Thursday, May 3, 2012

Merkle Gets More Bad Press Over 100 Years Later

We've written so many times about how Fred Merkle was lambasted for what many people perceive as a base-running error when in fact Merkle ran the bases pretty much the way it was done in those days. In Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle the complete story is told. Yet, Merkle continues to be the butt of jokes on screwball plays in sports. It seems like every time a big-time goof is made in sports, the Merkle base running story comes up. Here's a brand new Espn story that asks readers to rank stupid moves in NY: Rank 'Em: Top 10 Stupidest Moves.

Fred Merkle, was a young 19 year old New York Giant who was filling in for an injured veteran in an important game against the mighty Chicago Cubs in 1908. The game was tied going into the bottom of the ninth inning in the Polo Grounds. Merkle who was on first, walked off the base path and ran to the clubhouse after the apparent end of the hotly contested game when a teammate on third scored on a base hit to the outfield. Merkle was called out for not tagging second based on a rule that was rarely enforced (if ever) under the circumstances at the time. The flight from the field was even more common the Polo Grounds because the second a game ended a large part of the crowd exited right through the field. In those day, if fans didn't like a player's performance or an umpire's call, they might take it up with them right on the field seconds after the game. In some ways, you would have been a "bonehead" to stick around after a game!

The main reason why Merkle was called out that day is because Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers had primed umpire Hank O'Day for the call by discussing the particulars of the rule after a similar situation had occurred when the Cubs played the Pirates a few weeks earlier. A baseball article had also appeared in a newspaper question and answer feature calling attention to the rule and thereby calling attention to its obscurity and lack of use at the time.

Because thousands of fans had run onto the field on their way to the exits, the umpire ruled the game a tie rather than attempt to have the crowd return to their seats for extra innings. Merkle's team cried foul, but the press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life. Merkle became baseball’s number one scapegoat and obviously continues in that role over 100 years later despite the efforts of Mike Cameron and others to set the record straight.

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Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle and other fine sports books. Public Bonehead, Private Hero is a great American story of baseball’s Fred Merkle, who was at the confluence of Progressive Era history and baseball legend. The book sets the stage historically and then recounts the most famous play in baseball history. A young New York Giant, Fred Merkle, walks off the base path after the apparent end of a hotly contested game only to be ruled out later on a rarely enforced technicality. The Giants cried foul. The press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life, insuring his fame as baseball’s number one scapegoat. To Order.

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