September 23

This Day in History

Sports

Sep 23, 1908:

Controversial call gives Cubs the pennant

On September 23, 1908, a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs ends in 1-1 tie after a controversial call at second base. The officials ruled that Giants first baseman Fred Merkle was out because he failed to touch second base, a call that has been disputed ever since.

On September 21, 1908, the Chicago Cubs headed to the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan to play the New York Giants, who held a slim lead over the Windy City team for the National League pennant. The Cubs, however, were able to prevail in the first two games of the series due in large part to the fine play of pitching ace Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. On September 23, the Giants sent their own pitching star, Christy Matthewson, to the mound. Matthewson held the powerful Cubs lineup in check all day, but the Giants were unable to score. Finally, in the fifth inning, Giants outfielder "Turkey" Mike Donlin misplayed a double by Cub star Joe Tinker to give the Cubs their lone run. However, Donlin redeemed himself in the sixth by hitting a home run to tie the game at 1-1.

The score remained tied into the ninth, and with Giant Moose McCormick on first base after a fielder’s choice and two outs, Fred Merkle hit a single that sent McCormick to third. With men on first and third and afternoon turning to evening, shortstop Al Bridwell hit a single to center, scoring McCormick. Unfortunately for John McGraw’s Giants, Merkle never ran and touched second, he instead ran off the field after watching McCormick score. Cub manager Frank Chance instructed his team to throw the ball to second base and touch the bag. Giant pitcher Joe McGinnity had noticed Merkle’s blunder as well, however, and, with fans crowding the field in celebration, he threw the ball into the stands. Chance somehow obtained a ball, apparently not the game ball, and when he threw the ball to second base, Merkle was called out. Umpire Hank O’Day then called the game a tie due to impending darkness.

Because the game could not end in a tie, it was replayed on October 8, 1908. In the makeup game the Cubs beat their rivals to secure the National League pennant and went on to beat the Detroit Tigers for their third consecutive World Series. Merkle stayed with the Giants until 1916, and although he went on to have a solid 19-year career in the majors, he continued to blame himself—both privately and publicly—for the Giants’ failure to win the 1908 National League pennant.

In 1912, Merkle was involved in another unfortunate incident when he, Matthewson and Giant catcher Chief Myers let a pop fly in foul territory fall between them during the World Series. The batter, Red Sox outfielder Tris Speaker, then singled, and the Red Sox rallied to beat the Giants 3-2 for their second World Series championship.

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