The forfeiture of a baseball game is a relatively strange and rare occurrence. Of the tens of thousands of baseball games played, there have only been 139 forfeits since 1871. Most of these occurred before 1900, when umpires were very sensitive to anything that might cause a delay in the game. This was obviously before lights had been installed at baseball stadiums, and any sort of delay could result in the game running long and being called on account of darkness. Umps would even call the game forfeit if a manager argued a call for too long. This was the reason for a majority of the early forfeits although there were also a myriad of others, such as teams leaving the field early in order to catch a train to their next opponent and one in 1884 where the umpire was unable to produce a new ball, and the Washington Nationals refused to play with a used one retrieved from the stands.
The reasons why a game may be forfeited are outlined by two Major League rules:
Between games of a doubleheader, or whenever a game is suspended because of the unfitness of the playing field, the umpire in chief shall have control of ground keepers and assistants for the purpose of making the playing field fit for play. PENALTY: For violation, the umpire in chief may forfeit the game to the visiting team.
A game may be forfeited to the opposing team when a team (a) Fails to appear upon the field, or being upon the field, refuses to start play within five minutes after the umpire has called "Play" at the appointed hour for beginning the game, unless such delayed appearance is, in the umpire's judgment, unavoidable; (b) Employs tactics palpably designed to delay or shorten the game; (c) Refuses to continue play during a game unless the game has been suspended or terminated by the umpire; (d) Fails to resume play, after a suspension, within one minute after the umpire has called "Play;" (e) After warning by the umpire, willfully and persistently violates any rules of the game; (f) Fails to obey within a reasonable time the umpire's order for removal of a player from the game; (g) Fails to appear for the second game of a doubleheader within twenty minutes after the close of the first game unless the umpire in chief of the first game shall have extended the time of the intermission.
The duty of determining whether a game has been forfeited is up to the sole discretion of the chief umpire (which is the umpire stationed behind home plate). If the game has not begun or the forfeiting team is winning the game, they will be credited with a 9-0 loss. If the forfeiting team is losing, the current score is kept as the final score.
Forfeits have become increasingly rare as lights have been installed at all Major League parks and teams can charter their own airplanes. Fans disrupting the game or fights between players have caused most of the forfeits in the last century. Only five forfeits have occurred in the past 50 years:
September 30, 1971 – The Washington Senators final game
One of the most inept, yet beloved, franchises in the history of baseball, Senators owner Bob Short decided to move the team from Washington, D.C. out west where they would become the Texas Rangers. The Senators were beating the New York Yankees 7-5 with two outs in the top of the 9th, one out away from scoring a bittersweet victory against their division rival. Suddenly several hundred people from a noisy and wild crowd of 14,460 stormed the field and began running the bases and digging up the grass and dirt. After the police were unable to quickly restore order and first base was stolen, the umpire declared that the Senators had forfeited the game. The lights were shut off and the police guarded home plate as the fans left RFK Stadium. Three men were arrested for disorderly conduct.
June 4, 1974 – 10-cent beer night in Cleveland
In an attempt to boost their woeful attendance, the Cleveland Indians held a special promotion: ten ounces of Stroh's beer for ten cents. A crowd of 25,134 (three times the normal amount) showed up to see the Indians play the Texas Rangers, enticed by cheap beer. Problems started early as the fans started lighting off fireworks in the stands during the first inning. In the second inning, a large woman jumped into the Indians' on-deck circle and lifted her shirt; in the fourth, a naked man slid into second base; in the fifth, a father-and-son team leapt into the infield and mooned the crowd. From the seventh inning onward, the bleachers slowly emptied as people climbed down into right field. With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, the Cleveland fans began to pelt the field with golf balls, rocks and batteries, and someone stole Rangers rightfielder Jeff Burroughs’ glove. When Burroughs ran into the stands to get it back, the crowd stormed the field. Rangers manager Billy Martin quickly grabbed a bat and ran into the crowd on a rescue mission to save Burroughs. Someone took a metal chair to Texas pitcher Tom Hilgendorf’s skull. Finally, when umpire Nestor Chylak was hit with a chair, he declared a forfeit. Only nine people were arrested.
September 15, 1977 – Earl Weaver pulls his team off the field
The Baltimore Orioles were behind 4 - 0 in the bottom of the fifth inning when manager Earl Weaver asked umpire Marty Springstead to have a tarpaulin that was covering the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen area removed. The game was being played in a light rain and the Blue Jays bullpen mound was covered by a small tarp that was held down with several large bricks. Weaver argued that his left fielder could be injured if he ran into the bricks while chasing a foul ball. When the umpire refused to order the Blue Jays to move the tarp, Weaver ordered the Orioles off the field, forcing the umpire to declare a forfeit.
July 12, 1979 – Disco Demolition Night
In one of the late great Bill Veeck’s worst promotions, any fan who showed up to the game that day with a disco record would be allowed in for only 98 cents. Over 50,000 people showed up, with an extra 15,000 more outside trying to get in. Between the two games of a Chicago White Sox – Detroit Tigers doubleheader, local radio DJ Steve Dahl would blow up a huge stack of disco records in the middle of the outfield. The crowd was merely unruly during the first game, chanting “Disco sucks!” and throwing their records onto the field like Frisbees. Dahl’s explosion of the records set the crowd off and hundreds rushed onto the field. The pitching rubber was stolen and a huge bonfire was started in centerfield. It took almost a half hour for the riot police to show up and thirty-seven people were arrested. Finally, umpire Rich Phillips declared the game a forfeit.
August 10, 1995 – Ball Day at Dodger Stadium
The Los Angeles Dodgers gave out thousands of souvenir balls for their game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals were up 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th when Dodger Eric Karros is ejected by the plate umpire Bob Davidson for arguing a strikeout call. The next batter, Raul Mondesi, is also ejected for the same thing. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda runs out to argue with the umpire himself, and he is also ejected. With that, the fans bombard the field with hundreds of baseballs. The grounds crew clears the field and the Cardinals go back out to finish the inning. The fans begin throwing the balls again, and Davidson declares a forfeit.
Stories of every baseball forfeit are available at http://www.retrosheet.org/forfeits.htm