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September 7, 2004

Forfeit to be tied
by Larry Mahnken

What happened yesterday afternoon was a failure on the part of Major League Baseball.

Last weekend, before Hurricane Frances hit Florida, MLB "suggested" to the Devil Rays that they get out of Dodge and head up to New York. On at least someplace that wasn't going to be hit by a hurricane. They didn't do anything official or formal, they just said that maybe it would be a good idea, because, you know, it would have been a good idea.

According to MLB, the Devil Rays spent Friday and Saturday trying to get out, but they couldn't. According to reports out of Tampa Bay, they had no intention of trying to get out, and the statements of the Devil Rays' management support that version. They told the MLBPA that they were going to stick it out in Florida to "be with their families". They'd try to make it out on Sunday night or Monday morning, so MLB pushed back the start of the first game to 3:00. They boarded the plane 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the game.

Should the Devil Rays have forfeited the first game? I don't think they should have, because they were able to make it to New York in time to play a second game, but if they hadn't, I do believe they should have been forced to forfeit one game, and if MLB had decided to make them forfeit a game anyway, that wouldn't have been out of line. As it is, MLB has screwed up anyway.

By saying that they wanted to be with their families, the Devil Rays are spinning this situation to make anyone who disagrees with their decision look like an asshole. I mean, what, do you hate families?

You see this in politics, the right-wing spin on President Bush's actions in a Florida classroom on 9/11 is that he didn't want to scare the children, and that he did the right thing. I've actually had people argue to me that he shouldn't have scared those children, as if that was the most important responsibility he faced that day! If you think he should have gotten up and done something, then you must hate children! Who cares that the only man able to order civilian planes shot down when civilian planes are being used as weapons is not doing anything, even informing himself? Do you want children to cry?!

OK, I digressed majorly there, but that's just ridiculous spin -- but they've actually made it, and half the country buys it.

Of course, the Devil Rays weren't facing the same situation as the President on that day, but that they invoked their families doesn't excuse them. The best thing for their families would of course have been to GET OUT OF FLORIDA. Again, this wasn't a surprise, they knew the hurricane was coming, they knew that this would be dangerous. The best thing to do would have been to get them out of the state and to a safe place.

When they decided to stay in Florida, MLB cut them some slack in pushing back the first game. The Rays expected to leave at 9am on Monday morning, but at noon they were still at the ballpark. Not at the airport, at the ballpark. When they finally left the ballpark, they were delayed even more because the bridge across Tampa Bay was cut down to one lane. They finally left around 3:00.

At some point that morning, the Devil Rays should have called MLB and the Yankees and told them that they weren't going to be able to make it, to call off the first game, and move it later in the week. Whether they did or not, I don't know, but MLB certainly didn't make that decision. That decision was delayed until it was clear that only one game could be played, so the players and fans sat around waiting for the game, whenever it was going to be.

When the Rays made it in the evening, MLB declared that they wouldn't declare a forfeit, because they don't believe in those, and think the pennant race should be decided on the field. Not declaring a forfeit is fine, but their reasoning was idiotic. Of course there's a point where you have to declare a forfeit -- what if the Diamondbacks decide they don't want to show up at the park today because Randy Johnson's not available? Should that be okay? Of course not. If there's a point at which a forfeit needs to be declared, then where that line is should be established.

If MLB had said that the Rays shouldn't forfeit because the situation was difficult and they were able to play one and push the other one to a later date easily enough, that would be okay. But saying, "Hey, we don't believe in forfeits" is moronic. Some sort of precedent needs to be set, and their reasoning sets the precedent that anything goes.

And even though they made the right decision on the forfeit, they still screwed it up overall, by not rescheduling the lost game, instead saying that the Yankees will have to play it after the last game of the regular season, if necessary. So now, because of the Devil Rays' decision, the Yankees might not get a day off between their last game and their first playoff game, because they need to decide home field advantage. They'd better get the Wednesday game for Game One now instead of Tuesday.

If for some reason the Rays couldn't make it all and missed both games, then MLB would have had to forfeit one game, otherwise they'd be punishing the Yankees by making them play 5 games in three days because of Tampa Bay's decision.

Anyway, the Yankees asked MLB to forfeit the game to them, and they were refused. While MLB was right to deny the request -- the game can be made up easily enough with no real negative impact on the Yankees, although they found a way to do that anyway -- but the Yankees were absolutely right to request the forfeit. There was a game scheduled at 3:00, their opponents didn't show up. Circumstances out of their control caused their delay that morning (to a degree -- who knows if they could have shown up if they had waited at the airport instead of across the bay at the ballpark), but they could have very easily have avoided the whole situation by spending the weekend somewhere else, and they could have brought their families with them. They should have done it anyway, even if Monday was an off-day.

As for the game, El Duque was brilliant again, giving the Yankees their sixth straight good start since the 22-0 debacle. Since then, their starters have had a 2.41 ERA and a 3.17 DIPS (depressingly, the best DIPS outing was Brown's Friday handbreaker). With the exception of Brown (and only because of his rage), all their starters have pitched seven innings, and they've averaged a Game Score of 69.

ICR got a bases-loaded double to drive in three runs, his first bases-loaded hit this season. Bernie, Posada and Olerud each got two hits, an it was an all-around solid win. But one that's overshadowed by what happened earlier in the day.

Boston keeps winning, so the lead is still 2½. If the Yankees keep playing like they did last night, though, they'll do okay.