Posts Tagged ‘Solly Hofman’

1908: Merkle

September 18, 2018

Fred Merkle in 1908

You knew when you read that I would be taking some time to talk about the 1908 season that it would eventually come down to Fred Merkle, didn’t you? The “Merkle Boner” is among the most famous of all baseball plays, probably the single most famous Deadball Era play. So without hesitation, let’s get on with it.

At the end of the day on 22 September 1908, the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were in a virtual tie atop the National League. The Giants were percentage points ahead (.635 to .629) by virtue of having played seven fewer games. They were three up in the loss column, but the Cubs had eight games to play while they had 15 more. The next game for both would be an afternoon game at the Polo Grounds the next day.

Fred Tenney

The Giants’ regular first baseman Fred Tenney was having back trouble and was forced to sit the 23 September game. In his place John McGraw inserted Fred Merkle. Our man Merkle came up in 1907, played a little, was again on the team in 1908. He had not started a game all season and at that point had all of 41 at bats for the year. He was, considered an excellent fielder, an acceptable hitter, and a player worth having. He was also 19 years of age.

The Cubs sent Jack Pfiester to the mound and the Giants replied with ace Christy Mathewson. Pfiester would finish the season at 17-6, while Mathewson would go 37-11. The first four innings were scoreless. In the top of the fifth, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker, who had a habit of hitting Mathewson well, stroked his fifth home run of the season (he ended up with six). The Giants struck back in the bottom of the sixth when a Mike Donlin single scored Buck Herzog with the tying run. The score remained 1-1 through the top of the ninth. By that point Merkle was 0-2 with a walk.

With one out Art Devlin singled, but was erased on a Moose McCormick grounder. Now with two outs, Merkle sliced a single that put McCormick on third and himself on first. Up came Al Bridwell who drove a pitch into center field scoring McCormick and giving the Giants a one game lead in the NL.

Except that it didn’t. Merkle, halfway to second and seeing McCormick score, turned and trotted toward the club house without ever touching second base. The rules (it’s 4.09) state that, with two outs, no run can score if the final out of the inning is a force play. Merkle was forced to run to second, so a force play was in order.

Johnny Evers

At this point, history leaves off and legend takes over. There a several versions of what happened next. All agree that Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle failed to touch second. He called for Cubs center fielder Circus Solly Hofman to throw him the ball. At this point there is great disagreement. The stories indicate that there was some interference with the throw. Most sources say that Giants base coach Joseph McGinnity intercepted the ball and threw it into the stands. Other sources say a fan (fans were on the field by this point) grabbed the ball and either tossed it into the stands or pocketed it. Whatever happened, Evers and other Cubs went after the ball. There seems to have been some sort of scuffle and Evers eventually emerged at second with a ball. Whether it was “the ball” or not is in open dispute. Wherever the ball came from, Evers was on second holding it and arguing that Merkle was out and that the run didn’t count. Umpire Hank O’Day agreed and called Merkle out. With fans all over the field and darkness approaching, he also called the game a tie.

Hank O’Day

New York exploded. McGraw was furious with the umpires, not with Merkle. Team President John T. Brush complained to the National League President. The Cubs prepared for the next game. The ramifications of the game would continue for the remainder of the season. They would effect both teams and, unexpectedly, help determine the fate of not only a pennant, but a life.

 

 

 

Old Longings

May 13, 2010

A day or so ago SportsPhd put up a little post on four things in baseball he wished he had seen, but wasn’t around for. It was a great list and I don’t disagree with any of it except for Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. I got home from school in time to see the last couple of innings. I’m going to shamelessly borrow his idea and give you four baseball moments I wish I had seen.

I’m going back to a period either before I was born or when I was so small I didn’t know what was going on. That makes me leave out things I heard on the radio, like Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, but didn’t actually “see.” It also leaves out those things that happened while I was watching something else and have now seen a dozen times on TV. So with those caveats, here we go.

4. I’d have loved to have been in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1871 to see the first ever major league game. Fort Wayne beat Cleveland 2-0 in a game that sounds as if it was well-played. There’s something about being there at a birth that is so special. If you have a child, you know the feeling.

3. I’d like to have been around in 1908 for the Merkle Game. It’s arguably the most famous regular season game ever played. It was apparently a heck of a game prior to the chaos of the ninth inning and might have been worth seeing anyway. Knowing what was going to happen (remember this is time machine stuff so I know who’s going to win already) I could now stay in the stands and watch the ball to see what really happened between Solly Hofman, Joe McGinnity, and Johnny Evers. And this is a two-for-one special. I also get to see the replay a few weeks later.

2. As I told SportsPhd I would like to be in Wrigley Field in October 1932 for game 3 of the World Series. That’s the game that featured Babe Ruth’s “called shot.” I don’t know what he did, but apparently he did something just before crushing the ball. I’d love to know exactly what he did. You can argue about the greatest player ever in the game, but Ruth is easily the greatest showman ever to put on a uniform (with apologies to Reggie Jackson). 

1. Here I agree with SportPhd. I want to be in Ebbets Field in April 1947 to see Jackie Robinson take up his position at first base. It was one of baseball’s finest hours and I’d love to be there to see and participate.

So that’s four things I missed and wish I hadn’t. Your own list?

Opening Day, 1910: Chicago (NL)

April 7, 2010

King Cole

The 1909 Cubs were three time defending National League champion and two time World Champion when the season began. With basicially the same team, they finished 6.5 games behind Pittsburgh. Injured manager-first baseman Frank Chance played only 93 games in ’09 and catcher Johnny Kling, considered the finest defensive catcher of the era, left the team and it plummeted. By 1910 Chance was healthy again. Kling was also back. He had won the world pocket billards championship in 1908 and used the season to earn money at pool (no idea if he played in River City), but lost the title in the following tournament. So he was back with the Cubs, although minus a $700 fine for leaving the team.

The team that finished first, first, first, and second in the previous four seasons made, as you would expect, few changes. Chance stayed on as manager, first baseman, and clean up hitter. Johnny Evers still led off and held down second base. Joe Tinker was at short and hit seventh. Third base was Harry Steinfeldt country. He hit fifth. The outfield was the same as the previous season; Jimmy Sheckard in left and hitting second, Solly Hofman in center and moved to third in the order, and Wildfire Schulte in right and dropped from third to Hofman’s old sixth spot. Kling was back catching and hitting eighth. The bench saw Heinie Zimmerman as the backup infielder. Jimmy Archer, last year’s starting catcher, was now the backup, replacing Pat Moran (now with the Phillies. Ginger Beaumont came over from Boston to take the backup outfield slot. As it turned out, it was Beaumont’s final season.

There were some changes on the mound. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was still the ace, coming off a 27-9 season, and Orvai Overall was back after leading the NL in strikeouts with 205. Ed Reulbach and Jack Pfiester were still there, but  two new pitchers were added to the mix. King Cole was a 24 year old rookie who had pitched one game for the Cubs the previous year and Harry McIntire had been acquired from Brooklyn. The addition of these two was to prove fortuitous.

For the Cubs things looked good when 1910 started. Their three time pennant winning team was intact, with all major components healthy. Age again should have been a bit of a concern. The hitters were tied with Philadelphia as the oldest team in average age at 29, and the pitching staff was the second oldest (to Pittsburgh) in the league. But everyone was healthy, Kling was back after a year off, Cole was only 24, and they knew how to win.

Tomorrow: McGraw’s Giants