Here at Sporting Chance Press our books have discussed noble and inspiring athletes who have much to teach all of us especially our children. We believe sports themes and stories can be useful in education because they appeal strongly to kids--they are relevant. We have a book we believe will help teachers fight bullying in their schools called Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle. First, let's look at one of baseball's most historic games.
September 23, 1908
September 23, 1908 is a day that many sports historians and baseball fans note on their calendars. It is the date of the most famous baseball game of all time. On that day, a 19-year old Fred Merkle of the New York Giants baseball team was slotted into the lineup at first base to replace a wounded veteran against the mighty Chicago Cubs. The teams were tied at 1—1 in the bottom of the ninth inning when Merkle came up to bat with two outs and Moose McCormick on first. Merkle rifled a single to right field that advanced the slow-footed Moose McCormick to third. Shortstop slugger Al Bridwell, up next, whacked a low liner that knocked the second base umpire down on its way to shallow center field. As McCormick crossed the plate with the “winning run,” Merkle turned from the base path and raced towards the clubhouse.
Modern fans, including most kids who play baseball, know that even if a team scores on such a play, the runner should advance to the next base and tag it to avoid a force-out. The score is nullified on the force out.
Unfortunately for Fred Merkle, in 1908 this rule had not been enforced, especially when the winning hit traveled to the outfield. September 23, 1908 however, was different. Merkle was called out, the game was ruled a tie, a protest ensued and at the end of the season a rubber match was played for the Pennant. The final extra game was necessary because the mighty Cubs and feisty Giants had identical records for the season. The Cubs won the rubber match, the Pennant, and the World Series--the last World Series won by the Cubs.
Wrong Time, Wrong Place Merkle
Merkle was unfairly Christened "Bonehead" from coast-to-coast.
At this time, there was no radio or television--the Newspapers were king. And the newspaper writers, were fighting tooth and nail for readership. Often they were known to stretch the truth for a good story. The writers could also be cruel and many used ridicule shamelessly. History calls these journalist "muckrakers" because they were also instrumental in pointing out social ills and political corruption.
The writers decided to ridicule Merkle and they kept it up--not just for a few weeks, or a few months, but for a years--and their predecessors continued for decades. Even now, over 100 years after the Merkle game of 1908, there are media sources who call Merkle "Bonehead."
Merkle's Lesson for Today's Kids
Much has been written about bullying and the detrimental affect it has on kids. Bullying can take the form of physical bullying "on the playground," but today it can also take the form of "cyber-bullying." Social media is often misused to attack kids' characters and reputations--often in the guise of humor. Humor in its most base form can be employed to cause pain.
Although it may be modern in some ways, "cyber bullying" has much in common with older methods of maligning people in print. We believe the Merkle story is particularly instructive when it comes to teaching kids about bullying.
Here are some reasons why Merkle is a good lesson against bullying:
1.People of all types can be bullied. Merkle was a large athletic man who spoke two languages, was a gifted student and an excellent athlete. The press painted him as bumbling imbecile.
2. Bullying can have a long lasting impact. Almost fifty years after the Merkle Game, Merkle passed away and his "Bonehead" moniker was used liberally in obituaries for him. Do kids who bully others want kids to feel the pain decades after they have graduated? Do they themselves want to be remembered by classmates for their cruelty at 10-, 25- and even 50-year reunions?
3. Bullying can hurt an entire family. Merkle's wife and his daughters were deeply affected by the ridicule that followed Fred Merkle around.
4. Bullying can unfairly take things out of context to cause harm. It has been shown that Fred Merkle ran the bases as pretty much everyone else was running them at the time. But the papers paid little attention to this fact.
5. A lie often outlives the truth. Even today, most mentions of Merkle use his story as a metaphor of someone who does something stupid--yes even today!
On the plus side....
Merkle's story is compelling because he overcame the injury to live a good life. One positive point that author Mike Cameron makes in Public Bonehead, Private Hero is that Merkle stood up to the abuse. In addition to having to put up with ridicule over the years, like others of his generation he lived through the Depression, lost his savings, tightened his belt and went to work through two world wars. He kept living and working hard for his family. In middle age after decades of struggle, he and a business partner put together a highly successful fishing float business. He never gave up--never let others destroy him and he was a hero to his family and those around him. This is the lesson kids who are ridiculed can take from Merkle, never let the bullies win.
Teachers and parents can get the inside scoop any time by simply ordering a copy of Public Bonehead, Private Hero at Sporting Chance Press or ask your school or public library to order the book. We think it's not only instructive but interesting on a lot of levels. Author Mike Cameron is available for presentation on Merkle to schools, libraries and clubs. If interested, write us here at Sporting Chance Press (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Sports can and should be used to teach children important lessons that they will remember the rest of the lives.