Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Fred


Hall of Fame Manager John McGraw led his New York Giants to ten National League championships in his time with the ball club. But for years McGraw was always reminded of the “one that got away.” McGraw would often say: “I won 11 pennants. 10 of them are in the book, but the 11th was stolen from me in a National League meeting room.”


For those of you who do not know, McGraw was referring to the events of the 1908 season. McGraw’s Giants entered the final stretch of the season in a close three-way battle with the Pirates, and the Cubs. When the Giants hosted the Cubs, in the Polo Grounds, they held a slight lead in the standings. On September 23rd 23,000 fans packed in to see the pivotal game with the hopes of seeing their Giants move closer to clinching the pennant. But what they did not expect to see was Fred Merkle.



Merkle was a rookie infielder for the Giants who had not played in a single game all season. Merkle was inserted into the lineup only after first baseman Fred Tenney, the other Fred, was forced to miss the game due to an illness. The game lived up to expectations, and went into the bottom of the ninth tied 1-1. In the 9th Merkle came to bat, and delivered with a base hit putting runners on first and third with two outs. Giants regular Moose McCormick was at third, just 90-feet from winning the game. Merkle was at first with the hopes of being a part of the heroics. What happened after Merkle’s hit has never really been settled, particularly in the minds of Giants’ fans.


The Giants’ All Bridwell came up to bat after Merkle. Bridwell proceeded to hit a line drive to center field, and McCormick trotted home with that looked like the winning run. The home crowd went wild, streaming onto the field and creating a seen of mayhem. But Cubs second baseman, Johnny Evers, knew that the game was not over yet (Those cubbies can be tricky.) Amid the chaos around him Evers frantically called for Cubs center fielder Art Hoffman to throw him the ball. At the same time Evers was shouting to the umpire that Merkle had never touched second base. Apparently, to avoid being caught in all the chaos Merkle headed straight for the dugout after Bridwell’s base hit rather than to second base. This was not unusual, however according to baseball rule Merkle could be forced out at second base if any fielder touched the base prior to Merkle’s arrival. Such a force out, with 2 outs, would nullify the run.


Hoffman threw the ball to second base, where a mob of fans had encircled Evers and other players still on the field. No one is sure who caught Hoffman’s throw, but witnesses reported that Giants pitcher Joe McGinnity wrestled the ball away from whoever it was, and promptly threw it into the stands. Merkle, now aware of his mistake, frantically attempted to touch 2nd. In the chaos Chicago fans draped over Merkle to keep him off of second base. By this time someone had evidently thrown a new baseball into 2nd base. And when Merkle arrived at 2nd Evers was standing on the bag, holding the new baseball. Umpire Bob Emslie had already retreated to the dressing room, so the remaining umpire (Hank O’Day) was left to make the call. Surrounded by frenzied players and fans O’Day called Merkle out, and declared the game a tie.

In the aftermath both teams protested the game to the National League President, Harry Pulliam. Pulliam called a special meeting, where it was decided that the ruling on the field would stand. It was also decided that a one game playoff would be played after the season ended if necessary. Well wouldn’t you know it…


…the playoff game proved necessary with the Giants and Cubs finishing the season tied in the standings for first place. On October 8th 35,000 fans packed the Polo Grounds (the largest crowd in baseball history up to that point) to see the game. Unfortunately for Merkle, the Giants lost 4-2 thus cementing Fred’s spot in baseball history.

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