The Why and Wherefore of Forfeit Games

This article was written by Paul Doherty

This article was published in the 1978 Baseball Research Journal


Forfeit games are generated by different moods of man, some of which are: anger, at the umpires; playful, fans on the field interfering with the players; lazy, the players stalling to prevent one more half inning of play; absent, not enough players on the field; bored, the fans, in the late innings wanting to get home, rush across the field to the exits. All of these have led to more than one forfeit game.

At least 36 games have been forfeited in the 77 years covered here. Of these 36 games the losing team (the one with the fewer runs) won only four by forfeit. The home team was awarded nine of these contests. In seven games the score was tied at the time of the forfeit.  The New York Giants have been involved nine times with four victories. Baltimore lost all five games they were involved in, including four in 1901-02.

On opening day 1907 a game was forfeited, as was one on the final day of the 1971 season. On two occasions the games didn’t even start. The first game of a doubleheader was forfeited on two different times, with the second game being played. Three were night games.

Twenty games were forfeited in the first ten years of this century, which means the next 67 years saw only 16. There was not one forfeit in the decade of the l960s. The American League went 30 years, from 1941 to 1971, without a forfeit.

Twenty-five umpires have awarded forfeits with Tom Connolly handing out five of them in three years. Thirty-five of these games were awarded on the spot by the umpire, the other decision was made almost two weeks after the game ended and a protest was made.

Four games went into extra innings, and 11 didn’t go far enough to be regulation games, so the statistics were not put in the official records.

The first American League forfeit game was played May 2, 1901  at Chicago, only days after the league began operating. Rain began to fall after the visiting Detroit team took the lead in the top of the ninth with a five run outburst. Clark Griffith’s home-town boys decided to stall, hoping umpire Tom Connolly would call the game so he could get out of the rain. This would wash out the runs scored in the top of the ninth and the White Sox would win in eight innings. But, as in future games, the umpire would not put up with the delaying tactics and the game was forfeited to Detroit.

One of the largest scores on record was run up June 9, 1901 in a game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds. The Giants had piled up 25 runs and 31 hits, a modern major league record for hits in nine innings. The Reds’ bats hadn’t been idle as they scored 13 runs. With the score favoring the Giants 25 to 13 in the last of the ninth, the fans were bored and started home, many going on the field to reach the exits and the game couldn’t continue. With only one out to go Cincinnati was a good bet to lose so the fans made sure of it when they caused the forfeit.

In 1902 the New York Giants were owned by Andrew Freedman, a New York real estate man and Tammany Hall politician, and the club was doing poorly. To get better players he bought the Baltimore Orioles American League club on July 16, 1902. Immediately four players were transferred to the Giants in the other league and two others were released.  The Orioles had a home game with St. Louis the next day, but, when time came for the game Baltimore had no team. The St. Louis players took to the field and umpire Caruthers waited five minutes for the home team to show up, then forfeited to St. Louis when the Orioles remained absent.  It was the only forfeit the Browns were involved in during a half century of play.

In Cleveland in 1903 Detroit put an old black ball in play when Cleveland was at bat and the Naps wanted it thrown out of the game. Umpire Connolly couldn’t see anything wrong in using the ball, but Nap Lajoie did and he took the ball and threw it over the grandstand. The umpire told him he shouldn’t have done it and forfeited the game to Detroit in the eleventh inning.

The Giants forfeited to St. Louis October 4, 1904 in the fourth inning when, after three of their players had been banished by umpire Johnstone, McGraw was slow replacing them on the field. One paper reported the Giants didn’t have enough players to make a full nine after the three had been ejected.

The second forfeit game that didn’t start was scheduled for the Polo Grounds August 7, 1906 with the Chicago Cubs the visitors. During the game of the day before, umpire Jimmy Johnstone had made some decisions that aroused both teams against him. When Johnstone and Bob Emslie reached the ball park Johnstone was told he could not enter the grounds The Giants didn’t want him as an umpire after his performance of the day before. Emslie’s entrance was not barred so he went inside a short distance then retreated, refusing to take part in the game if his partner was refused admittance. Then Johnstone forfeited the game to the Cubs.

Inside the grounds McGraw wanted the game run his way with each team picking a player to form an umpire team. He talked this over with Frank Chance the Chicago manager. McGraw picked his utility man, Sam Strang, to be one of the arbiters, but Chance, after talking to Charles Murphy, president of the Chicago Cubs, who was in the stands, declined to appoint a Cub player to work with Strang. He said the forfeit had already been announced and he took his players off the field to the clubhouse.

Strang, McGraw’s umpire, forfeited the game to the Giants on McGraw’s orders. Now both teams claimed the forfeit. The next day, National League President Harry Pulliam upheld Johnstone’s forfeit decision giving the game to the Cubs because the New York club wouldn’t let the umpire in the park. The Giants appealed this decision, but it was a waste of time.

On opening day at the Polo Grounds in 1907, the New York club didn’t have any police in the park as the league rules say they should. Fans started to leave the game in the eighth inning, with the score Philadelphia 3 and New York 0, by walking across the field to the nearest exit gate. This delayed the game, even though umpire Bill Klem tried to hurry them off the field, but the fans jeered him. At the start of the ninth many more fans went on the field and some players were surrounded as was Klem at home plate. The umpire waited for the field to be cleared, but soon gave up and forfeited to the visiting team from Philadelphia.

We have one game in which the fans, players, park employees, and police all joined together in a riot. This was at Detroit June 13, 1924, the last of a three game series, one in which ill will between the clubs showed from the first game. In the ninth, with one out, the lid blew off. Bert Cole, Tiger relief pitcher, had been bombed and in the final inning the first two batters were targets for him. He made Babe Ruth duck from a pitch, before fouling out, and hit the next batter, Bob Meusel, in the back. Meusel flung down his bat and rushed for Cole, threw a punch at him but missed. Two of the umpires grabbed Meusel and held him. Detroit Manager Ty Cobb ran in from center field and immediately got into an argument with Ruth, who said the Detroit hurler was trying to bean the Yankees. Umpire Ormsby pushed the Babe away from Cobb. The police were on the field and things seemed to have quieted down. Then the fans began jumping from the stands to the field. A general row developed, while the police were trying to get the Yankee players safely to the club house. Fans were all over the field by this time. The players did get safely off the field and into the shelter of the locker room, but the fans wouldn’t leave the playing field. Umpire Billy Evans realized the only thing to do was forfeit the game to New York.

Ducky Medwick, then with the St. Louis Cardinals, lost a home run in a game that was forfeited at Philadelphia, June 6, 1937, before five innings were played. This was the second game. The first one had been delayed for an hour and a half by rain. The nightcap began shortly after 5:30 p.m. and Sunday games couldn’t be played after 6:59. The first inning must have taken a long time to complete, with the Cardinals scoring five times and the Phillies twice. With two out and the Cardinals leading 8 to 2 in the top of the fifth, and the curfew fast approaching, the Philadelphia players were stalling, hoping the umpire would cry out, “Stopped by the curfew,” but instead the umpire screamed, “forfeit,” and St. Louis was the winner. When the season ended Medwick and Mel Ott were tied for the National League home run title with 31 each. This was the only year Medwick came close to the home run title.

The strangest story of all in this narrative of forfeit games is the one the Boston Red Sox played at Washington August 15, 1941. Rain began in the fifth inning and increased so that the umpire halted the game at the end of the seventh. The players went to their locker rooms and the umpire ordered the infield covered. The ground crew couldn’t be found, even with the help of the Washington management. The rain came down for another 30 minutes before stopping, leaving the field a soggy mess. The umpires saw that play was impossible and called the game with Washington the winner 6 to 3 in seven innings. The next day, August 16, Boston protested the game to the American League office where William Harridge, the league president, took it under advisement and everybody waited. Then, on August 28, almost two weeks after the game was played, Harridge issued a statement saying that the game of August 15, between Boston and Washington, was forfeited to the Red Sox. He called it “the case of the missing ground-keeper” and said the home team was responsible for the care of the grounds and having a ground crew available and under the orders of the umpires.

Anyone who has supervised a group of children on an outing or school trip can probably sympathize with the park employees who were at the Polo Grounds for the game between the Boston Braves and Giants, September 26, 1942, when kids were admitted to the park free if they brought some scrap metal for the war effort. The youngsters behaved until the bottom of the eighth when, with the Giants leading 5 to 2, some of the boys went onto the field. The rest of them, still in the stands, saw this and, perhaps picturing themselves as big-time ball players, they quickly went over the fences, onto the field where they caused so much confusion that umpire Sears just had to forfeit the game to Boston.

Warren Spahn pitched this game for the Braves in his rookie season. An oddity of his 1942 record is that, of the four games he pitched in, he had one complete game, this one of September 26, but no wins and no losses.

The Washington fans knew that the final game of the 1971 season would be the end of the Senators in that city and the team would be in Texas to start the next one. So on the closing day fans came to the game bitter at Bob Short, the teams’ owner. In the top of the ninth the score was Washington 7 New York 5 and only one more Yankee out needed to end the game when the fans started coming on the field and soon the area was crowded with them. The game couldn’t continue and was forfeited to New York, one of the few times the losing team won by forfeit. The fans wanted souvenirs and the field was soon a mess. They dug up home plate, took the bags from the base paths, ripped off parts of the score board and left the playing area in bad shape.

A promotional gimmick to attract fans was “Beer Night” at Municipal Stadium, Cleveland, that drew almost twice as many as expected the night of June 4, 1974. All the beer they wanted for a dime a cup was the bait. Early in the game the fans, in small groups, started going on the field. Some were caught by the police, but this didn’t stop others from doing the same thing. A rally by the Indians in the last of the ninth, that tied the score, whipped the crowd into a frenzy and they surged on the field. Some surrounded Jeff Burroughs of Texas in rightfield and tried to get his cap and glove. Seeing this, players from both benches rushed to Burroughs’ aid and they all got back to their benches where they waited for the field to be cleared.  After some minutes peace seemed to be restored and the game was ready to resume when more trouble broke out on the field and umpire Nestor Chylak forfeited the game to Texas.

Baltimore finished the 1977 season tied with the Boston Red Sox for second place in the American League East Division with 97 wins and 64 losses.  One of these losses was forfeited to the Toronto Blue Jays the night of September 15 at Toronto with the Orioles losing 4 to 0 after 4½ innings. If Baltimore had played the game under protest and gone on to win they would have had second place all to themselves and more money to split among the players. But at the game, the Orioles sided with their manager and gave up the game, declaring one small area of the field was dangerous because it was covered by a small tarpaulin held down loosely by bricks.

Two other games almost made this list. Two contests that were forfeited, but, on appeal, the umpires’ decision was overruled. On August 30, 1913 the Giants were declared winner by forfeit at Philadelphia. The fans in the center field bleachers had been waving their hats in the batters line of vision and New York objected.  The fans were asked to move out of the center field bleachers, but refused to and the umpire forfeited to the Giants.  Philadelphia appealed to the league president, Lynch, and he sided with them, declaring Philadelphia the winner as they were leading 8 to 6 at the time of the forfeit. New York appealed this to the Board of Directors and President Lynch was overruled and the game was ordered played to a finish, which was done with the Phils the winner 8 to 6.

The other game was played at Fenway Park, Sunday, September 3, 1939, with the Yankees winning by forfeit after the fans littered the field making it unplayable. The score at the time was tied at five-all.  Boston protested the forfeit decision to the American League president.

“Harridge held that no blame could be placed on the players or officials of the Boston club and that the demonstration of the fans was beyond the control of the club. Therefore he ruled against the forfeit which was made by umpire Cal Hubbard.” This statement was in The Sporting News, September 14, 1939. The game was ordered replayed.

This statement of William Harridge, American League president, is surprising if we go back to August 21, 1949 at Philadelphia.  In the top of the ninth the Giants led 4 to 2. Richie Ashburn, Blue Jays center fielder, raced for a line drive off the bat of Joe Lafata, dived and grabbed the ball as he tumbled over on the grass. Umpire George Barr signaled safe hit, trapped ball.  Philadelphia players and fans screamed at the decision and the field was littered by the fans with everything they could throw. This caused a forfeit.

Here were two games during which the home fans litter the field making it unplayable. One game went into the records as a forfeit, the other was ordered replayed. It just shows that decisions on forfeit games are no more predictable than the actions that cause them.

 

MAJOR LEAGUE FORFEIT GAMES, 1901-77

Date

Winner

Loser

Leag

Inn

When

Forfeited

May 2, 1901

Det

Chi (H)

Al

9

Det 7

Chi 5

May 13, 1901

NY (H)

Bro

NL

9

NY 7

Bro 7

May 31, 1901

Det (H)

Bal

AL

9

Det 5

Bal 5

June 9, 1901

NY

Cin (H)

NL

9

NY 25

Cin 13

July 23, 1901

Cle (H)

Was

AL

9

Cle 4

Was 4

Aug. 21, 1901

Det

Bal (H)

AL

4

Det 7

Bal 4

June 16, 1902

Pit

Bos (H)

NL

4

Pit 4

Bos 0

June 28, 1902

Bos

Bal (H)

AL

8

Bos 9

Bal 4

July 17, 1902

StL

Bal (H)

AL

0

Bal didn’t show

Aug. 8, 1903

Det

Cle (H)

AL

11

Det 6

Cle 5

Oct. 4, 1904 (2)

StL

NY (H)

NL

4

StL 2

NY 1

Aug. 5, 1905

Pit (H)

NY

NL

9

Pit 5

NY 5

Aug. 22, 1905

Was

Det (H)

AL

11

Was 2

Det 1

June 9, 1906

Pit

Phi (H)

NL

8

Pit 7

Phi 1

July 2, 1906 (2)

NY

Phi (H)

AL

9

NY 5

Phi 1

Aug. 7, 1906

Chi

NY (H)

NL

0

Before

game

Sep. 3, 1906 (2)

NY(H)

Phi

AL

9

NY 3

Phi 3

Apr. 11, 1907

Phi

NY(H)

NL

8

Phi3

NY 0

Oct. 5, 1907 (1)

StL(H)

Chi

NL

4

Chi 2

StL 0

Oct. 4, 1909 (2)

NY (H)

Phi

NL

4

NY 1

Phi 1

July 6, 1913 (2)

StL

Chi (H)

NL

3

StL 4

Chi 0

June 26, 1914 (1)

Phi (H)

Was

AL

4

Phi 2

Was 0

July 18, 1916

Bro

Chi (H)

NL

10

Bro 4

Chi 4

Sep. 9, 1917

Chi (H)

Cle

AL

10

Chi 3

Cle 3

July 20, 1918 (2)

Cle

Phi (H)

AL

9

Cle 9

Phi 1

Aug. 20, 1920 (2)

Chi

Phi (H)

AL

9

Chi 5

Phi 2

June 13, 1924

NY

Det (H)

AL

9

NY 10

Det 6

Apr. 26, 1925

Cle

Chi (H)

AL

9

Cle 7

Chi 2

June 6, 1937 (2)

StL

Phi(H)

NL

4

StL 8

Phi2

Aug. 15, 1941

Bos

Was (H)

AL

8

Was 6

Bos 3

Sep. 26, 1942 (2)

Bos

NY (H)

NL

8

NY 5

Bos 2

Aug. 21, 1949 (2)

NY

Phi (H)

NL

9

NY 4

Phi 2

July 18, 1954 (2)

Phi

StL(H)

NL

4

Phi 8

StL 1

Sep. 30, 1971 (N)

NY

Was (H)

AL

9

Was 7

NY 5

June 4, 1974 (N)

Tex

Cle (H)

AL

9

Tex 5

Cle 5

Sept. 15, 1977 (N)

Tor (H)

Bal

AL

5

Tor 4

Bal 0

(H) – Home Team

The official score of all these games is 9 to 0.

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