Sound of silence: Baseball thinking ahead to silent stadiums
Tom Murphy has become somewhat of an online sensation during baseball’s shutdown for the array of workouts the Seattle Mariners’ catcher posts on Instagram from his home in upstate New York.
While staying in shape is a priority, Murphy also is thinking ahead. As in, how the game’s strategy might need to shift if teams have to play in empty stadiums.
“It’s going to be one of those things that it’s going to add some different aspects to the game,” Murphy said.
Whenever baseball returns after the delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there’s an element that might come into play like never before: the sound of silence.
The crack of the bat and the pop of a glove might resonate with a rich, deep echo that invokes the nostalgia of the game — back to the days of playing in front of just family and friends in Little League or high school when the loudest noises were the ping of an aluminum bat and an overzealous parent. But a quiet ballpark also means a drastic departure for pro athletes accustomed to roaring crowds.
“It’s going to be weird, there’s no question about it. It’s going to be very weird. We’re so used to having fans in the stands,” Washington manager Davey Martinez said. "I’ve been in professional baseball since 1983. This will be a first. This will be a first for me. Even in the minor leagues, we had fans. This is new territory for a lot of us, but it’s going to be part of it if we get started.”
The din of noise associated with baseball is essentially a masking agent. It could be just the general murmur of the crowd engaged in normal conversation, music being pumped through the stadium audio between pitches or the wave of noise after a particularly exciting play.
In Murphy’s case, he worries about what a batter might be able to hear just inches away from where he sets up.
The subtle movement by the catcher to give the target in the right location and frame home plate is a vital piece of success for a pitcher. Murphy’s concern is that without the normal soundtrack of a stadium, will his movements be too obvious and allow batters to figure out where the pitch might be located?
“That’s something that I’m sure people haven’t really thought of too much,” Murphy said. "But it’s been on my mind a lot, and just thinking about how many locations are going to be given away, it’s kind of scary for pitchers, just because that’s obviously a huge part of their game is commanding different locations without the hitter knowing.
"And I definitely worry about that situation a little bit,” he said.
Still, with the expectation that games will be TV-only to start, the lack of stadium noise could be an issue. Discussions that have been unfiltered in the past -- whether those involved are players on the field, the umpires or those in the dugout -- might now be heard clearly.
Some of those previously R-rated conversations are going to need an editor -- or a several-second delay and a silence button.
"I think we’re going to have to be very mindful of how loud we talk and very mindful of the conversations with the umpires because everybody is going to be able to hear it,” first-year Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said.