following afternoon that will, in the words of one, "shut the city down," there is a growing fear among many that the simmering tensions are about to boil over.
Governor Larry Hogan has already sent state troopers to help the Baltimore police with any potential unrest. And Batts, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and other community leaders are pleading for the protests to remain nonviolent.
But with activists from out of town expected to join the hundreds of seething demonstrators marching from the Gilmor Homes in Freddie Gray's old neighborhood to a rally at City Hall the next day, there is no telling whether those urgent pleas will be heeded.CHAPTER 2
What no one wants is another Ferguson.
The memory of the upheaval that roiled the small Missouri town following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown is still fresh — and all too raw. It was only eight months ago that a moving candlelight vigil for the slain Brown gave way to looting and vandalism, and then pitched battles between protesters and tear-gas-lobbing, rubber-bullet-shooting police that played out on the nightly news and riveted the nation for weeks.
For the first hours of the Saturday march for Freddie Gray, the crowd, which authorities estimate at 1,200, is largely peaceful. Even when rowdy teens begin kicking car doors on their way downtown they're admonished by other protesters to chill and remember the larger purpose of the gathering.
At City Hall it's clear the protests have attracted sympathizers from a number of activist African American organizations throughout the country. But Larry Holmes, a New Yorker with the People's Power Assembly, insists the term "outside agitator" is not the pejorative authorities make it out to be.
"They need a little history," he tells the crowd. "Martin Luther King was an outside agitator. Malcolm X was an agitator. Jesus Christ was an agitator."
Not far away, inside Camden Yards, the Orioles are getting ready to play the Boston Red Sox in the second game of a three-game series. A crowd of over thirty-five thousand is expected to be on hand for the 7:05 p.m. start, including the usual boisterous contingent of "Sawks" fans who pour in from all over when their beloved team visits Baltimore.
When the rally at City Hall ends at about four o'clock a group of protesters estimated at between 750 and 1,000 suddenly descends on the ballpark. They protest peacefully for twenty minutes and leave before the gates open for the game at five o'clock.
But when the protesters return at 6:15 they are in a far uglier mood. As Orioles and Red Sox fans make their way to the ballpark in the midst of the chanting, sign-waving masses, they're quickly hustled inside by nervous police and ushers.
Fifteen minutes later, on Washington Boulevard, the small concrete peninsula near the ballpark that houses three popular bars, the scene quickly becomes chaotic.
As demonstrators march by, the sidewalk is packed with Orioles and Red Sox fans enjoying pregame drinks at tables behind metal barricades. Although some fans express solidarity with the marchers (who are chanting, "Black lives matter!"), some in the two groups begin exchanging jeers.
Soon a volley of bottles and cans is being flung at the bar patrons, some of whom are also attacked by demonstrators.
Nearby, protesters jump on police cars and smash their windows with traffic cones. Trash cans are hurled through store windows. A few stores are vandalized and looted. Bike racks set up as security barriers are thrown at police officers.
But the authorities are prepared for trouble. They've been monitoring social media for days and receiving intelligence reports on the movements of the demonstrators for the past twenty-four hours.
Near the ballpark's main entrance police in riot gear form a three-deep barrier behind bicycle racks in a tense standoff with the crowd. White cops are spit on; called "killers" and "murderers"; and warned, "You can't get away with this!" Black officers are jeered and called "Uncle Tom!"
Yet the officers keep their poise and stand tall amid the abuse, earning plaudits from both their supervisors and fans entering the ballpark, many of whom seem both surprised and shaken by the demonstrations.
"Good luck getting home tonight!" one protester yells to a group of wide-eyed Red Sox fans, who appear to be ruing the great hotel rate and discount airfare that lured them down from New England.
Before the game all eyes in the Red Sox's and Orioles' clubhouses are turned to the flat-screen TVs and the disturbing images of the melee taking place outside.
Relief pitcher Darren O'Day is particularly concerned for his wife, FOX News reporter Elizabeth Prann, who is a block away covering the protest.
"People do funny things when they see cameras and microphones," O'Day tells reporters. "It's kind of a crazy profession. When you see trouble going on, you have to run towards it and (insert) yourself right in the middle of it. There's definitely times when I've been worried about her on a story. You just never know what's going to happen."
The rest of the Orioles also appear to be uneasy.
Manager Buck Showalter, who earlier in the day had attended a memorial service for his father-in-law in Nashville, arrived late to the ballpark because of all the streets closed off by police.
Now he wonders if he might not be bunking at the ballpark tonight for safety reasons, and also because the Orioles have an early game the next day.
Adam Jones, one of only two African Americans on the team, is thrust into his familiar role — one he embraces grudgingly at times — as the media's go-to interview for all issues pertaining to black America.
Now, after watching the violence taking place outside, he looks grim.
"I understand they are fighting for a good cause," he says of the demonstrators. "I understand, fight for your rights. It's what you should do. But try to be safe and smart about it."
The angry marchers eventually leave and head toward Harborplace, the festival warren of shops and eateries that symbolizes the revival of the city's downtown. Some in the crowd smash more car and store windows. As the mass of demonstrators surges into the intersection of Pratt and Light streets, the main intersection at the Inner Harbor, traffic becomes hopelessly snarled.
A total of thirty-one adults and four juveniles are arrested before the mayhem subsides.
The game begins without incident. But within the hour police infiltrators in the crowd are reporting that the demonstrators plan to return to the ballpark.
Around 9:30 Lt. Dennis Reinhard, the stadium commander of the Baltimore Police Department, is informed that, yes, the protesters appear poised to come back. The unified command at police headquarters orders him to lock the stadium gates.
Orioles executives are apoplectic.
In the twenty-three-year history of Camden Yards this has never been done before.
A meeting is hastily called at the ballpark's fifth-floor emergency operations center. The EOC is dominated by an enormous TV screen, which serves as a state-of-the art security-monitoring system, complete with some 250 stadium and CitiWatch cameras.
Gathered around the large burnished-wood conference table in the middle of the room are Reinhard, Maryland Stadium Authority security head Vernon Conaway Jr., various Orioles executives and PR staffers, and a few of Reinhard's officers.
Traveling in upstate New York, John Angelos, the team's executive vice president and son of owner Peter Angelos, participates via cell phone.
When Reinhard relays his intention to lock down Camden Yards Greg Bader, the Orioles' vice president of communications and marketing, says: "You can't do this!"
"Greg," Reinhard says, "not only can I do it, I'm doing it."
The message is clear: the police department is now in charge. Public safety is at risk. Nobody comes in or out until the threat of danger has passed.
"I suggest you write something for the big screen," Reinhard says.
Meaning: post something on the scoreboard to let fans know of the lockdown and why it's happening.
"What do I write?" asks Kristen Hudak.
The blonde-haired, thirty-two-year-old Hudak is the team's brand-new director of public relations. This is her first big-league job after three and a half years at ESPN as a senior publicist. To say she's feeling a bit overwhelmed is an understatement.
This, of course, is understandable. They don't exactly prepare you for a circle-the-wagons confrontation with hundreds of incensed protesters in a troubled city when you're banging out press releases for the Worldwide Leader.
"Up to you what to write," Reinhard replies. "Just write something."
Reinhard, normally equable, isn't trying to be difficult. But he's a tad on the busy side right now.
For one thing his radio is crackling nonstop with updates on the demonstrators' whereabouts. And every five seconds, it seems, he's besieged with another urgent request for info as to what's going on from one of the dozens of officers at the ballpark under his command.
Not only doesn't he have the time to sit and craft a statement for the PR staff, it's not exactly listed in his job description, either.
Thus it is that in the seventh inning an ominous message flashes on the scoreboard screen: "Due to an ongoing public safety issue, the mayor of Baltimore and the Baltimore Police Department have asked all fans to remain in the ballpark until further notice."
The gates are locked and police prepare for more violence. Some fans gathered near the gates who attempted to leave early grumble at the mandate. One man implores an officer to tell Reinhard that the man must leave because his wife has gone into labor.
"No!" Reinhard barks when the message is relayed. "Tell him he shouldn't have come to the game."
That's probably a career-ender, the veteran cop thinks of his brusque reply. But maybe not. Reinhard doesn't believe the man is telling the truth anyway.
Who brings his wife to a ballgame when she's ready to deliver at any moment? It's got to be bullshit.
On the other hand, if an ambulance screams up to the gates soon and paramedics start hovering over the woman and the first cries of a newborn pierce the din ... well, it's a chance he has to take.
It's simply too dangerous for the police to allow fans, many of them all beered up, many from out of town and unfamiliar with their surroundings, to wander the streets with hundreds of furious demonstrators headed this way.
In a stroke of good fortune for Reinhard and his men, however, a cool rain soon begins to fall.
The game goes into extra innings. But even before outfielder David Lough hits a dramatic walk-off homer in the tenth inning for a 5–4 Orioles win, Reinhard receives word that the rain-soaked demonstrators, previously just blocks away in the Inner Harbor, have dispersed.
The lockdown is lifted. Fans are free to leave. The Red Sox head back to their hotel; the Orioles head home to their families or girlfriends. Buck Showalter is relieved not to have to crash in his cramped office for the night, staring up at the large whiteboard that lists all the Orioles' players until sleep finally comes.
But the eruption outside the ballpark in what had been a week of angry but law-abiding protests has shaken team officials, city leaders, and residents alike.
That night Fredericka Gray, the twin sister of Freddie Gray, delivers a heartfelt plea to the demonstrators while standing next to an exhausted-looking Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a hastily called news conference.
"Can y'all please, please stop the violence?" she says, looking down at the words typed on her cellphone before staring wide-eyed into the TV cameras.
Her fallen brother, she insists, would have wanted no part of the destruction, which Rawlings-Blake is blaming on "a small group of agitators." The police, too, are saying it was mainly caused by "isolated pockets of people from out of town."
Another speaker, the Reverend Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church and a well-known community leader, exhorts all Baltimoreans to "go to your houses of faith" the next day and to "be angry, but sin not."
A short while later another remarkable event takes place: John Angelos eschews the cautious no-comment attitude taken by most top executives when their teams are involved in any kind of crisis or controversy.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "When the Crowd Didn't Roar"
Copyright © 2019 Kevin Cowherd.
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