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Riots to fires, this is the history of forfeits in professional sports

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The Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA are the latest in a 100-year history of forfeits.

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Forfeits happen in professional sports, but they’re pretty rare to see. The revenue lost, not to mention the PR nightmares they cause, is enough for leagues to avoid the possibility of forfeits at all costs, but they have happened before.

The reasons for these forfeits range from travel delays, to riots and arenas bursting into flames — and yet with thousands of games occurring every year, we only have nine recorded incidents of forfeits happening in major North American professional sports.

9 forfeits that have happened in North American professional team sports

  • Montreal Wanderers — Jan. 5, 1918: The first forfeit in NHL history happened during the league’s inaugural season thanks to the hapless Montreal Wanderers. The Wanderers had struggled to a 1-5 record on the season, but that’s not why they forfeited against the Toronto Arenas. They forfeited because their dang arena caught fire and burnt to the ground before the game could be played, and the team folded quickly after.
  • Montreal Canadiens — March 17, 1955: Hockey legend Maurice Richard was suspended for the season following an on-ice incident against the Boston Bruins in which he used his stick as a weapon in retaliation for getting high sticked and requiring five stitches. The first game Richard was suspended for happened to be at home against the Red Wings. Canadiens fans, already fuming and claiming Richard was unfairly punished, lost it when NHL president Clarence Campbell arrived at the game. Fans booed the NHL president, tried to attack him, and a tear gas bomb went off close to his seat, prompting the fire marshal to stop the game for public safety concerns. Campbell would rule the game a forfeit and gave the win to Detroit. Angry Canadiens fans would go on to spill onto the street and cause over $100,000 of property damage in the riot that followed.
  • Washington Senators — Sept. 30, 1971: The final game of the Senator’s final MLB season had to be called early and awarded a forfeit when fans stormed the field and vandalized RFK Stadium as retaliation for the Senator’s impending move to Dallas-Fort Worth (they went on to become the Texas Rangers).
  • Cleveland Indians — June 4, 1974: The infamous “Ten-Cent Beer Night.” Drunken fans overran the field during the game, which was tied 5-5 in the ninth inning against the Rangers. Indians fans attacked Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs, and umpires called the game a forfeit after being attacked with makeshift weapons made out of seats and debris.
  • Baltimore Orioles — Sept. 15, 1977: A rain-delayed game became a forfeit when the Orioles failed to return to the field in time after a delay. Then-manager Earl Weaver claimed a tarp on the field posed a threat to his players, which the head umpire didn’t agree with. The Orioles didn’t return to the field, and umpires gave the win to the Blue Jays.
  • Chicago White Sox — July 12, 1979: “Disco Demolition Night.” A theme night went wrong when a local DJ detonated a box of disco records on the field between innings, which prompted fans to storm the field. When it was all said and done, the field had sustained so much damage umpires called a forfeit and the Tigers won.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers — Aug. 10, 1995: The Dodgers gave free baseballs to everyone in attendance, which led to the field being showered in balls during the seventh inning stretch. During the ninth inning fans threw more balls onto the field after what they perceived to be a bad call, and after a ball entered the field during play umpires gave the game to the St. Louis Cardinals. MLB banned throwable objects being part of fan giveaways as a result.
  • Cleveland Gladiators — June 8, 2012: The Arena Football League’s Cleveland Gladiators were unable to field a team due to player strikes. Without enough players to compete, the game was awarded to the Pittsburgh Power.
  • Las Vegas Aces — Aug. 3, 2018: The WNBA announced Monday that the Las Vegas Aces would be forfeiting their game last Friday against the Mystics after a travel problem prevented the Aces from arriving in Washington with adequate time to prepare before the game.

The travel ordeal, which lasted 25 hours all-told, highlighted the ridiculous problem the league has with forcing players to fly coach and be at the mercy of airline overbookings and problems that regular travelers deal with. This was a game with playoff implications, that is not a loss for the Aces, at a time they were pushing for a playoff berth. They were just 1.5 games back before the game.