Bartman is no match for this guy

9 Oct

Holy OMGs, readers, have you ever heard the story of Fred Merkle? His tale is recounted in a recent New York Times story, and it’s so good I’m going to go ahead and retell it just because. Peep this.

In 1908, the New York Giants were clinging to a one-game lead against the Chicago Cubs, and the two teams were playing a late-season game. With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and a man on first, the Giants’ Merkle smacked a line drive to right field. With his teammate gliding in to third base, Merkle decided to stop at first rather than hustle to second (which he claims he could have gotten to easily).

The next batter up lined a single up the middle, presumably ending the game. As the runner stepped on home, fans raced on the field and the players headed toward the clubhouse. Instead of stepping on second, Merkle joined his teammates in celebration.

Now, as most baseball fans know, the runner in a force situation (i.e. Merkle) has to step on the next base to negate the force-out. Only then is the game over. However, back in the day, such a rule had never been enforced. Early in the same ’08 season, Cubs shortstop Johnny Evers had tried to enforce the rule to umpire Hank O’Day, but O’Day refused. Later, he had approached Evers to say that he’d consulted the rulebook and that Evers was right; the rule should be enforced.

Back to the game in question. With the Giants on their way to the clubhouse and fans roaming the field, Evers noticed that O’Day was the umpire once again, so he sought out the baseball to step on second and force out Merkle.

With Evers screaming for the ball, the center fielder picked it up and threw it … right over Evers’ head. When it landed near Giants’ third base coach Joe McGinnity, he, noticing Evers’ intentions, picked up the ball and chucked it into the stands.

At this point, one of the Cubs pitchers got wise of the deal and jumped into the stands in search of the ball. He fought off a half-dozen fans and threw the ball to Evers, who triumphantly stepped on second for what he believed to be the third out, thereby keeping the score at 1-1. Probably fearing for his life while surrounded by crazed Giants fans, umpire O’Day quietly told Evers he’d decide on his final call later that night. Seriously.

Back at his hotel, O’Day (correctly but insanely) decided to call Merkle out. Result: the game was still tied. It was decided that if the teams were tied in the standings at the end of the season, the game would be replayed. Of course, they were tied, so of course, the tiebreaker game had to be played.

The tiebreaker game took place at the Polo Grounds, and fans went to great lengths to see the sold-out game. They climbed on the grandstand roof. One man fell to his death trying to get a glimpse of the action. Another fell and broke his neck; others revolted against police and vandalized nearby property.

The Cubs had to physically force their way into the stadium through the throngs of angry spectators, and were given just a few minutes of warm-ups due to the potential rioting. The Cubs started Three Finger Brown on the bump; the Giants countered with Christy Mathewson.

During the game, Giants fans jeered the Cubs and threw beer bottles and other debris at the players. The Cubs persevered, won the game 4-2, and immediately got the hell out of Dodge in fear for their lives. Some didn’t make it. Pitcher Jack Pfiester got knifed in the shoulder, infielder Chance got punched in the throat so hard it broke cartilage. It got so bad that the police had to guard the clubhouse with guns drawn. Guns drawn!

The Cubbies went on to win the World Series (they haven’t won since); Merkle had a decent career but never lived down that blunder.


So, that’s the classic tale of Fred Merkle. Best. Story. Ever.


One Response to “Bartman is no match for this guy”

  1. Gates October 9, 2008 at 9:59 pm #

    Yes, that one is a classic. Some baseball tales from the very early days seem to have been forgotten over time…plus, I believe the official name this story has been given is “Merkle’s Boner,” no?

    Christy Mathewson vs. Three Finger Brown…what a matchup?

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