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September 24, 2008

The Merkle Boner and its aftermath

The New York Times has written a great article about the "Merkle Boner" which long before Steve Bartman or Bill Buckner provided baseball with its most memorable "bonehead" moment.

Reading the article you certainly have some sympathy for Fred Merkle, who actually had a relatively long and productive major league baseball career. However, what I find most fascinating is the aftermath of the base-running error. As a result, the Cubs and the Giants had to meet again a couple of weeks later to decide the National League pennant. The NYT article describes the rabid fans that tried to catch a glimpse of the game at the fabled Polo Grounds:

On the afternoon of Oct. 8 [1908], an enormous crowd engulfed the Polo Grounds, willing to do anything to see a game that would decide the pennant. They teetered along Coogan’s Bluff above the ballpark; climbed up on the grandstand roof; perched on the elevated train viaduct out past left field. One man fell to his death from the el; another fell from a telegraph pole and broke his neck. A wedge of fans broke through a wooden fence into the outfield and had to be pushed back by mounted police. Later, they tried setting the fence on fire.

Today, if anything even close to this kind of fan craziness happened at a game, the game would be cancelled. Everyone go home. In 1908, however, this seems to have been somewhat normal or at least tolerated. The article also describes the extreme abuse Giants fans hurled at the Cubs, as well as dangerous items thrown from the stands:

Foul names might have been the least of their worries. The New York Journal reported that Cubs catcher Johnny Kling, chasing a pop foul, had to dodge “two beer bottles, a drinking glass and a derby hat.?

But what really fascinates me is the reaction of the Giants fans after the Cubs won the game 4-2. Could people really get away with this stuff back then?

The moment Brown got the last out in the Cubs’ 4-2 victory, he and his teammates ran as fast as they could to the center-field clubhouse.

They were not fast enough. Pitcher Jack Pfiester was knifed in the shoulder, and Chance was punched so hard in the throat that he sustained broken cartilage. At least three other Cubs were struck, and the police had to hold shut the clubhouse doors with guns drawn.

"Pitcher Jack Pfiester was knifed" ... that is stunning. While it is entirely possible that something like that could happen today I think it is safe to say that today's fans are not nearly as rabid as they were at the turn of the century.

If you are a superstitious type of person, you may note that 1908 is the last year the Cubs won a World Series. It can certainly be argued that the Cubs got into the World Series based on a very dubious call that was made hours after the game ended. Perhaps the baseball gods are still punishing them for this injustice.

Posted by snackeru at September 24, 2008 9:55 PM


I haven't read about this kind of behavior more recently at real sports, unless you count fans throwing stuff like batteries at players in Philly.

I have heard about professional wrestlers dealing with fairly rabid and violent fans, especially in the South. Ric Flair's autobiography, "To Be The Man" talks about this some, as does Adnan Al-Kaissy's autobiography, "The Sheik of Baghdad." Both are good reads if you grew up watching the AWA and NWA like I did.

Posted by: Snyder at September 25, 2008 5:48 PM

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