Giants 1st Baseman’s ‘Boner’ in Failing to Touch 2nd Led to Loss of ’08 Pennant
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., March 2 (AP) – Fred Merkle, former major league baseball player who was best remembered for a “boner” that cost the New York Giants the pennant in 1908, died today. He was 67 years old.
The boner involved his failure to touch second base, resulting in a tied game and a replay, which the Giants lost.
Merkle, a first baseman and part-time outfielder, was in the major leagues from 1907 to 1926, playing with the Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees.
Merkle remained with the Giants until the 1916 season, when he was traded to Brooklyn, where he played first base until he went to the Cubs in 1917. After the 1920 season, he was sent to Rochester in the International League, but returned to the majors in 1925 to finish his career with the Yankees as a player-coach.
Considered by John McGraw, manager of the Giants, as a shrewd and aggressive player, Merkle also packed a wallop at the plate in the days of the “dead” ball. His batting average always was close to the .300 mark, with the best in 1912, when he hit .309.
Merkle was a partner in a firm that manufactures artificial fishing baits here.
He is survived by his widow and three daughters, Mrs. L.J. Robinson of Pierson, Mrs. John Kasbaum of Searcy, Ark., and Miss Jeanette Merkle of Los Angeles.
Episode Still in Dispute
Although Frederick Charles Merkle is dead, it is doubtful if the dispute over the failed-to-touch-second episode will die as long as there is a hot-stove league in a baseball-minded country. What in diplomatic language is called the “incident” took place nearly half a century ago before 25,000 pairs of eyes, but there still is no universally accepted version of what actually happened.
This much is undisputed:
The Giants were separated by only a few percentage points from their arch rivals, the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Only a few days remained in the 1908 season when the cubs came to the Polo Grounds for the “crucial” series. Frank Chance’s Chicago outfit won the first two games behind “Three-Fingered” Brown’s masterful pitching. When the teams met the next day, Sept. 23, the team standings showed the Giants in first place by only .006 of a percentage point.
Late that afternoon, the Giants went into the last half of the ninth inning with the score tied 1-1. Moose McCormick beat out a single and got to third. With two out, Merkle and Al Bridwell singled. In the account in The Times the next day, what happened immediately after the hit was reported in these words:
“McCormick trots home, the merry villagers flock on the field to worship the hollow where the Mathewson feet have pressed and all of a sudden there is doings at second base.”
The “doings” were these:
Johnny Evers, the Cubs’ outstanding second baseman had a ball in his hand – which ball never has been settled – called out that Merkle had not touched second and claimed the third out. Umpire Hank O’Day, who did not see the actual happenings called Merkle out and canceled the winning run that McCormick had scored. When the game ruled a tie, was played over, the Cubs won and became champions.
Evers Called Play
It always had been the custom for runners on base when a winning run was scored to stop their advance and trot off the field. This Merkle did, but the alert Evers saw what was at stake and called for the play that has since been known as “Merkle’s boner.”
Many versions of the story insist that Evers never had the ball that actually had been hit by McCormick. One story had it that "Iron Man” Joe McGinnity threw the ball into the stands before Evers could get it; another had Mathewson wrestling Evers for the ball.
The luckless Merkle figured in another “boner” during the 1912 world series; that time he had two assistants.
The Giants were playing Boston, the American League Champions. Tris Speaker hit a foul between home and first base. Mathewson, Chief Meyers, the catcher, and Merkle, first baseman, parked under the ball. Each waited for one of the others to make the catch, so the ball dropped and fell through. Speaker then started the Red Sox on their winning rally with a hit off Mathewson.