Remember to Touch Second Base

A page from the sports date book.

The moral of this baseball story is to always touch second base.

Back during my high school days, my parents bought a sports date book for me at Christmas time.

It’s been a great resource over the years in the bathroom library.

But a problem has become apparent. Not all of the information in the book is correct. There are some dates and even names that are incorrect.

During my days at a newspaper in the late 1990s, it was fun to write historical stories. One of my better efforts turned out to be wrong once it was published and a lesson was learned.

In my research for that infamous story, the information that would be used from an old newspaper article was incorrect. Thankfully, it wasn’t the main focus of the story, but it was wrong. The person in the story called and informed me that the newspaper had corrected the information a few days later.

Ugh. But it taught me to be as thorough as possible, which leads to my most recent situation.

My trusty date book has a story about “Merkle’s Boner” happening on Sept. 9, 1908. That is wrong. Fred Merkle of the New York Giants failed to touch second base on Sept. 23, 1908. Carl Frederick Rudolf Merkle is also called George in the story.

After finding another discrepancy, it makes me wonder about the rest of the information in the book. Verify, verify and then verify again.

Everyone makes mistakes. Merkle did. A few weeks earlier so did umpire Hank O’Day, who would eventually be the one who called Merkle out for not touching second base.

Merkle had a successful 16-year major league career and appeared in the World Series five times, but he is always remembered for his mistake that helped the Chicago Cubs to win the 1908 championship.

1916 WS Hank_O'Day

Hank O’Day during the 1916 World Series. The umpire was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013.

Merkle Not the First

However, Merkle wasn’t the first player that year to forget to touch second base. The Cubs were in Pittsburgh on Sept. 4. In the 10th inning of a scoreless contest, the Pirates had the bases loaded with two outs. Chief Wilson smacked a single and the winning run had scored.

Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers, who was also later involved with the Merkle play, got the ball and touched second base. Warren Gill, who was a rookie in his only major league season, should have been out on the play. With his partner watching the play at first, O’Day, who was the home plate umpire, ruled the game was over even though he admittedly didn’t know if Gill had touched second.

According to multiple sources (LOL), Gill left the field after Pittsburgh player-manager Fred Clarke crossed the plate with what turned out to be the winning run.

The Cubs protested the win by the Pirates, but it was later denied by National League President Harry Pulliam.

Today, most folks are aware of Merkle’s situation and how the tie game led to the Giants and Cubs both being at the top of the standings in the NL pennant race by the end of the season, forcing an extra contest to be played. It was not considered a playoff game because the Merkle game officially ended in a tie.

It’s one of the quintessential moments in the history of baseball. No matter what your profession, the lesson learned is that everyone needs to be thorough as you do your job and always remember to touch second base on your way home.


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