Monday, June 22, 2015

Dayton Dragons v. Lake County Captains Recalls Fred Merkle in Father's Day

The Dayton Dragons are a Class A Minor League Baseball Team in the Midwest League that is affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds.  The team is famous for its fans that regularly sell-out Fifth Third Field where they play and have routinely exceeded 500,000 plus attendance.

On Father's Day, the Dragons played out a game scenario that has been repeated occasionally in much the same way for well over a hundred years. The Dragons were playing the Lake County Captains from Eastlake, Ohio, a team affiliated with the Cleveland Indians.


Back on September 23, 1908, the New York Giants played the Chicago Cubs in a critical game that had great importance in the Pennant race.  The game was tied at 1-1 in the last of the ninth inning and Moose McCormick was on first base for the Giants.  Young second baseman, Fred Merkle came up next and drove  one into right field along the line.  Moose lumbered to third and Merkle played it safe and stayed at first. Shortstop  Al Bridwell was  next and he managed to line one into the center field giving McCormick more than enough time to tag home for the winning run. 

Merkle was a young rookie, in fact the 19-year old was said to be the youngest player in major league baseball.  He had been riding the bench for most of the season and he knew the drill at the end of the game when the Giants played in the Polo Grounds.  In the Polo Grounds, the second a game ended, the players scurried on out to the clubhouse before the crowd flooded onto the field to make their exit through the field.  And Fred did just that.  

The only problem was that the Cubs second baseman, Johnny Evers has been making noise to home umpire Hank O'Day that a runner on base in those circumstances was  supposed to follow to the next base and safely tag the base even when the runner ahead scores.  If the runner does not tag the next base, by Rule, Rule 59 in fact, the runner could be forced out and the run negated.

Technically, Merkle should have tagged second, but the rule was rarely enforced particularly when the ball made its way out of the infield.  In the Giants-Cubs game, the play was appealed. Witnesses suggested that the actual game ball had been tossed into the stands by one of the Giants and "a ball" perhaps not the actual game ball, had been eventually thrown to second to force Merkle was called out some time after the play had ended for most everyone.   Because the fans were swarming all over the field, once the appeal was made and Hank O'Day had called Merkle out, the game could not continue. 

In 1908, baseball was truly the National Pastime and since it was before radio,  the newspapers took the story to the nation.  According to one scribe, young Fred Merle was a "Bonehead"  and in New York especially, he was raked over the fires in print.  The storm might have dissipated had the National Baseball Commissioner Harry Pulliam ruled on Merkle's behalf after the Giants appealed the ruling.  But Pulliam collected witness accounts and gave the "case" even more media attention as he "held court" and decided the issue.  

Public Bonehead, Private Hero

When the season wound down and the Giants and Cubs were tied for the Pennant at the end, it was decided that the September 23rd game was ruled a tie and would be replayed on October 8 for the Pennant.  Although Merkle did not play that day, the Giants lost the contest and the Cubs moved on.  The ridicule went on for Merkle and tragically followed him throughout his remaining career and even after his death in some cases. The whole episode and the 1908 year and baseball season is explored in Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle.



And yet what happened yesterday, suggests that in baseball, even painful lessons are sometimes forgotten.  The Dayton Dragons were facing the Lake County Captains.  Jose Ortiz singled to left field to score Gavin LaValley from third base for the 5-4 win in the 11th. In this case, Dayton first baseman Paul Kronenfeld played Merkle's role and headed down the tunnel at the end of the game along with his other teammates and the umpires.  The Lake County Team and their manager, apparently felt that Kronenfeld had not touched the base and an appeal was made.  At this point, the Dragons manager Jose Nieves believed that since the umpires had left the field, the game was effectively over and the call should have quickly confirmed the 5-4 win.  But for some reason, a call was made to the umpires' supervisor resulting in a 33 minute wait.  Eventully, the game was ruled a 5-4 victory for Dayton.

The Captains final Tweet for the game:

 The call will stand, Captains lose and officially protest the game as well. Captains fall without actually allowing the winning run, 5-4.