The Indians have a long and sordid history of forfeiting games.
The most glaring example for most Tribe fans came in 1974, when an unruly crowd at 10-cent beer night got on the field and forced the end of a game, giving the win to the Texas Rangers. The Indians also forfeited a game in 1917. They were rolling around on the ground and throwing their gloves in the air to protest a close call, and umpire Brick Owens called the game, ruling it a win for the White Sox – the only win by forfeit in that team’s history.
But in 1903, a conflict between an umpire and one of the nascent American League’s stars proved pivotal.
The Tigers and Blues were tied at five going into the 11th inning on August 8, 1903. The Tigers were able to push a run across in the top of the frame to take a lead. Bill Bradley, the first batter for the Blues in the bottom of the 11th, was set down. Napoleon Lajoie was the second out, and up stepped Charlie Hickman.
Hickman fouled a pitch into the stands, and umpire Tom Connolly threw into play a ball given him by Tigers catcher Fritz Buelow, a ball that had been battered and was darkened from use – and whatever else might have been put on the ball at the time.
Hickman, unable to see the ball, struck out. But Deacon McGuire, who had relieved Buelow as catcher, also couldn’t see the ball, and Hickman took first base.
Manager Bill Armour, along with Lajoie, protested the continued use of the ball.
Lajoie and Connolly had a history. In May of that year, Connolly had ejected Lajoie, who refused to leave the field. American League President Ban Johnson then suspended Lajoie indefinitely – which turned out to be three games.
Lajoie got the ball thrown to him. “While he was examining it the crowd began to yell, ‘Throw it over the grand stand!’” the Plain Dealer wrote the next day. “And Larry put their advice into effect … Connolly at once awarded the game to Detroit and the crowd made a rush for him as he was leaving the grounds.”
Johnson opted not to suspend Lajoie this time, and his outburst ended up lighting a fire under the Blues, who then won 13 of their next 14 games. However, the American League belonged to Boston, and everyone else was fighting for second place (Boston would go on to play and beat Pittsburgh in the first championship between the two leagues, called the World Series).
The issue of well-used balls wouldn’t go away until it had dire consequences. In 1920, Major League Baseball started limiting use of the spitball because the balls would get mushy – but were still used. It took a death on the field to change the policy. After Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was fatally beaned in August of that year – and since Babe Ruth was starting to hit so many balls out of the ballpark anyway – the league started allowing for more substitutions of balls when they became dirty, scuffed, or had lost their shape.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project