Merkle’s Boner

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Posted: June 25, 2017


The Chicago Cub’s recent success in finally vanquishing the Curse of the Billy Goat is now a fabled accomplishment but not many know that their previous World Series win in 1908 was a very controversial affair.

In a game against the New York Giants towards the end of the season, Giants rookie Fred Merkle failed to advance to second base on a routine hit that would have won the game for the Giants.

That comical mistake, known as the ‘Merkle Boner’ allowed the Cubs to win the game and as a result clinch the NL Pennant without which they would not have played in the World Series. The game is widely considered one of the most controversial games in baseball history.

Build-up to Merkle’s Boner

Heading into the last few games of the season, the NL pennant race had shaped up as a three-horse race, with the Cubs and the Giants sharing a perch on top spot and the Pittsburgh Pirates one and a half games behind in second. The Cubs had a 90-53 record and the cubs had an 87-50 record, which meant that the Giants had six more games to play. The Cubs were back to back defending World Series Champions while the Giants had won back-to-back installments just before the Cubs. This was therefore a meeting between perhaps two of the league’s top heavyweights.

19 year old Merkle was the youngest player in the National league and had played just 38 games all year. On the morning of the game, first baseman Fred Tenney went under from a case of lumbago and Merkle was brought in to replace him.

The game, played at the Giants’ Polo Grounds was a drawn out and dull affair, with the first four innings failing to produce a single point. In the fifth inning, the Cubs made the first points of the game. the rest of the inning was quiet but in the sixth inning, the Giants registered their response to tie the game. The score remained unchanged until the bottom of the ninth inning when the infamous play transpired.

Merkle’s Boner Unfolds

With two men on base and two outs, Giants shortstop Al Bridwell took the first pitch and the ball whizzed past second baseman Johnny Evers into centerfield. Giants outfielder Moose McCormick n third base ran home and appeared to have scored and the Giants thought they had won the game. Giants fans rushed down from the stands in celebration and Merkle walked into the dugout, assuming that the game was done.

However, Merkle had not reached second base and Evers, noticing the error ran over to the bag effectively voiding McCormick’s run. It is not clear whether Evers had the ball but when the umpires saw him on second base, they ruled out the run after some consultations. Unable to clear the field of irked fans and Cubs staff, and with darkness setting in, the game ended as a draw.

Aftermath of Merkle’s Boner

The Giants contested the decision but their appeals but the National League upheld the umpires’ ruling. The pennant race continued in earnest, with the Giants having to play 10 games in the final week because of rainouts.

The Giants won ten out of their final fifteen games while the Cubs won eight of ten, so that the teams finished with identical records of 98-55. In order to break the tie, a makeup game was called, with Chicago winning 4-2 to clinch the pennant. The Cubs progressed to the World Series on account of their pennant win where the met the Detroit Tigers. The beat the Tigers in four games to one to clinch their third straight World Series but for over a century, they were beleaguered by the so called “Curse of the Billy Goat.”

This saw them miss out on a World Series appearance until 2016 when they conquered came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win against another “cursed” outfit, the Cleveland Indians. As for Merkle, a large section of the New York fan clique blamed him for his perceived “stupidity” and had to live the rest of his life with the nickname “Bonehead.” Although he did ascend to become a regular for the Giants, and later the Dodgers and even the Cubs, his reputation was not helped by the fact that he appeared in a further five World Series, all of which his team lost.

After his retirement in 1926, he gave a wide berth to the game although all seemed to be forgiven when he received a standing ovation from the Giants fans during a 1950 Giants old-timers game.

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