The crazy finish to the 1908 baseball season, which was decided by an obscure rule, Christy Mathewson’s dead arm, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown’s pitching, and Fred Merkle’s decision not to run all the way to second base. Things got ugly.
“From the stands there was a steady roar of abuse,” Brown said later. “I never heard anybody or any set of men called as many foul names as the Giant fans called us that day.” 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.”
The box score of the first game and a bunch of other juicy details are available in the original 1908 NY Times article.
Censurable stupidity on the part of player Merkle in yesterday’s game at the Polo Grounds between the Giants and Chicago placed the New York team’s chances of winning the pennant in jeopardy. His unusual conduct in the final inning of great game perhaps deprived New York of a victory that would have been unquestionable had he not comitted a breach in baseball play that resulted in Umpire O’Day declaring the game a tie.
It’s also interesting to look at the statistics for that season. Merkle is listed as the league’s youngest player, and Honus Wagner won nearly every single batting category, the Brooklyn Superbas (no, really!) topped the league with only 28 homers (for the entire team), and Mathewson won a whopping 37 games. Here’s that NY Times article again:
Up to the climatic ninth it was the toss of a coin who would win. For here is our best-beloved Mathewson pitching as only champions pitch, striking out the power and the glory of the Cubs, numbering among his slain Schulte in the first, Pfeister in the third, Steinfeldt in the fourth, Pfeister in the fifth, Haydon in the eighth, and Evers and Schulte in the ninth — these last in one-two order. Proper pitching, and for this and other things we embrace him.
With such headings as “The Fatal Third Inning”, the 1908 Times story about the second game is worth a look as well.