Merkle Boner

Fred Merkle

Frederick Charles Merkle (December 20, 1888March 2, 1956) was an American first baseman in Major League Baseball.

Career

Born in Watertown, Wisconsin and raised in Toledo, Ohio, he played infield for 16 seasons in the major leagues with the New York Giants, Brooklyn Robins, and Chicago Cubs of the National League, and after playing in the International League from 1921 to 1925 he appeared in 8 games with the New York Yankees of the American League before retiring in .

In 1910, he was 4th in the NL in doubles (35) and slugging percentage (.441).

In 1915, he was 6th in the NL in batting (.299).

"The Merkle Boner"

On Wednesday, September 23, , while playing for the New York Giants in a game against the Chicago Cubs, while he was 19 years old (the youngest player in the NL), Merkle committed a base running error that later became known as "Merkle's Boner," and earned Merkle the nickname of "Bonehead."

In the bottom of the 9th inning, Merkle came to bat with two outs, and the score tied 1-1. At the time, Moose McCormick was on first base. Merkle singled and McCormick advanced to third base. Al Bridwell, the next batter, followed with a single of his own. McCormick advanced to home plate scoring the winning run for the game. The fans in attendance, under the impression that the game was over, ran onto the field to celebrate.

Meanwhile, Merkle, thinking the game was over, walked to the Giants' clubhouse without touching second base. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed this, and after retrieving a ball and touching second base he appealed 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, and McCormick's run did not count.

The run was therefore nullified, the Giants' victory erased, and the score of the game remained tied. Unfortunately, the thousands of fans on the field (as well as the growing darkness in the days before large electric light rigs made night games possible) prevented resumption of the game and the game was declared a tie. The Giants and the Cubs would end the season tied for first place and would have a rematch at the Polo Grounds, on October 8. The Cubs won this makeup game, 4-2, and thus the National League pennant.

Varying accounts

Accounts vary as to whether Evers actually retrieved the game ball or not. Some versions of the story have him running to the outfield to retrieve the correct ball. Other versions have it that he shouted for the ball, which was relayed to him from the Cubs' dugout. And still other versions have it that Giants pitcher Joe McGinnity saw what was transpiring, and threw the game ball into the stands; thus the ball that was picked up by or relayed to Evers was a different ball entirely. The New York Times account of the play recalls that Cubs manager and first baseman Frank Chance was the one who "grasped the situation" and directed that the ball be thrown to him covering second base.

At the time, running off the field without touching the base was common, as the rule allowing a force play after a potential game-winning run was not well-known. However, Evers, who was noted as an avid student of the official rules of the game, had previously attempted the same play only a few weeks earlier, in Pittsburgh, ironically with the same Hank O'Day umpiring. In that instance, O'Day had not seen whether the runner tagged second, so he declined Evers' appeal, but he apparently was alert to the possibility in the New York game. The outcome ensured that the rule was known to everyone afterward.

Aftermath

Giants manager John McGraw was furious at the league office for robbing him of a victory (and a pennant), but he never blamed Merkle for his mistake.

The Cubs went on to win the World Series, but have not won a Series since.

Death and personal life

Merkle died in Daytona Beach, Florida at age 67, and was interred there in Bellevue Cedar Hill Memory Gardens in an unmarked grave.

His nephew, Theodore Charles Merkle, directed Project Pluto, his grandniece, Judith Merkle Riley, is a historical writer, and his grandnephew, Ralph C. Merkle, is a Distinguished Professor in Computer Science at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Further reading

  • Murphy, Cait (2007). "Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History." New York, NY: Smithsonian Books. ISBN 978-0-06-088937-1

External links

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