Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Birthday to When the Crowd Didn’t Roar by Kevin Cowherd (Nebraska, 2019).
About the Book:
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.
“Cowherd, a longtime columnist at The Baltimore Sun, attempts to answer the koan-like question posed by this singular event: If you play a baseball game and no fans are there to witness it, have you played a baseball game?… Cowherd’s book elucidates a chilling collision of race and sport from recent history.”—New York Times
“Cowherd, a veteran Baltimore journalist, knows the city well, and he delivers a fascinating account not only of a baseball game played before an empty stadium, but also of the Freddie Gray case, finding that behind the tragedy were the same forces that plague the impoverished neighborhoods in every major city: joblessness, gangs, drugs, and an overwhelmed educational system.”—Booklist
“The circumstances of both the game itself and the events that led up to that decision are captured in this excellent book by Baltimore sportswriter Kevin Cowherd… This book should be read under the knowledge that while it is about an unusual baseball game, it is more than just a baseball book.”—The Guy Who Reviews Sports Books
“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.” —Brooklyn Digest
On the Blog:
- Excerpt: When the Crowd Didn’t Roar
- The Marketeers Club: Best of 2019
- Publicist Picks: A Major Chance for a Minor League, a Silent Stadium, and other April Books
- What We’re Reading
A Word From the Author:
The question I get asked most often is this: what made you want to write a book about a ballgame played without fans in a locked-down stadium less than 36 hours after a major riot?
My answer is always the same: how could I not write about it? To me, the events that led to Baltimore’s Freddie Gray unrest in April of 2015 and the only MLB game ever played without spectators were a Shakespearean tragedy come to life. And I’ll be forever grateful to the University of Nebraska Press for sharing that vision and publishing When the Crowd Didn’t Roar: How Baseball’s Strangest Game Ever Gave a Broken City Hope giving me an opportunity to work with a great editor in Rob Taylor and the ever-gracious super-publicist Rosemary Sekora, among others.
A major highlight of the past year was having When the Crowd Didn’t Roar selected as one of the 75 best new books—and one of the five best new sports books—in the New York Times’ 2019 Summer Reading issue. John Swansburg’s kind review, in which he said the book “elucidates a chilling collision of race and sport,” surely helped turbo-charge sales.
So did an early shout-out from FOX Sports personality—and my former colleague for years at the Baltimore Sun—Ken Rosenthal, as well as a terrific book launch at the Ivy Book Shop in Baltimore and a signing at the venerable Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.
Even more thrilling for me were two game-day book-signings at the best baseball cathedral of them all, Camden Yards. The Orioles may stink right now, but they have a large and loyal fan base. And so many members of Orioles Nation turned out in impressive numbers to reminisce about that weird, antiseptic 2015 game and that fraught time in the city’s history.
There is no baseball now—a global pandemic has brought virtually all professional sports to a standstill. There was talk initially of possibly playing the games without fans, but that idea was mercifully shot down by wiser heads.
Big-time sports without fans is an eerie, joyless exercise, as I hope When the Crowd Didn’t Roar vividly illustrates. Someday, when things return to a semblance of normalcy, the stadiums and arenas will be packed with cheering crowds again. And that is always as it should be.