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February 2017

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Driving to Naples

Written by , Posted in General

THE GLORY YEARS

Donna and I drove to Naples FL a week ago. It is a long drive from Chicago. To make the drive more fun, we listened to the audio book, THE GLORY OF THEIR TIMES, as we drove. It is a remarkable book.

GLORY was the brainchild of Lawrence Ritter. He taught finance at New York University, but was an avid baseball fan too. During his vacations, he sought out and interviewed baseball players who had played in the major leagues during the early years of the 20th century. Originally, in 1966, Ritter published a version of GLORY featuring edited transcripts of his interviews. Then in 1998, working with Henry Thomas and Neal McCabe, Ritter published the audio book that we listened to on our drive. It consists of 5 hours of interviews recorded by Ritter between 1961 and 1966. These interviews are truly wonderful for any baseball fan. The original recordings now reside in Cooperstown and the University of Notre Dame.

Though these interviews were not focused on our Cubs, they are relevant to the Cubs because they add new information concerning two events in baseball history that relate to the significance of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series Championship and its place in baseball history.

The first was the infamous Merkle’s Boner. Many of you probably know of this incident. Late in the 1908 season, the Cubs and the New York Giants were embroiled in a tight race for the National League pennant when the Giants hosted the Cubs at the Old Polo grounds in New York City. Fred Merkle, a rookie first baseman for the Giants, was making his first start ever in a major league baseball game. The teams had battled to a 1-1 tie when the Giants came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Art Devlin singled for the Giants. He was forced at second on a grounder by Moose McCormick.  Merkle then singled McCormick to third. With two outs, Al Bridewell then hit an apparent single to centerfield scoring McCormick and winning the game for the Giants. But believing the game to be over and with the crowd spilling out into the field (as was customary at the Polo Grounds in those days), Merkle headed directly to the Giants’ locker room which the players entered through a door in the outfield. The problem was he did not touch second base first. Noting Merkle’s blunder, Cubs’ second baseman Johnny Evers called for the ball and completed the force out at second. McCormick’s run did not count and the game ended in a tie.

I am leaving out a lot of details, but the call was highly controversial for a variety of reasons. (There are several competing versions, which you can find online.) However, the league upheld the call and the result was that the regular season ended a few weeks later with the Cubs and Giants tied. The Cubs won the make up game and went on to win the 1908 World Series. But for that strange play the 1908 Cubs championship would never have occurred. Fred Snodgrass, the Giants’ centerfielder, defended Merkle when Ritter interviewed Snodgrass decades later. He explained that because the Polo Grounds crowd quickly swarmed the field upon the final play in those days, the players typically bolted for the locker room to beat the crowd. Merkle only did what the players had been doing all season, according to Snodgrass.

Before the Cubs’ miraculous come back victory in game 7 last year, many historians of baseball had considered the Red Sox comeback in the bottom of the 10th of game eight of the 1912 World Series to be the greatest in World Series history. (The Series went eight games that year because game 2 had ended in a tie after 11 innings.) GLORY provides a gripping account of the final half inning. With Christy Mathewson pitching, the Giants led the Sox 2 – 1. Clyde Engle led off with an easy fly ball to (the aforementioned) Fred Snodgrass in centerfield. Inexplicably, the usually sure-handed Snodgrass muffed the ball putting Engle on second base. Harry Hooper then hit a screamer to center that Snodgrass made a fine running play on for the first out, but Engle was able to advance to third. Mathewson then walked Steve Yerkes. Another infamous play then followed. Tris Speaker hit a high pop fly down the first base line. The Giants’ first baseman Fred (now known as “Bonehead”) Merkle was closest, but Mathewson called for his catcher Chief Meyers to take it. Meyers was farther away than either Mathewson or Merkle and did not make the play. The ball fell foul. In GLORY, Meyers explained that Mathewson had called for Meyers to take it because Merkle “had not been too steady”. Legend has it that Speaker then yelled at Mathewson that he had make the wrong call and now “would pay for it”. Speaker then singled Engle home, Yerkes advancing to third. Mathewson walked Duffy Lewis to set up a possible double play, but Larry Gardner hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Yerkes. The Sox won the game and the series.

I still like the end to the 2016 Series better, but 1912 sounds like a great one too. And isn’t this game endlessly fascinating?

  • cap’n realist

    cue the boner jokes in 3…2…

  • Doc Raker

    Enjoy Naples FL, we used to vacation there back in the 1970’s at the Edgewater hotel. I don’t know if it is still there, it may have been a Sheraton at the time. I am sure if it is there it has been redone and is not the same.

    • Sherm

      Edgewater is still there – that’s where we stay when we go…or next door at the Naples Beach Resort. I like to stay in Marco Island, too, at the Marriott there. Can’t go wrong in that area. Great food and beaches…and as I’ve noted before, I much prefer the Gulf side to the Atlantic side of Florida.

      Not aware of the book you mentioned, Brad, but it sounds interesting. I won’t lie and say I’ll read it someday, because I won’t, but it really does sound interesting. When I can find time to read for pleasure, it’s almost 100% fiction for me.

      A buddy of mine and some of his pals own Merkle’s Bar and Grill down in Wrigleyville, so it’s a story I’m familiar with (and reminded of every time I go there.) It does rank up there in all-time blunders, although to me, I think Chris Webber’s timeout might have been the worst case of a player who needed to know better…and didn’t. For the Cubs, I’m reminded of Les Lancaster’s “I thought it was 3 – 0” when it was really 2 – 0 on Robby Thompson (in the bottom of the 7th of a playoff game, no less.) The ensuing 2-run homer was all the Giants needed to win THAT game…giving them a 5-4 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. (It was a Saturday, CAPS.)

      • JTBarrett16

        Date?

      • Sherm

        It’s a puzzle – I gave it to you backwards to see if you could figure it out

      • JTBarrett16

        A simple google search would give me the answer but that’s no fun

      • Neither is this.

    • Brad Lyerla

      Doc, Naples is great. Much more crowded than it used to be, of course. Tee times, dinner reservations and parking spots are all in great demand. But we are enjoying every second. My wife loves the beach and I am getting in some golf. The restaurants are very good. Better than I remembered. Plus, we have a lot of friends down here and kids on the way for part of our stay. So there is no danger of loneliness or boredom.

      Sherm, forgot about Merkle’s bar. I will have to make a stop or two there this season.

  • Merkle’s what?

    • Sherm

      Right? It’s sad that we can’t talk the way people used to talk because of nasty colloquialisms and people’s gutter-dwelling minds. There was a time when you could say that all of Chicago was so gay because of Merkle’s boner. Now you can’t say that. It’s a shame. And it’s just not fair to certain words. Take boner, for example. It was a nice enough word at one point, but it’s really taken a beating. It’s been completely bent out of shape through the years. People really need to get a grip.

      • On the bright side, I don’t even have to ask if Merkle played hard. It’s right there.

      • Doug S.

        Snare – cymbal/kick drum.

      • JTBarrett16
      • cap’n realist

        there it is…

      • Seymour Butts

        You had me at boner.

      • JTBarrett16

        What was your first gay experience?

      • Doc Raker

        And you wonder why he never misses a camp full of 100 men in a locker room.

      • JTBarrett16

        Simpsons. Mr. Burns was asked that. Given his old age he thought gay still meant happy.

  • JTBarrett16

    Why was the game in 1912 not suspended and resumed from point of suspension? Was this common thing in those days?

    • Sherm

      TV revenue

    • Merkel was acting commissioner in 1912 and screwed that up too.

      • JTBarrett16

        Kennesaw Mountain Landis was MLBs first commissioner and he didn’t take the role until 8 years later. I give you an F!

      • Seymour Butts

        Did you study sarcasm under Sheldon Cooper?