Driving to Naples
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?