Monday, January 21, 2008

Fred Merkle

On occasion, this blog will highlight a player from baseball history. Courtesy of Baseball

Fred Merkle is forever famous for his bonehead play on September 23, 1908, which cost the Giants a critical victory and made possible the Cubs' pennant-clinching victory when the game was replayed at the end of the season. The play itself was clouded by contradictory affidavits by players, conflicting opinions by various baseball officials, and protests lodged by both teams over the umpires' handling of the incident.

The confusion started when Merkle, the runner on first, failed to touch second after an apparent game-winning base hit. Instead, he turned back toward the dugout, as was customary at the time, when he saw the run cross the plate. As the happy Polo Grounds crowd filed across the field towards the centerfield gate, second baseman Johnny Evers got the ball and stepped on second, claiming a forceout which negated the winning run. With the fans already crowding the field, the game could not be played to a decision, and had to be replayed.

When the season ended with the two teams tied, a group of Giants, led by Christy Mathewson, went to owner John T. Brush. They claimed they shouldn't have to play another game for something they had already won. The gravely ill Brush expressed disappointment at their attitude, and they played and lost. Whatever the merits of the case, it was one of baseball's most controversial plays and it haunted Merkle not just for the rest of his playing days, but all his life. He bitterly refused requests for interviews in later years because he didn't want to relive the incident.

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