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Frances Forfeit?
2004-09-07 00:46
by Mike Carminati

Salerio. Why, I am sure if he forfeit thou wilt not take his flesh. Whatís that good for?

Shylock. To bait fish withalóif it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.

--William "Author" Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice. The two characters are referring to Antonio, whose cargo was lost at sea.

The Yankees requested a forfeit in a scheduled doubleheader against the Devil Rays. However, the request has already been all but refused by the commissioner, "Given the stage of the season we are in, and the exciting pennant races, it is critical that we do everything to decide the championship on the field."

What's unusual about the situation is that Hurricane Frances entered the picture thereby changing their scheduled doubleheader on Sunday into a single game at 7:00 PM on Monday. The Yankees president, Randy Levine, referenced the forfeit rule that, "states that if your team is here and ready to play, and the other team isn't here and not ready to play, there should be a forfeit, and we believe there should be a forfeit," Levine said. Double negatives notwithstanding, Levine is referring to the following rule:

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

The Devil Rays did arrive and were ready to play within five minutes of the final scheduled time. The Yankees claimed that the D-Rays had ample time to leave Florida in order to make the original schedule time and therefore, should forfeit. But it seems to be little more than a fishing expedition by the Yankees brass, who simply don't want to reschedule the game for this week.

Forfeits, once a rather common occurrence in the game, have all but been eliminated from baseball. Elias Sports Bureau says the last major-league forfeit was in 1918. I did find a reference to a minor-league forfeit in 1958 in Rich Marazzi's The Rules and Lore of Baseball:

This is a very obscure and seldom used rule, but it was invoked on June 22, 1958, in a minor league game between Olean and Erie. Olean had originally announced a 7:00 PM starting time for its Sunday games, but later changed the time to 4:00 PM in an official league release to all clubs.

Manager Steve Gromek's Erie Sailors arrived 50 minutes after the game was supposed to start. Gromek claimed that the game was originally set for 7 PM, but his words were wasted when umpires Bob Brooks and (Hurricane) Francis Powers forfeited the game to Olean.

New York-Penn League president Vince McNamara upheld the forfeiture.

There are seven codicils to the forfeit rule, each of which is pretty interesting in and of itself. The Yankees cited the proper part of the rule. However, they failed to mention the fact that a forfeit of this nature (as are many of the others) is a judgment call by the umpires. It all seems an empty exercise for a team that should have other concerns (read, the Red Sox) in its collective mind.

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