The History and Rules of Forfeit in Baseball: A Deep Dive into Early MLB Games

Pat Bloom

Forfeit in Baseball

Forfeits in baseball might seem rare today, but they were once a frequent part of the game. From 1883 to 1907, there was at least one forfeit in the major leagues every year, with a staggering 13 in 1884 alone. These forfeits often highlighted the chaotic and unrefined nature of early professional baseball.

Imagine a team refusing to show up because they feared for their safety or a pitcher standing on the mound, refusing to throw a pitch in protest. Such incidents were not uncommon.

Teams even forfeited games because they ran out of baseballs or needed to catch a train. These stories remind us how much the sport has evolved and how different the early days of baseball were compared to the highly organized and regulated game we know today.

Forfeit in Baseball

In baseball, a forfeit occurs when a team is unable or unwilling to continue playing the game according to the rules.

This can happen due to various reasons, including:

Definition and Rules

A forfeit in baseball occurs when a game ends prematurely, and victory is awarded to one team due to specific rule breaches by the opposing team.

According to MLB rules, the official score of a forfeited game is 9-0, representing an ideal completed game score. This scoring regulation ensures that run differentials and statistics remain standardized.

For a forfeit to be declared, the umpire must determine that one team has either refused to play or cannot continue according to baseball regulations.

This decision falls under the umpire’s jurisdiction per Rule 7.03 of the MLB rulebook, which outlines the actions leading to a forfeit. Instances include a team leaving the field without permission or failing to resume play after a delay.

Grounds for Forfeiting a Game

Several situations can result in a game forfeiture:

Unwillingness to Play

Teams have refused to continue playing due to disagreements with umpire decisions, leading to forfeitures. For example, on August 5, 1905, when the New York team protested a call, umpire George Bausewine forfeited the game to Pittsburgh.

Substituted Umpires

In cases where regular umpires were absent, teams sometimes objected to substitutes. On July 24, 1897, Philadelphia refused to continue when a substituted umpire made controversial calls, resulting in the game’s forfeiture.

Player Ejections

Mass ejections of players can force a forfeit. On June 1, 1897, the entire Pittsburgh team protested umpire calls leading to their ejection and the game’s forfeiture.

Non-compliance with Umpires

Teams have forfeited games by not allowing umpires to perform their duties. On August 7, 1906, the New York team denied umpire Jim Johnstone entry to the field, resulting in a forfeit declared in favor of Chicago.

Historic Instances of Forfeits

Historic instances of forfeits in baseball have been relatively rare but notable when they occur.

Here are a few significant examples:

Notable Forfeits in Major League Baseball

Certainly! Forfeits in Major League Baseball (MLB) are rare but notable when they occur due to the impact they have on the teams, players, and the league as a whole.

Here are a few notable forfeits in MLB history:

1890: Brooklyn Bridegrooms vs. Louisville Colonels

In 1890, during a game between the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (later known as the Dodgers) and the Louisville Colonels, umpire Tim Hurst made a controversial call that led to fans rioting on the field. The game was eventually forfeited to Brooklyn due to the unrest caused by the decision.

1914: Cleveland Naps vs. Philadelphia Athletics

In 1914, a game between the Cleveland Naps (later known as the Indians) and the Philadelphia Athletics was forfeited to Cleveland. The Athletics players refused to take the field after a disputed umpire’s call, resulting in the forfeit.

1974: Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers

On June 4, 1974, in a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers, a drunken fan ran onto the field and tried to steal Texas outfielder Jeff Burroughs’ hat.

Rangers manager Billy Martin and his players, concerned for their safety, pulled their team off the field. The Indians were awarded a forfeit win.

1979: Disco Demolition Night

As mentioned earlier, Disco Demolition Night on July 12, 1979, resulted in a forfeit when the Chicago White Sox had to forfeit the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers due to a riotous crowd that made the field unplayable.

1995: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

In 1995, a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals was forfeited to the Cardinals.

Dodgers players, upset with umpire Jim Quick’s calls, refused to take their positions on the field after a disputed call in the ninth inning. As a result, the game was awarded to the Cardinals.

Impact on Team Standings and Records

Forfeits in Major League Baseball (MLB) can have significant implications on team standings and records, affecting both the forfeiting team and their opponents.

Here’s how forfeits can impact various aspects of MLB:

Impact on Team Standings and Records

Forfeits in Major League Baseball (MLB) have significant implications on team standings and records. When a team forfeits a game, the opposing team is awarded a win, which counts towards their overall record and affects their winning percentage.

Conversely, the forfeiting team is credited with a loss, impacting their win-loss record and percentage as well. This can influence playoff races, seeding, and overall standings within the league.

Statistics and Records

Forfeited games affect individual player statistics. Hitters lose potential at-bats, hits, RBIs, etc., while pitchers miss potential innings pitched, strikeouts, and earned runs.

These games also count as losses in a team’s historical record, impacting their overall statistics and record-keeping.

Playoff Implications

In MLB, playoff eligibility and seeding hinge on a team’s win-loss record. Forfeited games can impact a team’s ability to make the playoffs or affect their position within the playoff structure.

A forfeit during a critical stretch of the season can significantly impact a team’s postseason aspirations.

Financial and Reputational Impact

Forfeits can lead to financial penalties and reputational damage for teams, particularly if the forfeit results from avoidable circumstances like player misconduct or fan disturbances.

Leagues may impose fines or other disciplinary actions based on the circumstances surrounding the forfeit.

Historical Context

Forfeits become part of a team’s historical narrative and can overshadow other achievements or events in their season or franchise history.

They serve as reminders of unique incidents or controversies within the game of baseball, contributing to the sport’s rich historical tapestry.

Preventing and Resolving Forfeits

Preventing forfeits in baseball involves several key strategies:

Role of Umpires and Officials

Umpires and officials are crucial in preventing and resolving forfeits. They enforce the rules and ensure fair play. When disputes arise, they handle them promptly, reducing the chance of a game ending prematurely.

Umpires also monitor player behavior to prevent actions that could lead to forfeits, such as physical altercations. Immediate and clear communication from officials can de-escalate tensions and maintain game integrity.

Additionally, they might eject players or managers who refuse to comply with the rules, thereby averting potential forfeits.

The Use of Technology

Technology plays an increasingly important role in preventing and resolving forfeits. Instant replay allows umpires to review contested calls, ensuring accurate decisions.

This minimizes disputes and the likelihood of forfeits due to disagreements over calls. Advanced communication systems enable quick coordination among officials, promoting consistent enforcement of rules.

Digital records of games provide evidence in case of disputes, helping resolve issues efficiently. Moreover, player tracking systems monitor behaviors that could lead to penalties, allowing preemptive actions to be taken to avoid forfeits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a forfeit in baseball?

A forfeit in baseball occurs when a game ends prematurely due to breaches of rules, such as safety concerns, protests, or disputes over umpire decisions. The opposing team is awarded a win.

Why were forfeits common in early baseball history?

From 1883 to 1907, forfeits were common due to chaotic conditions, lack of organized rules, safety concerns, and frequent disputes over umpire decisions.

Can a team win a game by forfeit?

Yes, the team that does not commit the rule breach is awarded a victory, typically recorded as a 9-0 win in baseball.

How do forfeits impact team standings and morale?

Forfeits negatively impact team standings by recording losses and can demoralize players, affecting overall team performance.

What role do umpires have in preventing forfeits?

Umpires and officials enforce rules, handle disputes promptly, and maintain game integrity to prevent situations that could lead to forfeits.


Understanding the historical context and reasons behind forfeits in baseball gives you a deeper appreciation for the sport’s evolution.

While early professional baseball was rife with disputes and chaotic moments leading to forfeits today’s game is much more structured and regulated.

The role of umpires and modern technology has been crucial in maintaining fairness and minimizing disputes.

Whether you’re a casual fan or a baseball historian knowing about forfeits enriches your perspective on how the sport has grown and adapted over the years.

Forfeits underscore the importance of rule adherence and sportsmanship in baseball. As the sport continues to evolve, understanding these rare occurrences helps fans grasp the game’s complexities and its unwavering commitment to integrity.

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Pat Bloom

I lead Washington University in St. Louis' baseball team, emphasizing skill development, strategic play, and sportsmanship. Our rigorous training and competitive spirit cultivate discipline and teamwork, preparing athletes for success both in baseball and academics. We embody the determination and sportsmanship that define our university's athletics. LinkedIn

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