Bob Davidson ranks 26th all-time among umpires in games worked in the major leagues.
Included in those 3,911 games are more than a few bizarre experiences on the field. They range from a triple play that wasn’t during Game 3 of the 1992 World Series (Davidson acknowledges missing a tag applied by the Blue Jays’ Kelly Gruber on the Braves’ Deion Sanders that would have completed it) and ejecting Youppi, the mascot of the Expos, from a game against the Dodgers on Aug. 23, 1989.
Then there was his wave of the arms in the ninth inning on Aug. 10, 1995, at Dodger Stadium that officially called off a Dodgers-Cardinals game while baseballs, handed out as part of a giveaway promotion, hailed down from the stands. That remains the last forfeit in Major League Baseball.
But during a phone interview from his Colorado home, Davidson, 67, put April 29, 2015, at Camden Yards high on the list of strangest experiences during his colorful career, one in which he was tagged with the nickname “Balkin’ Bob.”
“The game with no fans is probably right there, too,” said Davidson, who retired after the 2016 season. “That’s one I’ll always remember. It was weird.”
Davidson used the word “weird” more than a few times in describing that afternoon, an 8-2 Orioles victory over the White Sox that took an ultra-brisk 2 hours, 3 minutes to play.
The game has gotten plenty of attention recently because all ideas regarding the restart of MLB after the COVID-19 pandemic include contesting games in front of no fans.
The first two games of the 2015 White Sox-Orioles series in Baltimore were postponed because of rioting in the city as a result of the death of Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody. MLB decided the final game of the series would be played, but in an empty stadium.
Davidson recalled the pregame meeting with the managers at home plate for the exchange of lineup cards, which typically would be accompanied by the buzz of the crowd. Even a smallish crowd of, say, 8,000 creates some kind of pregame atmosphere. But on this day, nothing.
“I remember [saying] to [White Sox manager] Robin Ventura when we got to home plate, I said, ‘Hey, there’s nobody here. I can hear everything you say, so you better shut your mouth,’ and he laughed,” Davidson said.
He worked second base. Jerry Layne, Hunter Wendelstedt and David Rackley, all still active umpires, worked home plate, first and third, respectively.
Davidson, though controversial at times in his career, generally was liked by players because of his propensity to keep up a running dialogue with them. And on this day, there was plenty to talk about.
“Every player that got to second base said something,” Davidson said. “I remember [longtime Orioles outfielder] Adam Jones saying, ‘Man, this is weird [expletive].’ And it was. It was just weird.”
The second base umpire, because of his placement on the diamond, is the least likely to hear what’s going on around the home plate area, but this game was unlike any other in every way.
“[Orioles manager] Buck Showalter is pretty talkative in the dugout and you could hear, ‘Come on, Adam!’ or whoever the hitter was, ‘Come on, let’s go!’ ” Davidson said. “I remember one time, Ventura said to Layne, ‘Ball’s low, Jerry,’ and you could hear Jerry say, ‘Ball ain’t low.’
“You could certainly hear what was going on in the dugouts and you could certainly hear, from the press box, the broadcasts, some of what was being said. So it was an oddity.”
Davidson said the afternoon took him back to his years before making it to the big leagues, lonely days working minor league spring training games in places such as St. Petersburg, Florida, with “maybe 10 people in the bleachers and that’s about it.”
Emptiness, however, was very much expected then. This was the major leagues — Camden Yards, capacity 45,000-plus — but mostly there were waves of silence.
“It was,” Davidson said, “eerie.”
When we got to home plate, I said, ‘Hey, there’s nobody here, I can hear everything you say so you better shut your mouth,’ and he laughed.”
— umpire Bob Davidson to manager Robin Ventura