“Merkle’s Boner! Merkle’s Boner!” Sean, my son, shouted at the TV to a surprised and somewhat horrified group of relatives last night.
For those of you that are not up to speed on a play that happened a mere 107 years ago, “Merkle’s Boner” is perhaps one of the most infamous (unless you are a Chicago Cubs fan) plays in baseball history.
In the heat of a pennant race, on September 23, 1908, with the scored tied 1-1 and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Moose McCormick was on at third base and Fred Merkle on at first base for the New York Giants. Al Birdwell rocketed a single into center field plating McCormick for the apparent winning run.
Giant’s fans stormed the field as was the custom after every game because the exit was out in centerfield and the Giant’s rookie first baseman, Fred Merkle, never got to second base mostly due to self preservation from the the on coming fans.
Cubs second baseman and future Hall of Famer, Johnny Evers, noticed this and called to centerfielder Solly Hoffman to thrown him the ball. With the Giants and their fans celebrating around him, Evers recevied the ball from Hoffman and promptly stepped on second base forcing out Merkle.
By rule, this would mean the run would not count and the score would remain tied. It was thusly ruled and the game was then scheduled to be replayed at the end of the season should the Giants or Cubs not be the clear winners of the pennant. Well, you can guess what happened. The Cubs and Giants ended the season with identical 98-55 records. The Cubs, this is before the Curse of the Billy Goat, won the game 4-2 and went on to win the 1908 World Series.
Now back to August 9, 2015 and Sean’s reaction.
Our family was asembled in the living room watching the end of the Cincinnati Reds/Arizona Diamondbacks game which ended with a bases loaded hit by rookie Chris Owings. The official MLB record says, “Chris Owings singles on a sharp line drive to center fielder Billy Hamilton. Paul Goldschmidt scores. David Peralta to 3rd. Jake Lamb to 2nd.”
Only Jake Lamb and David Peralta never made it to second and third, respectively. Just like in the Merkle game, an alert fielder, this time shortstop Brandon Phillips retrieved the ball, albeit from a security guard, and then tossed it to Hamilton who by this time was near second base. Hamilton caught the ball then touched second base. He then threw the ball to shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who was now standing on first base. Suarez then tossed it third baseman Ivan DeJesus who walked across the field and touched third.
Now this whole thing is just a mess.
First, shame on Peralta and Lamb for not touching the next base. Despite the result (a D-backs win), this was really dumb on each of their parts as the only people storming the field were their own teammates. I personally feel the “walk off” win celebration in the Major Leagues has gotten a bit out of hand.
Second, Phillips, or really Hamilton, should have retrieved the ball himself. Once the security guard touched the ball, it is likely a dead ball, although I am not 100 percent sure about it becasue it was in the field of play and not in the stands. Clearly, if the guard was in the stands and out of play, it is a dead ball and the rest is moot, but it is possible that by ground rule, the security guard on the field might, in fact, be in play. That said, if it is not a ground rule in Arizona then, it is a dead ball and the next paragraph, as mentioned, is moot.
Third, why did the Reds touch second base first? As they needed two outs, not just one, they needed to first force out Peralta at third before forcing out Lamb at second. Touching second base negated the force out at third. They should have first tossed the ball to DeJesus at third for the second out of the inning and then to Phillips, or whoever was at second, perhaps Hamilton. Had the Reds done this, the scoring would have been as follows: 6-5-8, or more precisely, SG (for security guard)-6-5-8. EIther way, it is a pretty odd double play combination.
Fourth, it turns out that all of this is moot because rule 5.08(b) in the 2015 Official Baseball Rules (4.09(b) in previous editions) reads, “When the winning run is scored in the last half-inning of a regulation game, or in the last half of an extra inning, as the result of a base on balls, hit batter or any other play with the bases full which forces the runner on third to advance, the umpire shall not declare the game ended until the runner forced to advance from third has touched home base and the batter-runner has touched first base.” I hope this rule gets changed, it should require all runners touch the next base to which they are forced.
Fifth and lastly, I am very proud of my son for recognizing the situation and making the connection to the Merkle play. And, that is really why I wrote this post.