Yankees ask for forfeit as Devil Rays fail to arrive on time

Updated: September 6, 2004, 10:43 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees asked the commissioner's office to award them a forfeit over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after they failed to arrive in time Monday because of travel problems due to Hurricane Frances. It was a request that had no chance of being granted.

Originally scheduled as a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m., the start time was pushed back two hours on Sunday. Because of the delay, the commissioner's office told the teams to play one game at 7 p.m. and said it would decide later on when to reschedule the second game.

The Devil Rays arrived at 6:05 p.m., and the Yankees won 7-4 in the one game that was played. Commissioner Bud Selig has no intention of ordering a forfeit.

"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," he said in a statement.

The Yankee Stadium gates opened at 11 a.m., and about 1,000 fans were on hand. They were given free hot dogs and sodas, and fans applauded loudly when the Yankees took batting practice starting about 4:45 p.m.

"This could keep the energy level up," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They're cheering batting practice."

About 20,000 fans appeared to be on hand when Orlando Hernandez finally threw the first pitch to Julio Lugo at 7:02 p.m. and about 30,000 appeared to fill the seats later on. The Yankees said 44,422 tickets had been sold.

Before the game, Yankees president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman held a news conference on the field, explaining why they wanted a forfeit. Baseball rules say a forfeit may be called if a team isn't ready within five minutes of umpires calling "play" unless the delay is "unavoidable."

"The rule 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.

Tampa Bay's home games against Detroit on Saturday and Sunday were postponed, and the Tigers returned home after Friday night's games. Bob DuPuy, chief operating officer of the commissioner's office, said the Devil Rays were asked to investigate leaving Friday night or Saturday.

"There were plenty of opportunities to get out of Tampa on Saturday. The airports were open until 3 or 4 o'clock," Levine said after Yankees officials checked with airlines.

Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said the team never intended to leave for New York until Sunday night or Monday.

"We decided, and we made the right decision, we'll stick by that decision, to stay with our families," he said. "We wanted to stay in the Tampa Bay area, wait out the storm with our families."

DuPuy said Devil Rays owner Vincent Naimoli had told the commissioner's office over the weekend that his team was trying to make arrangements to leave Florida but couldn't.

"We have learned since that it may have been possible to get out on Friday or Saturday, although we were advised by Mr. Naimoli at the time that they were unable to obtain a charter," DuPuy said.

Naimoli refused to address the issue.

"Get everything down in print as you will. I have no comment," he said as walked into Yankee Stadium.

DuPuy would not say whether the commissioner's office would penalize the Devil Rays, saying the matter was between baseball and the team. Cashman and Levine went further than DuPuy, accusing the Devil Rays of lying to the commissioner's office over the weekend about their travel plans.

"We were told by baseball that they were ordered up here and will be dealt with harshly," Cashman said.

DuPuy said the Yankees' request for a forfeit had not been ruled on, but made clear it would be denied by Selig.

"He believes it is critical to play all of the games on the field," DuPuy said. "He does not believe in forfeiting games, and it is his intention to reschedule the game that was lost today."

The teams are scheduled to play night games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Levine said that if the forfeit request was denied, it should be rescheduled to be played on Oct. 4, the day after the regular season, if it's needed to decide a postseason race. He also said that the Yankees may refuse to reschedule the game for this week, even if ordered to.

Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella, a Tampa native, got angry when told about the forfeit request.

"When a hurricane is bearing down on the Florida coast, you worry about your family first and baseball second," he said, adding that if it the situation had been reversed, the Yankees wouldn't have traveled at all.

The last time a major league game was forfeited because a team didn't show on time was Sept. 2, 1918, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Cleveland did not travel to St. Louis for a doubleheader on the final day of the season, which was shortened because of World War I. That also was on Labor Day.

The Devil Rays gathered at Tropicana Field at 8 a.m, departed the ballpark at 1 p.m. and took off from Tampa International Airport at 2:55 p.m. The team arrived at LaGuardia Airport at 5:20 p.m. and pulled up to Yankee Stadium in two buses at 45 minutes later.

As it was, Devil Rays outfielder Aubrey Huff could not get out of his home in a low-lying area and did not accompany the team to New York.

The Yankees reported to Yankee Stadium at noon for the doubleheader.

"Let's get a grill," Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina said. "Hot dogs and burgers on the field."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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