Monday, June 30, 2014

Forever (Unfairly) Known As A Screw-Up

Photo: My Fred Merkle T206 Card

Have you ever noticed that some very nice people are known for the very one worst thing they ever did? 

Even an action that in the great scheme of things--like a baseball game--are not that big a deal? 

Are you one of these people?

Fred Merkle was.  This one-second event would stay with him the rest of his life.  And it gave him his nickname, that even now you can see on his page: Bonehead.

The incident even has its own Wikipedia page, as does Merkle himself.  (And most of his page covers the play.)  The play is infamously called "Merkle's Boner."  (Before you giggle, I should note: The definition of the second word: "Mistake.")

From Merkle's Wikipedia page:

On September 23, 1908, while playing for the New York Giants in a game against the Chicago Cubs, while he was 19 years old (the youngest player in the National League), Merkle committed a baserunning error that became known as "Merkle's Boner" and earned him the nickname "Bonehead."

In the bottom of the 9th inning, Merkle came to bat with two outs, and the score tied 1–1. At the time, Moose McCormick was on first base. Merkle singled and McCormick advanced to third. Al Bridwell, the next batter, followed with a single of his own. McCormick trotted to home plate, apparently scoring the winning run. The fans in attendance, under the impression that the game was over, ran onto the field to celebrate.

Meanwhile, Merkle ran to the Giants' clubhouse without touching second base. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed this, and after retrieving a ball and touching second base he appealed to umpire Hank O'Day, who would later manage the Cubs, to call Merkle out. Since Merkle had not touched the base, the umpire called him out on a force play, meaning that McCormick's run did not count.

The run was therefore nullified, the Giants' victory erased, and the score of the game remained tied. Unfortunately, the thousands of fans on the field (as well as the growing darkness in the days before large electric light rigs made night games possible) prevented resumption of the game, and the game was declared a tie. The Giants and the Cubs ended the season tied for first place and had a rematch at the Polo Grounds, on October 8. The Cubs won this makeup game, 4–2, and thus the National League pennant.

From the incident's Wikipedia page:

 The play was immediately controversial. Newspapers told different stories of who had gotten the ball to Evers and how. Christy Mathewson, however, who was coaching first base for the Giants, acknowledged in an affidavit that Merkle never made it to second.[22] One newspaper claimed that Cub players physically restrained Merkle from advancing to second. Retelling the story in 1944, Evers insisted that after McGinnity (who was not playing in the game) had thrown the ball away, Cubs pitcher Rube Kroh (who also was not in the game) retrieved it from a fan and threw it to shortstop Tinker, who threw it to Evers. (By rule, after a fan or a player who was not in the game touched the ball, it should have been ruled dead.) A contemporary account from the Chicago Tribune supports this version.[23] However, eight years prior to that, Evers claimed to have gotten the ball directly from Hofman. Five years after the play, Merkle admitted that he had left the field without touching second, but only after umpire Emslie assured them that they had won the game. In 1914 O'Day said that Evers' tag was irrelevant: he had called the third out after McGinnity interfered with the throw from center field.[24] Future Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem said Merkle's Boner was "the rottenest decision in the history of baseball"; Klem believed that the force rule was meant to apply to infield hits, not balls hit to the outfield.

(Me again.) 

And so there you have it.  A man who played in five (!) World Series (that's a lot for 1900-1920, before Babe Ruth's Murderer's Row teams and the beginning of the Yankees dynasty; in fact, the Yankees--or the Highlanders, as they were also called--were often a last-place team in those years), who finished in the top-10 in the league in homers four times and in RBIs five times, will forever be known as the guy who didn't touch second base (as most baserunners didn't when the game-winning run scored) and cost his team the pennant.  Though, even if it's not said on Wikipedia, the truth is that his team lost to a rookie pitcher at least four times in the last two weeks.  (This I remember from The Glory of Their Times.)  A win in any one of those games--or in any other that they lost after this particular game--would've given them the pennant.

As Bill Buckner wasn't solely responsible for Boston's 1986 World Series collapse--sorry to bring it up, but the comparison's too obvious--so too was Merkle not solely responsible here.

And he was never known for anything else.

Not even for those five World Series appearances with a few different teams.

All five which he, of course, lost.

No one, it is said, is the best thing--or the worst thing--he's ever done.

Even if it is all he's remembered for.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Baseball as of June 9, 2014

Photo: Albert Pujols' 2001 Upper Deck Rookie Card

Hard to believe it's been so long!  Well, you can see how the Sox's season has gone, so there's not too much for me to add.  So a few quick things:

--Last year the Sox supremely overachieved; this year they're supremely underachieving.  They weren't as good as they looked last year, and they aren't as bad as they look this year.  Both are extremes, and their true ability is the average...

--...but I'll take a World Series-winning year and a subpar year anytime over two ho-hom average years.  Gimme two years of 100-62 and 62-100 over two years of 81-81 and 81-81 anytime.  The first pair gets you a World Series ring and a good draft pick.  The other two?  Nothing.

--This year is what last year was supposed to be--a transition year.

--The difference?  Last year they had unbelievable comebacks and unbelievable pitching.  This year they have mostly good / very good pitching--but not unbelievable--and very few comeback wins.  They're simply not hitting with RISP.  If they were, at all, they might be in first place in the very mediocre American League East.

--The Sox and the Blue Jays have essentially flip-flopped seasons compared to last year.  The Jays should've been great last year and fizzled.  With almost exactly the same team, they're excelling.  The Sox excelled last year and are floundering this year with essentially the same team--minus Ellsbury, of course.

--But the Jays are not this good.  Normally I'd say that they're going to start to sink, but, again, they're the Sox of last year.  Ya never know.

--R.A. Dickey so far is having a Tim Wakefield year when Wake would reel off 10-12 straight wins in the mid-90s.  Such is the nature of the knuckleball, though to be fair Dickey throws a lot of curves and "fastballs" as well.

--The Yanks may have a decent year, but they won't win the division, and may not even make the playoffs.  I'd be surprised if any Wild Card team comes from the A.L. East this year.

--Ellsbury's impact is truly being felt as the Sox flounder.  People forget how good offensively he was, and how much his speed effected the pitches Pedroia and Victorino saw.  The latter two are great fastball hitters, and that's what they got with Ellsbury on first base.  He made everybody else in the lineup better, plus he tired out the pitcher when he threw to first a lot.  He also drove in a lot of runs for a leadoff batter, and had good power from the leadoff spot.

--Having said that, I wouldn't have resigned him for more than three or four years, either.  The Yanks had better win with him now, because they surely won't with him in the fifth through seventh years of his contract.

--I have a graded NM-MT+ Pujols Upper Deck RC, so I need him to have a monster comeback year.