Forfeited games used to be fairly common in the early years of the 20th Century, when disputes over rules happened, or fans ran onto the field. You’re probably familiar with a couple of the more famous ones in recent years: Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland in 1974, when some overserved fans ran onto the field at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium and went after Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs, forcing the umpires to forfeit the game to Texas, and Disco Demolition Night at the old Comiskey Park in 1979, when rioting anti-disco fans invited to the park by disk jockey Steve Dahl to blow up disco records between games of a doubleheader forced umpires to forfeit the second game to the Tigers because the field was unplayable.
No major-league game has been forfeited since 1995, when a Cardinals/Dodgers game in Los Angeles was forfeited to the Cardinals because fans threw giveaway baseballs on the field, multiple times after being warned to stop.
The Cubs have just one forfeited game since they moved to what is now Wrigley Field in 1916, and that happened in the team’s first year in the park, then known as Weeghman Park. It occurred during a game between the Cubs and Dodgers on July 18.
Here’s a basic description of what happened, via Retrosheet:
The score was tied 4 to 4 when Brooklyn came to bat in the tenth. Hi Myers reached second base on a wild throw and went to third on a bunt by Jimmy Johnston. Johnston then stole second. With the count 2 and 2, Hippo Vaughn, the Chicago pitcher, took too much time to deliver the next pitch and umpire Lord Byron called a ball. Cubs manager Joe Tinker protested, claiming that Brooklyn was stealing their signs and Hippo Vaughn was trying to communicate that to the catcher. Byron asked Tinker to leave the field, but he refused and kept arguing. Byron then asked a policeman to escort Tinker off the field. Tinker still refused to go, so Byron called the game in favor of Brooklyn.
What might be most amazing about that paragraph is that there was an actual major-league umpire named “Lord Byron.” (His real name was William Jeremiah Byron and he umpired in the National League from 1913 to 1919.)
As I like to do when I’m researching events like this, I go back to an original source of the time, the game recap as written in the Tribune. The writer is I.E. Sanborn:
To ascertain officially whether rule 33 is a live one or a dead one, Manager Tinker of the Cubs forfeited the final game of the series to Brooklyn yesterday by the nominal score of 9 to 0 at a cost of $1,000 to his employer and $100 to himself.
I interrupt this historical recap to note that $1,100 in 1916 would be worth about $25,000 in 2016, still a fairly significant sum. Back to Sanborn:
That part of rule 33 whose vitality is at stake says, “The umpire shall call a ball on the pitcher each time he delays the game by failing to deliver the ball to the batsman for a period longer than twenty seconds.”
Another interruption, if you don’t mind. This rule is still in effect, modified slightly in length of time and now numbered 5.07 (c):
When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”
The 12-second rule is something discussed often these days regarding MLB’s “pace of play” initiatives. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this rule enforced, though perhaps MLB ought to start.
More Sanborn, and he confirms that even 100 years ago, this wasn’t being enforced:
For years it has been a dead letter and pitchers have been allowed with impunity to outrage the feelings of millions of faithful housewives by keeping husbands at ball parks while dinners grew cold. Yesterday Umpire Byron enforced it against Pitcher Jim Vaughn in the tenth inning of a long drawn out combat. Tinker objected, and on being ordered off the field, refused to go, leaving the umpire no alternative but to award the game to Brooklyn, which he did.
Well. They don’t write ‘em like that anymore, that’s for sure, and some other things (the “housewives” comment) have obviously changed in the last century. Running time of that game, even though it was headed to extras, was 2:10.
The Cubs weren’t very good in 1916, finishing 67-86, and Tinker was dismissed after his only season as Cubs manager. The Dodgers, meanwhile, went on to win the National League pennant before losing the World Series to the Red Sox.
And it has now been more than 100 years since the Cubs have forfeited a game. Given the way the game’s played today, it’s not likely to happen again.