Friday, June 25, 2010

Of Merkle's Critics and Gangster Movies

I am one of those context kind of guys. People who know me will tell you that I get really annoyed at people (including myself at times) who make judgments about people and events out of context. I suppose that's what really attracted me to Mike Cameron's book, Public Bonehead, Private Hero - See Cameron scripted his book like a drama. American history in the Progressive Era - Teddy Roosevelt, the Model T, the great race and much more... Baseball magic--the Pennant races are being watched with meteoric enthusiasm. The teams fight on -- the crowds riot, real life takes a back seat to the entertaining metaphor of baseball.

Then the tragedy. Young handsome youth--Merkle-- finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He follows the lead of countless others as he runs the bases and turns off the field at the end of the game. But in this one game, the end never really comes. The umpire calls him out for not advancing to second and tagging the base, citing a rule that simply was not enforced before. The gas bomb that is the Muckraking press of 1908 explodes. From the stinky cloud comes the message: Merkle is a Bonehead forever more.

In Public Bonehead, Private Hero Cameron does what other writers have not done. He not only follows the drama of the season and the game, but follows the shattered aftermath of the game. Not a pretty story, but certainly one that is not without redemption. But even after Cameron's book and several other publications about Merkle's actions examined in the context of the time, most stories on Merkle continue to point the finger of blame on the unfortunate man.

People, many who should know better, still want to judge Merkle out of context. After Merkle was called out for not touching second as the winning run scored from home, any base runner in baseball would be guilty of a base-running error because the application of the rule was publicized repeatedly. But when Merkle ran the bases that day in 1908, it simply had not been ruled that way. He was doing what was done in his time. Judging Merkle as if he was running the bases like base runners are taught today, is judging out of context. Why is it so difficult to understand?

It's a little like watching an old gangster moving from the 1930s when the bad guys head over to the kill a rival mobster having just roughed up one of his underlings to find out where he is at. If the Merkle critics were in the audience, they would probably be screaming at the underling to pull out his cell phone and give his boss a heads up. They just don't get context.

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