GORDON WHITE: Cubs: Fans Better Hope for Another Merkle
Teddy Roosevelt had six months remaining in his presidency on Sept. 23, 1908, and William Howard Taft was elected in November 1908 to succeed Roosevelt. The first production Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line in Detroit, Oct. 1, 1908.
Jack Johnson of the United States knocked out Australian Tommy Burns in the 14th round on the day after Christmas 1908 to become the first black man to win the world heavyweight boxing championship.
For most Americans who lived one century ago, those were items of considerable interest that they read about in their daily newspapers that year.
But for the 1908 citizens of the Midwest's biggest, loudest, most corrupt and windiest city, Chicago, there was only that one 1908 date -- Sept. 23 -- that remained memorable to them and generations of Chicago Cubs fans. It was a day that will live forever as the day of "Merkle's Boner" at New York's Polo Grounds.
Had it not been for Fred Merkle's famous mistake, the Giants would have won the game that day and thus the National League pennant. Instead, the game ended in a 1-1 tie. The Cubs won the deciding makeup game, 4-1, Oct. 8, 1908, at the Polo Grounds and thus took the NL pennant for the third consecutive year.
Then the Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers, 4 games to 1 game, in the World Series for the Cubs' second World Series title in a row. The Cubs swept the Tigers, 4-0, in a five-game Series in 1907. The first game of that Series ended in a 12-inning, 3-3 tie called because of darkness.
Those are the only two World Series titles ever won by the Cubs up to this time in MLB history and they came in the fourth and fifth World Series. The Cubs were beaten, 4 games to 2, in the third Series by their cross-town rivals, the Chicago White Sox, in 1906.
After winning three straight NL pennants and two straight Series titles, the Cubs were the first MLB team to be declared a "dynasty."
It became a short-lived dynasty and a long-lived Series victory drought, however, as no other team in any of the major American professional team sports has gone 100 years without winning a championship. Of course, the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and the National Football League have not been in existence for a century while Major League Baseball's post World War II expansion teams that have not won the World Series have not been around for 100 years.
Think about it. The year 1908 was a long, long time ago and Chicago Cubs fans know that all too well. That was four years before the Titanic sank, April 15, 1912. It was six years before the Guns of August fired their first salvoes to open World War I. It was also six years before Weegham Park was opened for major league games and 18 years before that arena was renamed Wrigley Field in 1926.
So please be kind to any Chicago Cubs fans you might know. They have suffered even more than the old Brooklyn Dodger fans and much more than the Boston Red Sox fans who went a mere 86 years between Series victories.
Even prohibition has come and gone along with Al Capone, Dion O'Banion and Bugs Moran since the last time the Cubs won a Series and Merkle committed the greatest boo-boo in MLB history.
On this 100th anniversary year of the Cubs' second and most recent Series triumph, there is considerable hope on the shore of Lake Michigan as manager Lou Piniella's team breaks training camp. Following a fairly good 2007 season that was full of injuries to important players such as Derrek Lee, the Cubs have high hopes.
The trouble is that there has always been something in the Chicago air or in Lake Michigan's water that causes the genes of Cubs fans to have boundless hope, faith, and belief in the spring. In the fall there is always a great letdown. Maybe 2008 will be different -- but probably not.
Unless there could be another "Merkle's Boner" or the like.
What a day that was at the Polo Grounds, Sept. 23, 1908, with the Giants of manager John McGraw fighting neck-and-neck against manager-first baseman Frank Chance's Cubs.
The game went into the bottom of the ninth tied 1-1 when the Giants got men on first and third with two out.
Fred Merkle, a 19-year-old Giants infielder in his second major league season, was the runner on first base and Moose McCormick, a long-time journeyman outfielder, was the Giants runner on third.
Al Bridwell, the Giants' shortstop, hit what appeared to be a single to center field scoring McCormick from third with the game-winning run for a 2-1 Giants victory. Unfortunately, as fans stormed the field Merkle took off from first base in the direction of the Giants' locker room situated behind center field in the old Polo Grounds. When Merkle did not bother to touch second base, the Cubs' second baseman, Johnny Evers, yelled for the ball from his center fielder, Solly Hofman,
In the confusion, Evers got a baseball from somewhere even though Joe (Iron Man) McGinnity, the Giants' third base coach, intercepted one baseball and threw it into the stands. Evers then stepped on second base with a baseball in hand for the force-out of Merkle and the third out that negated McCormick's game-winning run.
Umpire Hank O'Day called Merkle out. Because the Polo Grounds field was in complete chaos by then with thousands of fans running every which way, the umpire called the game a 1-1 tie. Then the fans really went wild.
But the NL president, Harry Pullman, upheld O'Day's ruling and ordered a makeup game if necessary after the end of the regular season. Since the teams did end the season tied for first place, the makeup game had to be played and the Cubs won, 4-1, by beating the Giants' ace, Christy Mathewson, who had won 37 games that season.
The Cubs' ace, Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown, was the winning pitcher. He went on to win two games over Detroit in the World Series, as did a pitcher with one of my favorite names for an athlete, Orval Overall.
That Cubs team had the most famous shortstop, second base, first base double play combo in MLB history -- Tinker to Evers to Chance. They were Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. Not only did Chance play and manage the Cubs but he batted .421 in the Series while Evers hit .350. Tinker hit a game-winning two-run home run in the eighth inning of the second game that started a six-run inning for the Cubs who won the game, 6-1.
Merkle went on to play 14 more seasons in the major leagues, including four years with the Chicago Cubs, 1917-1920. Thus Merkle, who presented the Cubs with the famous reprieve years earlier, played first base for the Cubs in the 1918 World Series when they were beaten by the Boston Red Sox, 4-2, as Babe Ruth pitched two of those Boston victories.
Maybe the Cubs will win a World Series again some day. Their fans believe it could be this fall.
They have Carlos Zambrano, he of the 18 victories last year. They have Derrek Lee at first base and Alfonso Soriano in the outfield for power as long as they both stay healthy this year. The Cubs have many others who give promise.
But much as I sympathize with Cubbie fans, I must say, "Don't count on it."
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is email@example.com.
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