BOOK REVIEW: THE UNFORGETTABLE SEASON/MORE THAN MERKLE

 





SEASONS IN THE SUN

 

by Doug Ward



JULY, 2006-In North America, the 2006 Major League Baseball season has reached its halfway point. For me personally the season has been rather frustrating so far, since my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, has not played nearly as well as I had hoped. On the other hand, I have received some consolation from the play of my second-favorite team, the Cincinnati Reds, which has been much better than expected.

 

In 2005 the Indians finished second in the American League Central Division to the Chicago White Sox, who went on to win the American League pennant and the World Series. Although I was disappointed to see the Indians come in second, I was happy for Chicago fans, who had been patiently waiting for a championship for many years. The White Sox had not been in a World Series since 1959, and the last time that they had won the World Series was way back in 1917. (Cleveland fans have also been waiting for a long time, but not as long as White Sox followers. Cleveland's last World Series victory was in 1948, but the Indians also reached the World Series in 1954, 1995, and 1997.)

 

Baseball has a special attraction for people who love both history and numbers. In Baseball, the wonderful Ken Burns documentary on the history of the game, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells how her interest in history was sparked when her father taught her how to "keep score" in a baseball game. (Scorekeeping involves much more than noticing how many runs each team scores. It is a system for conveniently keeping track of every play that occurs during a baseball game.) I can relate to Dr. Goodwin's experience, because when I was growing up, baseball played a role in my budding interest in numbers and mathematics. I first learned how to convert fractions to decimal form and carry out the traditional procedure for "long division" in order to compute batting averages and other baseball statistics.

 

As Goodwin found out, every baseball game has a detailed story. The story of each game is part of the larger narrative of a baseball season, and each season takes its place in an ongoing saga that stretches back through the years for more than a century. For baseball enthusiasts, today's events on the playing field take on added significance in light of their place in this history. When a batter steps to the plate to face a pitcher, people watching the game might be thinking about what has happened in the past when this batter has hit against this particular pitcher. They might also be comparing this batter and pitcher to others who have come before them, and their teams to teams from the past, and they may be viewing the current game as part of a long rivalry between the two teams on the field. The leisurely pace of a baseball game is conducive to this sort of reflection and comparison.

 

Here there is a rough analogy between watching a baseball game and reading the Bible. God in his wisdom inspired much of his revelation to us to be written down as a narrative. All the parts of the Bible, even those that are not composed in the narrative genre, have a place in the overall story. Moreover, constant references-from faint echoes to explicit quotations-are made to previous chapters in the story. Discerning readers are aware of this phenomenon, which scholars call intertextuality, and their understanding of the text is enhanced as a result.

 

In the minds of baseball fans, every year in the last one hundred or so is associated with the baseball highlights of that year. The mention of any particular year from that span evokes memories of those highlights.

 

For instance, the mention of 1927 brings to mind the potent batting order of the New York Yankees (known as the "Murderer's Row"). Batting third in that order was Babe Ruth, whose sixty home runs in 1927 set a record that lasted until 1961.

 

The year 1947 immediately reminds us of Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers, who chose to finally break the shameful "color barrier" that had previously kept African American players out of the major leagues. In 1947 the Dodgers inserted Jackie Robinson in their lineup, and Robinson courageously paved the way for many great African American players to follow.

 

In 1967 an exciting four-team pennant race in the American League was won by the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox were led by left fielder Carl Yastrzemski, who won the Triple Crown-i.e., he was first in the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. (No player since 1967 has accomplished this feat.) But the Red Sox lost a seven-game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, bringing back memories of a similar Series in 1946.

 

Since each baseball season tells a story, it is not surprising that many books have been written to recount those stories. I have enjoyed a number of books of this type over the years. For example, Robert W. Creamer's Baseball in '41 (Viking, 1991) describes the memorable season of Joe DiMaggio's fifty-six game hitting streak and Ted Williams's .406 batting average, the last season before those players-and many others-left to do their part in the Second World War. David Halberstam's Summer of '49 (William Morrow, 1989) chronicles a classic pennant race between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and his October 1964 (Villard Books, 1994) covers the last season of the Yankees' long dynasty. (The Yankees won all but three American League pennants between 1947 and 1964.) In the National League that year, the St. Louis Cardinals overtook the Philadelphia Phillies in the final days of the season and went on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series.

 

Probably my favorite book from this "stories of a season" genre is Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed (MacMillan, 1989; I.R. Dee, 2004), because it features the 1920 Cleveland Indians, the first Cleveland team to win the American League pennant and the World Series.1 The 1920 Indians overcame some serious obstacles to prevail in a close pennant race with the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox. In particular, they lost their captain, shortstop Ray Chapman, who died on August 17 after being hit by a pitch--the one referred to in the book's title--thrown by the Yankees' Carl Mays.

 

1908: A Superlative Season



At least one baseball season has been the subject of more than one book. The 1908 season is notable, and not just because it marked the second (and, as of 2006, the last) time that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. It was also the only year in which an American or National League team lost the pennant by just half a game.2 In both leagues, three-way pennant races were not decided until the final day of the season. The close races captured the nation's imagination, diverting attention from the 1908 presidential election campaign. Attendance at games broke all previous records, and those who couldn't make it to the games followed the results in the daily newspapers.

 

In those days before radio and television, newspapers played a more central role in informing the public than they do today. It is fitting, then, that one book on the 1908 season is simply an edited compilation of newspaper articles. In The Unforgettable Season (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1981; reissued in 2006 by the University of Nebraska Press), G.H. Fleming carefully selected articles in order to tell the story of the 1908 season from the vantage point of one National League team, the New York Giants.3 Fleming, an English professor at the University of New Orleans, sifted through the sports sections of twenty-six daily newspapers-including a dozen from New York-and two weekly sports tabloids in preparing this fascinating volume.

 

In addition to chronicling the 1908 National League pennant race, The Unforgettable Season preserves a vintage sample of a distinctive writing style that has since disappeared.4 The sportswriting of the early twentieth century was unique. The writers made no pretense of objective reporting; they were unabashed partisans for the teams they covered. Their writing was filled with the baseball slang of the day but could also be sprinkled with biblical and classical allusions. It featured deft and playful use of language along with sometimes blunt and sarcastic commentary. Here are some typical examples:



After the Giants defeated Philadelphia 12-2 on May 4, the New York Herald gave this description of the performance of the Giants' star pitcher, Christy Mathewson: "Mighty Mathewson appeared in the box for the home talent, bright-eyed and rosy as a flower of June, and his performance was of the high-grade kind which glistens with quality and comes only in five-pound boxes. He toyed with the sphere as a cat would with a ball of yarn, putting it where he pleased, and in the six innings in which he officiated he let the Quakers have three hits, but he presented these at such long intervals they were in no way associated with the two feeble runs made." Later sportswriters, more concerned with brevity, would have simply written something like, "Mathewson had a masterful outing against Philadelphia, scattering two runs and three hits over six innings."



But on May 18, Mathewson was less successful against the Cincinnati Reds. Jack Ryder of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Matthewson "was knocked sky-high and forced to retire before a bountiful bevy of beautiful bingles." (Translation: Matthewson was taken out of the game after the Reds recorded a number of base hits against him.)



On May 25, W.A. Phelon of the Chicago Journal poked fun at a Giants' outfielder who dropped a fly ball hit by the Cubs' Johnny Evers: "It [the ball] rose and came right down in Shannon's hands, but just as the ball arrived Shannon thoughtfully turned his back and fled. The sun had blinded him and he feared that the ball would fall on the vacuum that terminated his neck."



On the other hand, on June 20 William F. Kirk of the New York American praised a play by another Giants' outfielder, Cy Seymour. According to Kirk, Seymour "started with the crack of the bat, hurried over the greensward like a leopard, gave a great leap skyward at the `flycological' moment, and speared the ball with his bare hand."



On July 4 the New York Press reported that a major factor in a Philadelphia loss to the Giants was a seeming unwillingness by Philadelphia baserunners to slide on close plays at home plate: "Titus did not slide to the plate in the first inning and the failure to hit the dirt cost him [a fine of] $25. Two other sluggish athletes from the banks of the Schuylkill were also massacred at the fourth bag and died in an erect attitude."



On July 11, C.B. Power of the Pittsburgh Dispatch gave a lengthy account of a game-winning home run hit by the Pirates' Tommy Leach in a 7-6 win over the Giants. The account begins like this: "There was a noise like the fall of a truck horse on a board sidewalk. The ball and bat kissed and parted forever. `I am going on a long journey,' shrieked the blistered bulb, and the bat chuckled, `On your way, and I don't care if you never come back.' "



The sportswriters of that era sometimes waxed poetic. After the second-place Giants defeated the first-place Pirates on July to move closer to the top of the National League standings, W.W. Aulick of the New York Times joyfully proclaimed, "For they beat the bunch Piratic in a fashion most emphatic, and they'll drive 'em from the attic, never fear."



Aulick also loved to give humorous accounts of the heated arguments between players (or managers) and umpires that often resulted in the umpire ejecting the offending party from the game. On May 30, Aulick described a play in which umpire Frank Rudderham called Giants' outfielder Mike Donlin out on a close play at first base. When Donlin protested that he was safe, "Rudderham spoke up in a still, small voice, saying this impression was erroneous." In Aulick's retelling of the incident, Donlin then asked Rudderham if he had met a certain local oculist. "Such is not my good fortune," returned Mr. Rudderham, "why do you ask?"

 

"I should advise you to visit him," said Mr. Donlin. "Your eyesight appears defective."

 

"Probably you are right," agreed Mr. Rudderham. "I cannot see you for the rest of the game."


Although Fleming celebrated the best of early twentieth-century baseball reporting in his compilation, he also realistically portrayed its unseemly aspects, reminding us that there is no such thing as "the good old days." As Lawrence Ritter noted in his foreword to the book, today's readers may be shocked to see the racial and ethnic slurs that appeared in the newspapers of 1908, a reflection of American attitudes in that era. For example, when Philadelphia pitcher Harry Coveleski defeated the Giants in three late-season games, New York reporters responded by ridiculing Coveleski's name and ethnic background. The New York Press called Coveleski "that gentleman with the Russian suffix to his name, which is pronounced like an automobile with its muffler off, running on three cylinders." Aulick expressed his frustration in the Times: "Doggone these foreigners anyway. Why don't they confine themselves to skat or ski-balling or whatever their national game is, and leave America for the Americans?" (Though Coveleski was of Polish extraction, he was an American from Shamokin, Pennsylvania.)

 

Baseball in Transition



Readers of The Unforgettable Season will notice several aspects of professional baseball in 1908 that sound very familiar a century later. Before the season started, rumors circulated that John McGraw might be fired as manager of the Giants after a disappointing 1907 season. Pirates' shortstop Honus Wagner, baseball's first "superstar," threatened to retire and refused to report to the Pirates until he was offered a higher salary. Wagner added to his income with product endorsements, appearing in an advertisement for Coca Cola in The Sporting News in July. ("Coca-Cola is the only beverage I have ever drunk that had vim, vigor, and go to it-that quenched the thirst and assisted my mental and physical activity.") Before the season started, the Giants and the Boston Braves (then often called the Doves after owner George B. Dovey) engaged in a blockbuster trade, the Giants sending five players to Boston and receiving three in return. After the trade, the press offered a range of opinions on which team stood to benefit more. Later in the summer, contending teams tried to acquire a few extra players to help them in September. Throughout the season, sportswriters frequently weighed in on the strategy of the game, including the pros and cons of the sacrifice bunt.

 

Other details will seem unusual, examples of how much things have changed in a hundred years. On August 27, the Chicago Journal complained about a female fan that came to a game in an "immense purple hat," blocking the view for other paying customers. Christy Mathewson took criticism for refusing to pitch on Sundays.5 An entire game between St. Louis and Brooklyn on August 4 was played with a single baseball. In a time when there were few pitching changes and no long breaks between innings for commercials, some games were completed in only an hour and fifteen minutes. When the Giants announced that they would be adding seven thousand more seats at their home field, the Polo Grounds, the New York Evening Mail reported that the new seating capacity of nearly thirty thousand would be "second only to the athletic fields of Yale and Harvard."

 

Overall, The Unforgettable Season portrays a sport in transition. For one thing, professional baseball was gaining in popularity and status. In March 1908, one member of the Giants decided that he would begin to use his real name, Strang Nicklin, after nine years of playing professional baseball under the alias Sammy Strang. He was no longer ashamed to admit what he did for a living. On the other hand, baseball still had image problems, and newspaper stories from 1908 show that its reputation of connections with fighting, alcohol, and gambling was not undeserved.

 

In 1908, the customs and practices of baseball were still actively developing. Players were learning to work effectively with larger gloves, and shinguards were gaining in popularity. A July 18 article in Sporting Life reported that one umpire was experimenting with used hotel registers as more effective chest protectors. The Giants, who had a deaf pitcher named Luther Taylor, had become pioneers in the use of hand signals for communication between the manager and the players on the field. The Pittsburgh Pirates became the first team to protect their field from rain with a large tarpaulin.

 

Baseball was evolving and growing in popularity in 1908, and with that growth came some growing pains. The crowds at games tended to overflow the available seating, and so standing room was provided in roped off areas of the outfield. The large numbers of spectators created crowd control problems. When a close game ended, spectators often would rush onto the field, sometimes even assaulting a player or umpire.

 

Baseball games in 1908 were simply understaffed. There were not enough security personnel, and more umpires were needed. Criticism of the umpires has been a constant in baseball through the years, both on the field and off, but the articles compiled by Fleming give the impression that such complaints were more frequent and strident than they are today. In 1908 the practice of using two umpires-instead of just one-began to be implemented. However, the majority of games were still handled by a single umpire, and newspaper reports indicate that one umpire was just not enough.6 There were frequent missed calls, and sometimes games were impossible for one umpire to control. In a time before the scrutiny of television cameras and instant replay, infielders would knock down baserunners-and vice versa-counting on the likelihood that a lone umpire wouldn't detect their infractions.

 

How Not to Clarify the Rules



One further aspect of baseball's "growing pains" should be mentioned: In a sport that was still developing, it was inevitable that the rules would sometimes need to be clarified. A controversy over one particular rule played a memorable role in the 1908 National League pennant race. In hindsight, the conflict could have been avoided if league officials had been quicker to address the unresolved issues noted above.

 

In researching The Unforgettable Season, Fleming found an item in the Chicago Tribune that may have planted the seeds of the controversy. In a baseball question and answer column on July 19, the Tribune carried the following question from a reader:

 

"In the last half of the ninth, with the score tied, two men out and a runner on third, the batter hits to left field and the runner scores. The batter, seeing the runner score, stops between home and first. The ball is thrown to first baseman, who touches his base before the runner reaches it. Can runner score on this?"

 

The column editor answered briefly: "No. Run cannot score when third out is made before reaching first base." And the editor was right. According to baseball rules, a run coming in from third base would not count unless every other runner who was in a position to be forced out was able to advance successfully to the next base.

 

There were no questions about this rule in the case of a ball hit to the infield. For example, if a ground ball was hit to the second baseman with two outs and runners on first and third, it was well known that no run scored if the batter was thrown out at first or the runner on first was forced out at second, even if the runner from third reached home before the out was recorded. But in the case of a hit to the outfield, where it was clear that every runner would easily be able to advance, it had become customary to allow runners other than the one on third to simply leave the field without actually touching the next base. The game was essentially over, and with fans about to rush onto the field, the players and umpire deemed it prudent to exit as quickly as possible. The letter of the law was overlooked since the spirit of the law had been satisfied.

 

Since the Chicago Cubs were in Chicago when the question and answer appeared in the Tribune, it is tempting to speculate, based on subsequent events, that Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers saw the item and filed its contents in his mind for future reference. At any rate, its inclusion in The Unforgettable Season helps set the stage for Evers's actions in two September games with Pittsburgh and New York, Chicago's main competitors for the National League pennant.

 

On September 4 in Pittsburgh, the Cubs and Pirates played a scoreless game for nine innings. In the bottom of the tenth inning, the Pirates loaded the bases with two out. Then the next batter knocked a hit into the outfield, apparently giving the Pirates a 1-0 victory. The Pirates and umpire Hank O'Day began to leave the field, but the Cubs stayed behind, retrieving the ball and throwing it to Johnny Evers at second base. Warren Gill, the runner on first, had followed the usual custom and not bothered to touch second base before leaving the field, so Evers argued that Gill should be called out at second to end the inning with no score.

 

Umpire O'Day, who reportedly had not seen the play, ruled that the run counted and the game was over. The Cubs then formally protested the decision, arguing for the need for two umpires and citing witnesses who could testify that Gill had not touched second base. On September 9, National League President Harry C. Pulliam denied the protest, upholding O'Day's ruling.

 

The Cubs' protest provided Pulliam with an opportune moment to make some statement on how the rule in question would be interpreted in future games. However, Pulliam failed to take advantage of the opportunity, and his inaction came back to haunt him just two weeks later.

 

On September 23, the Cubs played a key game against the Giants in New York. In the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied 1-1, the Giants put runners on first and third with two out. The next batter, shortstop Al Bridwell, knocked a base hit to center field to drive in the runner from third. As the large crowd began to rush onto the field, most of the Giants hurried off to celebrate. But as in the Pittsburgh game, Evers called for the ball at second base, claiming that the runner on first had left the field without touching second. The throw from the outfield went past Evers and disappeared into the crowd on the field, but Evers eventually obtained a ball and touched second base.

 

The September 23 game was staffed by two umpires. Base umpire Bob Emslie declined to rule on Evers's appeal, saying he had not seen the play. Emslie deferred to his partner behind home plate, who happened to be none other than Hank O'Day. O'Day, who this time had seen that the runner on first had not touched second, called the runner out and ruled the game a tie.

 

Not surprisingly, a huge uproar ensued. The Cubs argued that the game should be forfeited to them, since the Giants had left before the end of the game. The Giants pointed out the prevailing custom that did not require every runner to touch the next base on a game-winning hit. A writer for the New York Herald complained the next day, "An enormous baseball custom has had it from time immemorial that as soon as the winning run has crossed the plate everyone adjourns as hastily and yet nicely as possible to the clubhouse and exits."

 

Fleming included a wide range of commentary on the controversy in The Unforgettable Season. Sadly, New York writers quickly began laying blame on Fred Merkle, the runner on first who had neglected to touch second. A hit by Merkle had advanced a runner from first to third, setting the stage for Bridwell's apparent gamewinner. But on September 25, Gym Bagley of the New York Evening Mail called Merkle a "bonehead," and the controversial play soon became known as "Merkle's Boner."

 

This time the National League, again standing behind its umpires, ruled to uphold O'Day's decision that the game ended in a tie.7 It was decided that the game would be replayed at the end of the season, on Oct. 8. The replay turned out to be a playoff game of sorts, since New York and Chicago completed the rest of the schedule tied for first place. In front of a huge crowd in New York, Chicago won the replay and went on to defeat the Detroit Tigers in the 1908 World Series.

 

Since the New York Giants lost the pennant by just one game, the controversy over the September 23 game continued after the season ended. Hounded by complaints, National League President Pulliam suffered a nervous breakdown in early 1909 and committed suicide on July 28, 1909. Meanwhile, Fred Merkle became the ultimate example of a person unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1908 Merkle was 19, the youngest player in the National League. He had only forty-one at bats in 1908, and the September 23 game was his only start at first base all year. (It happened that the regular first baseman, Fred Tenney, was nursing some sore muscles that day.) His teammates and manager never blamed him for the loss, and he proceeded to have a long and productive career with the Giants, Dodgers, Cubs, and Yankees, appearing in the World Series five times. But throughout his baseball career and (occasionally) even afterward, he had to endure the taunts of those who called him "Bonehead Merkle."8 Happily, some measure of reconciliation came eventually. In 1950, after avoiding contact with major league baseball for twenty-three years, Merkle attended an Old-Timer's Game in New York, where he was warmly applauded by the crowd.

 

Almost a century after the controversy, a number of questions remain. In particular, why didn't Giants manager John McGraw, who was known for his attention to detail, instruct Fred Merkle to be sure to touch second base in the event of a hit by the next batter? After the protest that followed the September 4 game in Pittsburgh, one would think that the Giants would have been alerted to the need to pay attention to the letter of the rulebook in upcoming games with the Cubs. Was it simply a case of arrogant New Yorkers failing to keep up with what was happening in the rest of the country, as one newspaper suggested?

 

The Rest of the Story



After reading a primary source from the past, one often benefits from the insight provided by related secondary sources. For example, readers of the Bible often find that their understanding is enhanced by good commentaries and other reference works.

 

Similarly, baseball fans who read the newspaper accounts collected in The Unforgettable Season will enjoy the additional discussion provided by David W. Anderson in his book More than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History (University of Nebraska Press, 2000). In addition to providing further background on the Merkle play, Anderson gives a month-by-month summary of the exciting pennant races in both the American and National Leagues. He provides a rundown on each of the sixteen major league teams and as well as information on each of the umpires who worked in 1908. Anderson points out that these umpires deserve credit as pioneers who served ably and bravely under very stressful working conditions. (One American League umpire, John Kerin, even suffered a broken nose in 1908 when he was punched by a fan after a game in Chicago.)

 

The subtitle of Anderson's book reflects the author's enthusiasm for the 1908 season. Anderson argues that an overemphasis on the Merkle play has diverted attention away from the real baseball story of 1908, the remarkable feats of pitching skill and endurance that characterized the season. (Baseball fans have designated 1968 as "the year of the pitcher," but 1908 is just as deserving of that title.) As was mentioned earlier, the Giants' Christy Matthewson had an outstanding season in 1908 with 37 wins. (Twenty wins is usually considered to be a notable achievement.) In the American League, Big Ed Walsh pitched an incredible 464 innings and won forty games, carrying the Chicago White Sox to within a game of the pennant. Several pitchers threw both ends of a doubleheader in 1908. One of them, the Cubs' Ed Reulbach, gave up no runs in either of the two games. Walter Johnson, a young pitcher in the early stages of a great career, had three shutouts (games in which the other team scores no runs) in five days. Forty-one year old Cy Young, a star pitcher at the end of his career, pitched a no-hitter. Six no-hitters were thrown in 1908, including a "perfect game" by Cleveland's Addie Joss in a crucial October 2 game against Walsh and the White Sox. Joss retired 27 White Sox batters in a row on just 74 pitches.9

 

Anderson lists a number of reasons for the dominance of pitching in the baseball of that era. First, several rule changes at the beginning of the twentieth century had aided pitchers. The strike zone was widened, foul balls hit with less than two strikes began to count as strikes, and batters who bunted foul with two strikes were called out. Second, balls were not replaced often, and a ball that has become soft after heavy use is difficult to hit very far. Finally, pitchers often scuffed, discolored, and moistened the balls in attempts to throw pitches that moved in unusual ways. (The "spitball" was controversial in 1908 but wasn't prohibited until 1920.)

 

Based on the information in More Than Merkle, armchair managers will have plenty of opportunity to second-guess decisions made by the managers of 1908. In particular, many of the managers used their best pitchers heavily, while other pitchers were apparently underutilized. As a result, several key games were lost by overworked pitchers who hadn't had sufficient rest to be effective.

 

Anderson offers an interesting demographic analysis of the major league baseball players of 1908. Although forty states were represented on the rosters of the sixteen teams, seventy-three per cent of the players were born east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line, a reflection of the overall population distribution of the United States at that time. Almost all of the players were from English, Irish, or German ethnic backgrounds.10 This may help explain why writers who apparently had little difficulty with German names like Schreckengost and Hoelskoetter seemed to find the Polish name Coveleski so strange and foreign. Poles in 1908 had lower status in American society than people from English, Irish and German ethnic backgrounds.

 

For baseball fans who love history and numbers, the books by Fleming and Anderson are an unbeatable combination, ably relating the story of a truly memorable season and giving an insightful glimpse at American culture a century ago.


Footnotes:

1I also have an indirect personal connection with the 1920 Indians. One of the pitchers for the 1920 Indians was a man named Guy Morton. His son, also named Guy, became a Christian minister after a brief baseball career and served for many years as pastor of Westwood Baptist Church near Wooster, Ohio, where I was baptized as a boy.

 

2In the American League, Detroit finished with a record of ninety wins and sixty-three losses, while Cleveland was second at 90-64. After 1908, Detroit would have been required to play one more game to complete its schedule. The National League already had such a rule in place in 1908.

 

3Fleming went on to write similar books about the 1927 New York Yankees and 1934 St. Louis Cardinals.

 

4Sometimes I glimpse faint echoes of the old style in the writing of veteran sportswriter Hal McCoy, who has covered the Cincinnati Reds for the Dayton Daily News for many years.

 

5This issue did not arise often, however, since no games were scheduled on Sundays in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Pittsburgh. Certainly no one could rightfully accuse Mathewson of being a slacker. He appeared in an incredible 391 innings in 1908 (nearly twice the number logged by today's starting pitchers) and compiled a remarkable 37-11 record.

 

6Crews of three umpires became standard in 1933, crews of four in 1952.

 

7In making their ruling, league officials examined statements submitted by participants in the game. It was later reported that the statement made by the Giants' Christy Mathewson played a crucial role. Mathewson, known for his integrity, admitted that Merkle had never touched second base. On this point, see Frank DeFord's book The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005). Mathewson's reputation as a "Christian gentleman" did much to improve professional baseball's reputation.

 

8Years after his retirement from baseball a visiting speaker at his church made a joke about him, not realizing he was in the congregation.

 

9Joss pitched another no-hitter in 1910. Sadly, he contracted tubercular meningitis and died in 1911, at age 31.

 

10By some coincidence the Chicago Cubs had a number of players of German extraction, while the White Sox roster contained several Irish players. This fact was often commented upon in 1906, when the two teams met in the World Series.

Issue 21

 

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