John McGrath: M’s should be winners in O.co field fiasco

Staff writerApril 6, 2014 

AL-BASEBALL/

The game between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners on April 4, 2014 was postponed due to field conditions at O.co Coliseum.

ED SZCZEPANSKI — USA Today Sports

Under the American League standings in the sports section Saturday were the results of seven baseball games that were played and one game that wasn’t.

“Seattle at Oakland, ppd., rain,” it read.

Not true.

The game was postponed, but not because rain was falling from a clear sky. The game was postponed because the grounds crew at O.co Coliseum didn’t cover the infield with a tarp Thursday night, before it rained hard enough to render the field an unplayable mess the next evening.

“Seattle at Oakland, ppd., quagmire,” would have been more accurate, but what happened between Thursday and Friday at O.co Coliseum did not merit a postponement. What happened merited a result.

Seattle 9, Oakland 0. Mariners win by forfeit.

(Any forfeit is scored 9-0, on the somewhat dubious premise a game is nine innings long, and one run per inning is awarded to the beneficiary of the forfeit.)

My case for the Mariners winning, 9-0, is not based on the stupidity of the dingbats who trusted a faulty weather forecast and decided to dry out the infield by leaving it uncovered. Nor is my case based on the fact the A’s are an excellent team with a tradition of giving the Mariners fits in Oakland.

My case is based on rule 4.17 of the Major League Baseball rule book, which states: “A game shall be forfeited to the opposing team when a team is unable or refuses to place nine players on the field.”

The A’s were unable — key word unable — to place nine players on the field. So were the Mariners, of course, but it was the A’s who were required to place nine players on the field in the top of the first inning, and they couldn’t.

Game over. Forfeit.

Forfeits are rare. Only five have been called since 1954, and all five involved unruly spectators. But a precedent for another forfeit could be “Disco Demolition Night” in 1979, when the Chicago Police Department’s riot squad had to be deployed to restore order between games of a doubleheader between the White Sox and Tigers.

After 39 arrests and a delay of more than hour, umpires determined the Comiskey Park field was too torn up for a second game. The next morning, Detroit manager Sparky Anderson put a call in to the office of AL president Lee MacPhail, demanding the canceled game be put into the record book as a forfeit.

MacPhail obliged, which is why, on July 12, 1979, the Tigers beat the White Sox, 9-0, without throwing a pitch or swinging a bat.

I know if the Mariners were to request a forfeit, they’d be mocked from coast to coast as louses who would rather win on a literal interpretation of an obscure rule than by outscoring the opposition in a genuine contest. (One of those petty technicalities in golf comes to mind, when a player is disqualified because he signed an errant scorecard after failing to penalize himself for stepping on a rock and causing it to move a fraction of an inch.)

The Mariners needn’t care what the rest of America would think about them winning, 9-0, on Friday instead of having to play a day-night doubleheader later in the spring. Let’s face it: Beyond its fan base in the Pacific Northwest, the franchise never will be held in high esteem.

For that matter, the Mariners’ front office still can’t rid itself of a reputation sports-radio talkers still rail about in Seattle — cheapskates, more concerned with the bottom line of budgets than contending for championships. Rewarding ace Felix Hernandez with a seven-year, $175 million contract didn’t count, apparently, and paying $240 million to free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano was just a smoke screen to conceal a latent obsession for counting pennies.

Whatever.

Despite a superior marketing department that knows how to put on a show — the home opener Tuesday night will be a spectacle, count on it — the Mariners are seen, even by those who see them every day, as original sinners incapable of redemption.

Appealing the commissioner’s office to convert a postponement into a forfeit would be regarded as another unpardonable sin because, hey, that’s just no way to treat another team. Besides, while Oakland isn’t down the street, the A’s are the Mariners’ West Coast neighbors.

Play tough and take no guff between the lines; regard each other with respect and mutual admiration outside the lines. It’s a sweet, heartwarming cohabitation, and identifying the incompetence of an Oakland organization vaunted enough to have been the source of a best-selling book and subsequent movie (“Moneyball”) might strike many as uncivilized.

Be uncivilized. Seriously. The Seahawks aren’t the defending Super Bowl champions without carrying on a festering, so-angry-it’s-personal feud with their West Coast neighbors from San Francisco.

The 49ers bring out the best in the Hawks, and the Hawks bring out the best in the 49ers. It’s a genuine rivalry that was fought over two games in the regular season and an epic collision in the playoffs.

The Mariners are scheduled to face the A’s 19 times in 2014, and yet neither team looks at the other as a rival. Oakland, with its rich history and recent success, can be forgiven for perceiving Seattle as an inconsequential speed bump on the road to the playoffs.

But what’s the Mariners’ excuse for tolerating the A’s?

The Mariners were dropped off in front of the visitors clubhouse at O.co Coliseum on Friday, expecting to play a game. The home team’s failure to protect its field prevented the game from being played.

Seattle 9, Oakland 0.

Rule books rule.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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