Carl Frederick Rudolf “Fred” Merkle
Born: December 20, 1888 - Watertown, WI
Died: March 2, 1956 - Daytona Beach, FL
Career BA: .273
New York Giants NL (December 20, 1888 - March 2, 1956)
Brooklyn Robins NL (1916–1917)
Chicago Cubs NL (1917–1920)
New York Yankees AL (1925–1926)
If we told you that a player broke into the Major Leagues at age 18 and enjoyed a 16-year career, you’d probably say the guy had talent. If we mentioned that this same player compiled a respectable .273 career batting average with 1,580 hits, you would justifiably be impressed. If we then related that in 1911 and 1912, this player hit a combined 23 home runs, 168 RBI, and batted .296 finishing 7th and 18th respectively in MVP voting; you’d no doubt say he was a pretty darn fine ballplayer. However, if we told you this man’s nickname was “Bonehead,” you’d let out a sigh and put your hands to your face. Such is the cross that Carl Fredrick Rudolf Merkle had to bear until his passing at the age of 67 in 1956.
Merkle lives in that thankless baseball neighborhood of good ballplayers who made one bad move. On his street reside the likes of Bill Buckner and Ralph Branca. Merkle’s mistake was not as bad as his history makes it seem. In September of 1908 with Merkle’s Giants battling the Cubs in a pennant race, Merkle lined a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth single to right field sending teammate Moose McCormick to third. Al Bridwell then hit one up the middle, scoring McCormick with what fans thought was the winning run. Merkle stopped short of second base on Bridwell’s hit and headed to the Giants’ clubhouse thinking the game was finished. Cubs’ centerfielder Artie Hofman had fielded Bridwell’s hit and tossed it to second baseman Johnny Evers. For some reason, Giants pitcher Joe McGinnity got hold of the ball and tossed it into the crowd in celebration.
Evers apparently found another baseball and argued that Merkle was out on a force play because he had never touched second. That claim was upheld, and the game ended in a 1–1 tie because the jubilant Giants’ crowd could not be cleared from the Polo Grounds field. The tie, in theory, cost New York the 1908 pennant. If that play had occurred after the dawn of television replay, Merkle would enjoy a kinder fate. Instead, we place Fred Merkle in a kind of baseball Twilight Zone, deified for consistent play and perseverance, and vilified for a single baseball brain blip.
– Tom and Ellen Zappala, The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players. For more information on their book and/or to order a copy at a special PSA discount, visit http://crackerjackplayers.com/PSA_order.html