Fred Merkle ended up having a long career in baseball, playing 20 seasons for four teams. However in 1908, Merkle made one blunder that forever defined his career.
On Sept. 23, 1908, Merkle was the first baseman for the New York Giants, and the Giants were playing the Chicago Cubs. The two teams were at the top of the National League and were fighting for the pennant.
Merkle came to the plate with the scored tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth. With Moose McCormick on first base, Merkle singled McCormick to third. The next batter, Al Bidwell, followed with another single, scoring McCormick with the winning run.
Giants fans raced onto the field to celebrate the win, and Merkle, without touching second base, trotted back to the dugout. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed Merkle had not touched second base, retrieved the ball from the outfield, and touched second, appealing to umpire Hank O’Day who ruled Merkle out on the play. Since Merkle did not touch second, McCormick’s run was disallowed, returning the game to a tie.
The game would be suspended because the fans would not clear the field, and back then, suspended games were played all over again. The Giants and Cubs made up the suspended game at the end of the season with the Cubs winning and moving on to the World Series.
Merkle’s embarrassing moment would forever be called Merkle’s Boner.
To be fair, however, the accounts of Merkle's play are somewhat sketchy. Mike Cameron, author of the book Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball’s Fred Merkle, believes that the entire play was taken out of context.
“A seed had been planted 19 days earlier, in a game between the Cubs and the Pirates," Cameron said. The Cubs had appealed a similar play, and the same darn umpire, Hank O’Day, he turned it down, on the basis that he was watching something else on the field and he did not see the play in question. But he was ready to make the call the next time, and no one on the Giants knew that.
“I think the key word in all this is context. Some people look at all this, and they just don’t understand how the game had been played up to that point. So they don’t have the context to make a judgment. It changed all that day, and Merkle had no forewarning. And then everything that ensued after that, he just paid the ultimate price."