How Will MLB Make Up for the Sounds of Silence in Empty Stadiums?

John Hickey

Plenty has been written about the possibility of playing baseball in empty stadiums once the worst of the COVID-10 coronavirus is past us, whenever that might be.

The talk has been about the visual, about cameras scanning into miles of aisles of empty stands. There will be no one in the bleachers, but no one in the swanky luxury boxes either. Just players on the field, in the dugouts and in the bullpen.

In the latest plan that came out Monday, there was even a suggestion that in the interest of players being able to maintain social distancing, players not on the field could sit in the stands.

But baseball isn’t all visual. At its heart, baseball is as much an auditory experience as it is a visual one.

When you are at the park, away from your seat buying a couple of beers, getting that hot dog or burger, as often as not the view of the playing field is blocked to you. But you’re never blocked from what’s going on because the hum of the crowd, the background noise, lets you know when something big is happening.

And it’s the same away from the park, whether you listen on the radio – in the case of the Oakland A’s punch in the AsCast – or the television. At least for me, I can be doing other things at home with the game on and feel a connection to the game.

It’s the sound of the crowd as much as the sound of the announcers that gives me the sense of baseball.

And that’s something that that’s going to be a problem for Major League Baseball if the decision is made to come back and play in front of empty stadiums.

Players talk about needing the roar of the crowd to bring out the best in them. But the fans watching or listening at home are going to need that roar, too. Without it, I think the television and radio audiences are going to fall off, perhaps badly, after the early surge that can be expected when the games return.

I imagine teams could pipe in crowd noise recorded over the years, and that might help, but they will have to be nimble at the controls indeed to spike the noise when, in the case of the A’s, Khris Davis or Matt Olson homer or Matt Chapman steals a double down the third base line or Ramon Laureano makes an otherworldly throw from the outfield..

How does the sound of the drums coming from right field in Oakland or the cheers of those most rabid in Milwaukee for the sausage races or the shouted rhythmic intros that New York fans give the Yankee starting lineup get replicated?

Simple. They don’t. And that’s going to be a problem, because baseball isn’t quite baseball without them.