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1908 FortyFive Feet Toward Immortality
Fred Tenney woke upon September 23rd in the throes of a lumbago attack, and 19yearold substitute Fred Merkle was sent in to take his place at first base. As events turned out, fate would treat Merkle unkindly that day. With 25,000 fans assembled in the Polo Grounds, the secondplace Chicago Cubs were playing the leading Giants with only percentage points separating the clubs. A 11 tie held fast until the Giants came to batin the bottom of the ninth. There were two outs: Moose McCormick was on third and young Merkle perched on first after singling to right, (What follows is one account of the many which were offered of what is still known as the greatest goof of all time.) Al Bridwell lashed a Jack Pfiester serve into center field for a clean single, scoring McCormick and apparently ending the game. However, as the crowd started surging onto the field, Merkle, halfway to second, immediately sprinted for the clubhouse without bothering to touch second base, the common practice at the time. With the jubilant New York fans already piling onto the playing field, Cub second baseman Johnny Evers realized that Merkle would be forced out at second for the third out, thereby nullifying the run. Evers called frantically for center fielder Solly Hofman to throw him the ball, but Hofman unable to clearly see Evers in the crowd overshot the mark with a heave towards first base. Giant first base coach Joe McGinnity realized what was happening, outwrestled Cub shortstop Joe Tinker for the ball, and with Tinker on his back heaved it toward shortstop. Rube Kroh, a secondline Cub pitcher who was not even in the game, saw a spectator pick up the ball, demanded it, and slugged the customer when he would not cough it up. Kroh retrieved the ball from the nowprone fan, worked his way through the stillunaware crowd, and handed the ball to Evers on second. Umpire Hank O'Day was supposedly watching the whole affair; he called Merkle out and disallowed the run, using darkness as an excuse to call the game a tie. The Giants screamed bloody murder when notified in the clubhouse that their victory was rescinded, but league president Harry Pulliam upheld O'Day's decision. The matter finally went before the Board of Directors who, on October 5, sustained Pulliam's decision. The game grew in proportion when the Cubs and Giants finished the regular season with identical 9855 records. The tie was rescheduled for October 8, and a record 35,000 spectators crammed into the Polo Grounds and watched Three Finger Brown, in relief, best Christy Mathewson in a 42 comefrombehind Chicago victory, which gave the Cubs their third consecutive National League crown.
The Cubs fielded a solid, balanced squad, good in all departments and expected to repeat as champions. The Giants relied on a strong offense led by Mike Donlin and a thin pitching staff aced by Mathewson and Hooks Wiltse to challenge all the way, and the Pirates eliminated only on the last day ofthe season also fielded a balanced squad led by superstar Honus Wagner, the National League batting leader for the sixth time.
The National League held no monopoly on tight races as the Detroit Tigers repeated as champions only by defeating the White Sox on the final day of the season in one of the tightest races ever staged in the American League. Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago all battled for the top into the final two days of the season, with the Tigers finishing half a game and .004 percentage points ahead of Cleveland. Detroit's victory was blemished somewhat by a rainout game they did not have to makeup, The White Sox did not figure to win the pennant, but got as far as they did because of the ironman work of spitballer Ed Walsh. Staring regularly with two days rest, relieving between starts, and winning an incredible 40 games over the course of 464 innings, Walsh turned in one of the finest pitching efforts in history. He also took part in the greatest pitching duel ever staged under pressure conditions when, on October 2, against Cleveland, he gave up four hits and struck out 15, only to be victimized h 0 by the perfect game performance of Addie Joss.
The World Series proved anticlimactic as the favored Cubs disappointed no one in disposing of the Tigers in five games despite Ty Cobb's .368 swinging. Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, and Joe Tinker starred for the Cubs at bat and afield, while Orvie Overall and ThreeFinger Brown accounted for all the victories on the mound to end a circuslike season which, oddly enough, would be remembered only for the "bonehead" play of an inexperienced youngster.