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Yankees ask for a forfeit

The team claims the Rays could have avoided a late arrival despite Hurricane Frances.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published September 7, 2004

NEW YORK - As far as the Yankees are concerned, they are the "innocent victim."

As such, team president Randy Levine called for the commissioner's office to investigate the Devil Rays conduct last weekend and award New York a forfeit victory for the unplayed first game of Monday's doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.

The game was scheduled for 3 p.m. The Rays, who did not leave Tampa International Airport until 2:55 p.m. because of delays caused by Hurricane Frances, arrived at the stadium at 6:04 for the 7 p.m. game.

Levine said Tampa Bay did not try to get out of the Tampa Bay area ahead of the storm despite assuring Major League Baseball it would try after postponing games Saturday and Sunday against the Tigers.

But Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said the plan always was to fly to New York Sunday night or Monday morning so players and staff could ride out the storm with their families. LaMar was quoted to that effect in Saturday's Times, and the itinerary was posted in the Tropicana Field locker room.

The storm packed winds of 140 mph when the decision was made, and the memory of deadly Hurricane Charley was fresh in everyone's mind.

"We made a choice to stay in the Tampa Bay area with our families," LaMar said Monday. "It was the right choice. I know it caused some problems with the doubleheader, but we would make the same choice again right now to stay with our families. And if you saw the devastation in Florida, I would expect every organization in baseball, including the Yankees, would have made the same decision."

That the storm slowed and caused a transportation nightmare was not the Rays' fault, LaMar said.

But Levine said the Rays deceived Major League Baseball by indicating they could not leave Friday night or Saturday because of limited transportation options.

"We now know that was false," Levine said. "There were plenty of opportunities to get out of Tampa Saturday. The airports were open until 3 or 4 o'clock, and there were airlines who would have made charters available for them to get up here."

Levine said he obtained that information from the commissioner's office and "our own individual research."

As a result, Levine said a forfeit should be awarded under rule 4.15(a) because the Rays' absence from the 3 p.m. game was not unavoidable. He also wants the game rescheduled at the end of the season so the commissioner's office has time to conduct an investigation and rule on the forfeit.

He also said the Yankees might refuse to reschedule the game for this week, even if ordered to do so.

The request infuriated Rays manager Lou Piniella.

"Let me tell you something. When you look at baseball, it's important, but your family is doubly important, or triply important," he said. "And when a hurricane is bearing down the Florida coast, I think you take care of your family first, then the ballgame second.

"I know the Yankees are in a pennant race, and I also know our kids are young and they have a lot of young kids at home. There was flooding, there are a lot of things that occurred over a two-day period in Florida, and I think everybody was more comfortable with their family then sitting in a hotel room waiting to play a baseball game."

A forfeit would be huge for the Yankees, who are in a pitched battle with the Red Sox for first place in the AL East. And though Levine said those suffering in Florida "are in our prayers and on our minds," well, business is business.

"It is very obvious Tampa Bay Devil Rays management had made the decision all along they weren't coming," he said. "Yet they were leading everybody on. That caused enormous, enormous consequence and inconvenience, and it's very insensitive to everybody."

Obviously there was miscommunication somewhere. LaMar was clear to the media and players about the team's plans. But Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy said Rays majority owner Vince Naimoli indicated to him in phone conversations the Rays' transportation options were limited Friday and Saturday.

"We have learned since then," DuPuy said, "it was possible to get out."

For LaMar, it is a moot point because "it was never a choice."

In addition, DuPuy said Major League Baseball did not require the Rays to leave before Sunday night as Levine suggested.

MLB executive vice president John McHale said the commissioner's office will look into the situation. About a forfeit, he said, "I can't preempt the commissioner's decision. But I can say that is such an extreme remedy, I would put it at the bottom of the list."

He also said the game will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

The doubleheader was scheduled for 1 p.m. but was pushed back to 3 to give Tampa Bay some wiggle room. But Frances' potent rain made Monday the worst of the two-day storm and kept flights at TIA grounded until about 10 a.m., causing further delays.

"It's been obvious to everybody concerned the storm slowed down and we could not get out of Tampa Bay," LaMar said. "We could not get out at all Sunday night, impossible."

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

But Yankees general manager Brian Cashman wanted it clear it is his team that is "rolling with the punches as best we can."

Said Levine: "The Yankees, who are the innocent victim and tried to accommodate everybody under all circumstances, should not be prejudiced in any way by the events of the last couple of days."

Who would have thought the Rays had such power.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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