Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bullies, the Bully Pulpit and Public Bonehead

You probably didn't know that October is Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying-Prevention Month is also a initiative sponsored by the PACER Center - a parent center for families of children and young adults with disabilities—and cosponsored by NEA, the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, and National PTA. These organizations are encouraging communities to work together to increase awareness of the prevalence and impact of bullying on children. You can find more information at the NEA site.

Our stake in bullying prevention is a book that we published called Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle, which we feel can be instructive in the effort to prevent bullying. We believe that if teachers and coaches can convey the story of Merkle, kids will come to understand that:

1. Anyone can be bullied, even strong, smart and athletic people like Fred Merkle.
2. Bullying can have a lasting impact on those being bullied and their families.
3. Bullying is unsportsmanlike and coward-like.
4. Bullying has been going on for a long time.

We encourage teachers, coaches, parents, administrators and young adults to read about how the number one scapegoat of sports, Fred Merkle, was bullied and maligned.

Merkle's Story

You need to go way back in time to America's Progressive Era before radio, TV and seemingly light years before the Internet, the newspapers ruled the day. This was the time of Teddy Roosevelt's Bully Pulpit, the Model T, the Wright Brothers and the Great Race. The sport of baseball was in many places the number one amusement and held a great place of importance for many Americans. Americans took baseball very seriously!

On September 23, 1908, 19-year old Fred Merkle was the youngest player on the New York Giants. He was slotted into the lineup at first base to replace a wounded veteran against the mighty Chicago Cubs of Tinker, Evers and Chance fame. The pressure was on when Merkle came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 1—1. With two outs and Moose McCormick on first, the youngster rifled a single to right field easily advancing 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 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. On September 23rd, it 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 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.

Merkle was unfairly Christened "Bonehead" from coast-to-coast. Newspapers ridiculed him unceasingly. His image was liberally used in cartoons that depicted him as a dunce and a fool. His name became part of the day's vernacular; to "merkle" was to make a stupid mistake. He would go on to play baseball for 16 years, but the fans and the media never forgot or forgave him for doing something that most every other player was doing at the time. In his obituary, the play was relived. And what's really remarkable, is that even today, his story is told over and over again as a example of stupid play. There have been more than a few Merkle champions, but the shameful lesson is that once someone is so maligned and bullied, a reputation may be lost forever.

Merkle Today

Each year, the Merkle game is discussed in TV and radio booths, in newspapers and in other printed and electronic venues. Media contacts looking for a Merkle expert can write us here at Sporting Chance Press (lmj.norris@gmail.com) to set up interview time with Cameron who is happy to help explain the context of the game and what happened to Merkle during and after his playing career.

One of Merkle's greatest fans is David Stalker of Watertown, Wisconsin. Watertown is the birth place of Fred Merkle. David is a sports historian who has been instrumental in honoring many of baseball's greatest players from the Deadball Era. Here is the Facebook page that shows the monuments that David has put up. Here's a wonderful short piece on Fred Merkle written by David.

Sporting Chance Press author Mike Cameron wrote the book on Fred Merkle. Literally. We call it Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle.

You can get the inside scoop any time. Simply order Public
Bonehead, Private Hero at Sporting Chance Press. The book is also available at many public libraries throughout the country.