Fred Tenney woke upon September 23rd in the throes of a lumbago attack, and 19-year-old
substitute Fred Merkle was sent in to take his place at first base. As events turned out, fate
would treat Merkle unkindly that day. With 25,000 fans assembled in the Polo Grounds, the
second-place Chicago Cubs were playing the leading Giants with only percentage points separating
the clubs. A 1-1 tie held fast until the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. There were
two outs: Moose McCormick was on third and young Merkle perched on first after singling to right.
What follows is one account of the many which were offered of what is still known as the greatest
goof of all time.
Al Bridwell lashed a Jack Pfiester serve into center field for a clean single, scoring McCormick
and apparently ending the game. However, as the crowd started surging onto the field, Merkle,
halfway to second, immediately sprinted for the clubhouse without bothering to touch second base,
the common practice at the time. With the jubilant New York fans already piling onto the playing
field, Cub second baseman Johnny Evers realized that Merkle would be forced out at second for the
third out, thereby nullifying the run. Evers called frantically for center fielder Solly Hofman
to throw him the ball, but Hofman - unable to clearly see Evers in the crowd - overshot the mark
with a heave towards first base.
Giant first base coach Joe McGinnity realized what was happening, outwrestled Cub shortstop Joe
Tinker for the ball, and with Tinker on his back heaved it toward shortstop. Rube Kroh, a
second-line Cub pitcher who was not even in the game, saw a spectator pick up the ball, demanded
it, and slugged the customer when he would not cough it up. Kroh retrieved the ball from the
now-prone fan, worked his way through the still-unaware crowd, and handed the ball to Evers on
second. Umpire Hank O'Day was supposedly watching the whole affair; he called Merkle out and
disallowed the run, using darkness as an excuse to call the game a tie.
The Giants screamed bloody murder when notified in the clubhouse that their victory was
rescinded, but league president Harry Pulliam upheld O'Day's decision. The matter finally went
before the Board of Directors who, on October 5, sustained Pulliam's decision. The game grew in
proportion when the Cubs and Giants finished the regular season with identical 98-55 records. The
tie was rescheduled for October 8, and a record 35,000 spectators crammed into the Polo Grounds
and watched Three Finger Brown, in relief, best Christy Mathewson in a 4-2 come-from-behind
Chicago victory, which gave the Cubs their third consecutive National League crown.
The Cubs fielded a solid, balanced squad, good in all departments and expected to repeat as
champions. The Giants relied on a strong offense led by Mike Donlin and a thin pitching staff
aced by Mathewson and Hooks Wiltse to challenge all the way, and the Pirates -eliminated only on
the last day of the season - also fielded a balanced squad led by superstar Honus Wagner, the
National League batting leader for the sixth time.
The National League held no monopoly on tight races as the Detroit Tigers repeated as champions
only by defeating the White Sox on the final day of the season in one of the tightest races ever
staged in the American League. Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago all battled for the top into the
final two days of the season, with the Tigers finishing half a game and .004 percentage points
ahead of Cleveland. Detroit's victory was blemished somewhat by a rain-out game they did not have
to makeup, The White Sox did not figure to win the pennant, but got as far as they did because of
the iron-man work of spitballer Ed Walsh. Staring regularly with two days rest, relieving between
starts, and winning an incredible 40 games over the course of 464 innings, Walsh turned in one of
the finest pitching efforts in history. He also took part in the greatest pitching duel ever
staged under pressure conditions when, on October 2, against Cleveland, he gave up four hits and
struck out 15, only to be victimized by the perfect game performance of Addie Joss.
The World Series proved anticlimactic as the favored Cubs disappointed no one in disposing of the
Tigers in five games despite Ty Cobb's .368 swinging. Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, and Joe Tinker
starred for the Cubs at bat and afield, while Orvie Overall and Three-Finger Brown accounted for
all the victories on the mound to end a circus-like season which, oddly enough, would be
remembered only for the "bonehead" play of an inexperienced youngster.
From The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball 2001 by David S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen, and Michael L. Neft.
Copyright © 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1991, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1985, 1982, 1981, 1977, 1976, 1974 by David S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen, and Bert Sugar. Reprinted with permission.