Saturday, October 27, 2018

World Series Forfeit? Unable to Field Nine Players

With Dodgers and Red Sox managers running out of bench players and substitutes during Friday/Saturday's World Series Game 3 in Los Angeles, we ask what would happen if a team ran out of players and someone got hurt? Answer: Forfeit (umpire declaration). Longest postseason game in MLB history or not, professional baseball requires nine position players during every game with penalty of forfeit for any team that attempts to play shorthanded.

Really—a forfeit on baseball's biggest stage?

It certainly hasn't happened before during the World Series, but Official Baseball Rule 7.03(b) states that at the Major League level, a team forfeits when it cannot or will not field nine players on defense:
A game shall be forfeited to the opposing team when a team is unable or refuses to place nine players on the field.
And don't even think about trying to bring someone back into the game after they were already replaced: "A player once removed from a game shall not re-enter that game. If a player who has been substituted for attempts to reenter, or re-enters, the game in any capacity, the umpire-in-chief shall direct the player’s manager to remove such player from the game immediately" (OBR 5.10(d)).

And 5.10(d) Comment: "If, in an umpire’s judgment, the player re-entered the game knowing that he had been removed, the umpire may eject the manager."

Weaver and Springstead have a conversation.
History: The last major league forfeit of this variety occurred on September 15, 1977, when Orioles Manager Earl Weaver refused to place his team on the field after umpire Marty Springstead, alongside Larry Barnett, Jim Evans, and Vic Voltaggio, rejected Weaver's request to remove a bullpen tarp. Though Weaver claimed player safety as motivation, the American League recorded the game as a forfeit in favor of Toronto (the Blue Jays were leading, 4-0 at the time).

Meanwhile, the last minor league forfeit under 7.03(b) (formerly 4.15(c)) took place in August 2014, when umpires Andy Stukel and Jordan Johnson ruled a forfeit in the Pioneer League when the Ogden Raptors refused to take the field following a rain delay, arguing that the field was unplayable. That protest wound up overturned after the Pioneer League affirmed Ogden's protest and ordered the game replayed from the seventh inning interruption.
Related PostMiLB Rookie Ball Forfeit Overturned on Upheld Protest (8/27/14).

One of the first forfeits of this variety occurred on August 31, 1872. According to retrosheet, Brooklyn refused to continue playing after disagreeing with umpire Tom Pratt's call. Philadelphia's Athletics thus won the contest.

Meanwhile, Boston's forfeit win over Cleveland on August 1, 1883 establishes that players not on the roster at the time of first pitch shall not be permitted to enter the game. Cleveland had attempted to replace injured pitcher Hugh Daily with Will Sawyer; Boston cried foul because Sawyer wasn't present at the start of the game, resulting in a forfeit.

Torre would come up with a solution.
That said, MLB brass—Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre, Commissioner Rob Manfred, and the like—does have some flexibility within the rules. For instance, OBR does not explicitly state how many players may be named to the roster. Though we know "25-man roster" as standard baseball vernacular, could MLB corporate tweak this element of the "not an official rule" provision? Recall, of course, pursuant to the 1883 precedent, that the player must be present at the start of the game, barring a rules change.

After all, Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig did infamously declare a tie in the 11th inning of the 2002 All-Star Game after both teams ran out of available pitchers. That led to the whole "This time it counts" home-field advantage for the World Series campaign, and so forth, but most importantly...Selig's action took place during an All-Star Game that, at the time, didn't count for all that much.

We're talking about the World Series here.

Pursuant to MLB Umpire Manual procedure, a forfeit requires Crew Chief consent and the Crew Chief shall give ample warning to both sides (and to the crowd via the public address system, in the event of fans throwing debris, for instance) before declaring a forfeit; after the game, said Crew Chief contacts the MLB office to advise them of the forfeit.

SIDEBAR: Bob Davidson described a forfeit he had at Dodger Stadium in his Plate Meeting Podcast interview (Episode 1) when the Dodgers forfeited to the Cardinals in August 1995 on baseball giveaway night (fans threw balls on the field when things didn't go LA's way late in the game), and his late night conversation with NL President Leonard Coleman to advise him of the forfeited game.
Related PostPlate Meeting Podcast Episode 1 - Bob Davidson (7/17/18).

Bob Davidson had a forfeit in LA in 1995.
For 2018 World Series Game 3, Crew Chief and HP Umpire Ted Barrett—who presided over 561 total pitches, 286 of which were callable—would surely consult with a supervisor or someone higher up the food chain, even if it meant waiting for Manfred and Torre to make it down to the field, or to get someone up in New York via Replay Review...this is MLB's ultimate jewel event, after all.

SIDEBAR: Stats count in a forfeit as long as the game has progressed enough innings to be a regulation game. With this potential forfeit situation occurring in extras, those states would count. If the team credited with the win was leading at the time of the forfeit, the pitchers would be credited with a win or loss as usual. If the team credited with the win was losing at the time of the forfeit, there would be no winning or losing pitchers. Forfeits receive an official score of 9-0 victories in favor of the benefiting team.

In sum, although Rule 7.03(b) is pretty clear about forfeiting a game when a team is unable to place nine players on the field, the collective MLB brain trust would have little trouble working out a creative solution to prevent this ultimate travesty from marring a World Series—or at least present an intercedent measure to soften the blow. Either that or a rules change for the offseason. One thing is for certain though, a decision this significant, at this monumental stage, would surely be out of the umpires' hands.


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