Saturday, March 21, 2015

Public Bonehead, Private Hero

Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Story of Baseball's Fred Merkle is about one of the most interesting years in baseball and American history.  It is also about a healthy young man of good character who is the center of ridicule and scapegoating.  The anniversary of the game that led to Merkle's scapegoating, the Merkle Game, is September 23.  Our book, continues to be available in print only, but every now and then a site with a pirated version shows up pedaling an illegal ebook version, although we have never made the book available as an ebook.  Funny that someone would steal someone's work today on a book that examines the good life of a victimized man. 

The Merkle story is still relevant in 2015.  It is an especially good example for today, for those who are bullied, those who bully, and everyone else in society.  And history lessons are especially noteworthy as many Americans are sinking their teeth into "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," A film by Ken Burns, written by Geoffrey C. Ward, produced by Paul Barnes, Pam Tubridy Baucom and Ken Burns.

Ford Model T
The year is 1908 in the midst of the Progressive Era. The youngest and the most popular president in history, Teddy Roosevelt, is in office. It is before radio or television. The Wright brothers are working hard to show that flight might just work for more than a few minutes.  Ford is offering the first affordable car in history, his Model T. Newspapers are essentially the daily media and there are so many of them steeped in competition, reporters are working desperately for readers.  


The Setting

Muckraker Upton Sinclair's Jungle
Public Bonehead, Private Hero concisely sets the stage for the story of Fred Merkle.  The Progressive Era (1890-1920) was a time of political reform and activism.  Muckraking journalists took aim at corruption in politics, unfair competition in business, and women’s suffrage.  Society took a decidedly radical turn when addressing many social ills with modern ideas and means.  No problem was too big to tackle—the income tax was established—prohibition was passed.  Institutions of all kinds were reformed—often with a view toward modernization and efficiency.  After a period of incredible wealth building in the late 19th Century, the wealthy were calling on each other to help solve social problems and the greatest philanthropists had established some of the famous foundations that would do so much during the 20th Century and beyond.


The Sport

Even Uncle Sam Plays in 1908
There is a lot going on, but what is getting the most attention is baseball.  Thousands line the streets in mid-afternoon in places like Detroit to watch electronic scoreboards follow the big games.  Rickety old wooden ballparks are being cheaply expanded with more rickety old stands to increase capacity, but crowd control is primitive and ineffective.

In several parks, spectators stand a few feet away from players and umpires.  Often live balls roll into the bystanders and players have to fight to get them back to make a play. Poor play or an unpopular call by an umpire often gets an immediate verbal response from fans who are only a few feet away.  Occasionally, a player or umpire is attacked with fists or hit with a thrown bottle. A broken jaw here, a concussion there, it's all part of the game.


The Game

Polo Grounds 1908
Merkle Book
Merkle was a 19-year old New York Giant ballplayer when he was slotted to fill in for the injured veteran first baseman, Fred Tenney, in a key game against the Chicago Cubs on September 23, 1908. In a hard fought game, Giant ace Christy Mathewson and Cub star, Jack "the Giant-Killer" Pfiester battled to a 1 to 1 tie into the bottom of the ninth at the Polo Grounds. 

Chicago Cubs Johnny Evers
With two outs and Moose McCormick on first, young Merkle singled to right keeping the Giant's hopes alive.  Steady Al Bridwell sent Pfiester’s first pitch right at the ducking base umpire, Bob Emslie, into center field for a hit.  Moose trotted home for the game winning run, but Merkle broke for the clubhouse about mid-way between second and first.  The modern fan knows that the runner on first must touch second to insure the run counts because a force out would negate the run.  But Merkle and pretty much every other baseball player of the day didn't see it that way, because that particular rule, Rule 59 had not been enforced in those circumstances --on balls that were driven out of the infield.  Up until that time, it was just a point of discussion in a newspaper article and between Cubs infielder Johnny Evers and umpire Hank O'Day in a game on September 4, 1908 when the base runner had done the same thing as Merkle.  In that game, Evers had made the point about the force out to O'Day, but O'Day ruled that he had not seen the runner miss second base. 

It was as if Evers was allowed to play the hidden ball trick on Merkle with a ball that had been in his mitt for three weeks.  Evers quietly waited for just the right moment to make an issue of the rule and the right moment came when the Giants had apparently prevailed on September 23 and umpire Hank O'Day was in residence. 

The reason why Merkle and others ran directly for the clubhouse the second a game ended at the Polo Grounds was because much of the crowd emptied out of the stadium through the field.  (We include a photo of the crowd exiting in the Polo Grounds in Public Bonehead, Private Hero and it’s an eye opener!)  Players found themselves in a melee of thousands of fans--many in various states of intoxication. These fans would often want to "critique" the ballplayers’ play. It was worse for the umpires.  Thus, once O'Day made his call that Merkle was out (base umpire Emslie did not see it), he also ruled the game a tie rather than continue into extra innings due to the crowd on the field.  Many Giant fans went home thinking they had won the game. 

The Giants players didn't blame Merkle. But the newspapers pounced on Merkle with merciless venom and ridicule--making him the scapegoat of scapegoats.  Merkle had made a bonehead play and within a day or so, Merkle had received the appellation, "Bonehead Merkle" that would stay with him everywhere he went for the rest of his life.  The tie game would be made up at the end of the season and the Cubs would win the game to add more fuel to those who condemned Merkle for doing what every other base runner was doing at the time. 

A normal run of the mill baseball season would have American fans buzzing about their team, their heroes and their games. But 1908 turns out to be something special. In both the American and the National Leagues, several teams are neck and neck in the standings as the season winds down.

Bullying Lesson is Center Stage

Public Bonehead, Private Hero is about American history and culture, baseball, society, and the tragic media and fan attack on Fred Merkle.  After the “Merkle” game, the newspapers hung poor Fred Merkle out to dry and christened him bonehead for life.

There was no justice for Fred Merkle, he had to live with the bonehead stigma for decades.  But late in life, the press and many in the baseball community paid tribute to Merkle as a man who played well on the field and should not have been attacked for the play.  In the past decade, many more people have come to defend Merkle's legacy as more light has been cast on his life and baseball in muckraking 1908.
Merkle dusted himself off as much as he could from the ridicule that followed him through life, and despite difficulties he went on and raised and supported his family in the American way throughout both the Depression and World War II.  

Public Bonehead, Private Hero examines one of the most dynamic sports stories of all time.  Merkle's "bonehead" play continues to live on in posts and articles that issue almost daily.  The author, Mike Cameron, covers the exciting historic times, the baseball season and Merkle game, and continues with the story of a bullied athlete.  Availability

Copyright 2015, Sporting Chance Press

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Father Burke Masters

 In our new book, Sports and Faith: More Stories of the Devoted and the Devout, our author Patrick McCaskey discusses Burke Masters, who received Sports Faith International’s Father Smyth Award that recognizes an athlete who has left the sports world for a religious vocation.  Father Masters is the Vocation Director for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.

Father Masters has also been involved in “Spirit and Truth,” a young adult Eucharistic Adoration community program that has gatherings that include a talk, adoration, and then fellowship time.  The program has brought young adults of like minds together, fostered vocations, and also brought together people who have gotten married.  There are three groups now in the Diocese of Joliet. 

Father Masters is also the Chaplain for the Chicago Cubs.  He has a popular blog on which he posts his reflections on the daily readings that is followed by people from dozens of countries. There are a lot of negative things that we all get from the Internet whether we want them or not.  But Father Masters is someone you may want to subscribe to and get his message daily.

To subscribe, go to and go to the right hand column.  Click on “Sign me up!” and start receiving these emails directly to your inbox.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Art Rooney: Man of Faith

Art Rooney was a devout man. His faith was strong. It was an important part of his life at an early age. When his mother was ill during the fl u pandemic, he sat in church all day long praying for her. When she recovered, he kept praying and going to Mass regularly throughout his entire life. 

 Rooney was a saloon-keeper’s son. He saw the good and the raw side of life on the streets. Although he became a wealthy man, he was humble. He wanted to help people and did. He saw race differently than others. He extended his family rather than isolated it.   When raising his children, Art whistled to his children and whoever else was playing in the backyard in the evening to come inside and say the rosary. If any kid protested that he was not a Catholic, Art cupped a hand around the back of his head and barked “Come on. It won’t hurt you.” He expected his sons to show reverence.…Art kept a bowl of rosary beads on the dining room table. 

The Rooney house was a popular destination for young boys despite Art’s rigorous religious ways. According to his friend, Bishop Donald Weurl, “He was a friend of politicians, thugs, and thieves, of people good and evil…and the three qualities that he possessed that left the most lasting impression were his humanity, his courage, and his charity.”  Like the Sisters who taught him at St. Peter’s, Rooney thought it inappropriate to publicize ones charitable ways. Many stories came out after his death of what he had done for others quietly. 

Art’s brother, Dan who had been ordained Father Silas, also offered Art some opportunities for charity. Father Silas was a missionary in China who was known to rescue women from rape, and babies from extermination. He ran an orphanage that needed a new roof. Art obliged.   

Every day was a day of worship, prayer, and thanksgiving. He was taught to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy: to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, tend the sick, visit those in prison, and bury the dead. He attended wakes frequently and paid for burials of the poor and homeless. He wanted the expenses of his own funeral kept under $1,000. 

Rooney “kept the faith” in many ways. The ancient practice of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday was another tradition kept by Rooney and still continued in Pittsburgh. It originated in Rome where pilgrims visited the seven major basilicas: Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter, Saint Mary Major, Saint Paul-outside-the-Walls, Saint Lawrence-outside-the-Walls, Saint Sebastian-outside-the- Walls, and Holy Cross-in-Jerusalem. Those who knew Art and the man himself would insist that he was no saint. But he had strong religious convictions and put them to practice every day. He also passed those convictions down to the next generation.  

 Post is taken from Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press.  Patrick McCaskey is a senior director of the Chicago Bears, Chairman of Sports Faith International that recognizes athletes who lead exemplary lives, and  Chairman of Catholic Radio Station WSFI 88.5 FM. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devout and the Devoted by Patrick McCaskey published by Sporting Chance Press and available on Amazon and selected stores and public libraries.

Pittsburgh Steelers War Years

In the 1940s, Art Rooney’s Steelers along with other teams suffered financially as players went off to war and the public interest in the game declined. Of those who did play, some had injuries that precluded them from military servicepoor eyesight, chronic leg injuries, etc.but they were able to play football. Some professional players were also preoccupied with full-time jobs to back the war effort. 

In a few instances teams merged for a season at a time to control costs. In 1943, the Steelers and Eagles became the Steagles. In 1944, the Steelers and the Cardinals became the Card-Pitts. It was not easy for teams to share players and for coaches from two different teams to work together. No doubt, it was also a challenge to come up with cheers for the Card-Pitts. 

In 1946 as the war ended, Rooney brought in Jock Sutherland, the legendary taskmaster of the Pittsburgh (College) Panthers to coach. Sutherland was just the right man for the jobhonest and tough. According to Dan Rooney, Sutherland’s football was “rockem-sockem coal miner football.” Sutherland’s great reputation helped the Steelers to sell season tickets. Sales jumped from 1,500 to 22,000 after he was named new head coach.

Sutherland preferred a single wing attack used in college versus the T formation that had gained acceptance in the pros. He made it work in Pittsburgh because he drilled his players to perform it perfectly. After having won just one game in 1945, the Steelers went 5–5–1 in Sutherland’s first year, 1946. In his second year, they leapfrogged to an 8–4 record. The Steelers tied for the division lead and lost to the Eagles in their first playoff. Pittsburgh fans were looking forward to the next season. Sadly, Sutherland died from a heart attack before the next season got underway. 

Hopes of a championship did not immediately slip away. John Michelosen, a young protégé of Sutherland, took over, but the Steelers dropped to 4–8 in 1948. They improved to 6–5–1 in 1949. The Steelers picked up Jim Finks in the 1949 draft, giving them an excellent pass combination of Finks to tight end Ebbie Nickel that would please the fans in the early-to-mid 50s. Rooney also added tailbacks Bobby Gage and Joe Geri, who would help entertain the fans. Unfortunately, the Steelers would get no closer to the championship under Michelosen’s tenure, which lasted through 1951. He held tight to Sutherland’s single-wing offense and could not make it work in the pros.

 Post is taken from Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press.  Patrick McCaskey is a senior director of the Chicago Bears, Chairman of Sports Faith International that recognizes athletes who lead exemplary lives, and  Chairman of Catholic Radio Station WSFI 88.5 FM. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devout and the Devoted by Patrick McCaskey published by Sporting Chance Press and available on Amazon and selected stores and public libraries.