Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Fred

Fred Merkle TodayIn the bottom of the 9th inning, Fred Merkle was born in Waterstown, Illinois. In 1908 - at the time 19 and the youngest player in the majors - on September 18, towards the end of the season, Merkle's Giants were playing the Chicago Cubs. Bottom of the 9th, 1-1, two outs, and Moose McCormick on first base, Merkle singled and McCormick advanced to third. Al Bridwell was up next and singled. McCormick trotted to home plate, apparently scoring the winning run. The fans in attendance, under the impression that the game was over, ran onto the field to celebrate. Merkle, like everyone else, also thought the game was over and didn't run to second; instead he headed for the clubhouse.

Did I say "everyone else"?

Not quite. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers (of "Tinkers to Evers to Chance") noticed that Merkle hadn't tagged up. He retrieved a ball (there's some dispute about whether it was the game ball or not) and touched second, appealing to umpire Hank O'Day, who would later manage the Cubs, to call Merkle out. Since Merkle had not touched the base, the umpire called him out on a force play, meaning that McCormick's run did not count.

Given the out-of-control crowd of thousands on the field and the lighting conditions of the day (none), the game was eventually ruled a tie. The Giants and the Cubs would end the season tied for first place. A play-off game* was necessary, and so at the Polo Grounds on October 8 the Cubs won this game, 4-2, and thus the National League pennant.

And poor Fred Merkle, despite 16 seasons in the majors with the New York Giants, Brooklyn Robins, and Chicago Cubs of the National League, 4 more in the International League, and a final 8 games with the New York Yankees before retiring in 1926, was forever known as "Bonehead".

* Yes, kids: once upon a time they only had a playoff if there was a tie. And it was only one game.

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