Merkle’s Bonehead Play

Merkle’s Bonehead Play applies to baseball rule four – specifically 4.09. It has to do with a batted ball and touching bases by every runner to end a game with the sacks full.  



“On a batted ball a run cannot score if all runners do not touch the next base or the third out is made” when bases are loaded!

     MERKLE’S BONEHEAD PLAY           FROM Baseball Reference BULLPEN

Merkle’s Boner is one of the most prominent incidents in the history of major league baseball. It occurred in 1908 and involved many future Hall of Fame players.

Fred Merkle was a 19-year old player filling in for veteran Fred Tenney at first base for the New York Giants when the famous play occurred. During the first decade of the 1900’s, the top National League teams were the Pittsburgh Pirates, the New York Giants, and Chicago Cubs. During the 1908 season, the Giants and Cubs were in a close battle for first place. The Cubs had previously won the pennant in 1906 and 1907, while the Giants had won in 1904 and 1905.

A few days pri-Cubs captain and eventual Hall of Famer Johnny Evers warned an umpire that he was going to insist on the umpires calling a runner out if he failed to touch the succeeding base at the end of the game. It was common, at the time, if a batter batted home a runner who was on third base to win a game, for a runner on first base to just leave the field instead of bothering to touch second base. The player whom Evers had seen supposedly failing to touch second base was Warren Gill in a game played on September 4th between the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On the day in question, September 25th, the exact same situation happened in New York. Moose McCormick was the runner on third base, and when pitcher Jack Pfiester’s offering was hit into the outfield by batter Al Brindwell, McCormick ran home, scoring what he thought was the winning run, and ran into the clubhouse or to the game in which the play occurred,

Fred Merkle was on first base, and he ran toward second base. Whether he actually reached second base has been disputed over the decades. At some point, he veered off as to run off the field.

Evers yelled at the umpire Hank O’Day, who was the same man that he had warned a few days earlier. Christy Mathewson, the famous Giants pitcher and eventual Hall of Famer, very quickly saw what was happening, and ran onto the field to stop Merkle from leaving.

Meanwhile, the ball had been hit into the outfield and was picked up by the outfielder, Solly Hofman. Hofman, at first didn’t think there was any rush to return the ball to the infield, but Evers screamed at him to throw it to second base to get a force out on Merkel.


Another famous Giant and eventual Hall of Famer, Ironman Joe McGinnity, was coaching at third base that day and saw what was happening. He ran over to second base. As that was happening, the Giant fans in the stands, thinking the game was over, were streaming onto the field. At least one of them was near second base, and as the ball came from the outfield toward second base, he and McGinnity and Evers engaged in a struggle to catch and control the ball, at the same time as Mathewson was maneuvering Merkle. The fan ended up getting control of the ball and heaved it into the stands where it disappeared. An alternate version claims that Rube Kroh, a Chicago pitcher, wrestled the ball from the fan and gave it to Evers, who touched second base.

First baseman and eventual Hall of Famer Frank Chance was the Cubs’ player/manager, and he came out of the dugout to argue his team’s case with the umpire, who had not given any ruling as to whether the winning run had scored. This was somewhat dangerous, as the Giants fans were all over the field, and while Chance argued, many of the fans got quite angry with him.

Not to be outdone, the Giants manager, eventual Hall of Famer John McGraw, came out to argue the Giants side of the story. The umpire listened to both sides, gathered the other umpire, Bob Emslie, and went into the umpires’ room (which was merely a “cage” of metal bars under the stands) where they tried to discuss the problem amidst the raucous yelling of Giants fans trying to influence the decision.

The police were called as a result of the pandemonium and the Cubs team had to be escorted by the police from the stadium in front of thousands of angry Giants fans.

The umpires ruled the next day that Merkle had not touched second base and therefore the Giants had not won the game. The league president eventually ruled that the game was a tie and had to be replayed in its entirety. When it was replayed, the Cubs won. At the end of the season the Cubs finished one game ahead of the Giants for the pennant. Johnny Ever’s smart move had won the pennant for the Cubs against the Giants.

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