Tag Archives: 1908 NY Giants

Of Flubs, Boners and Chance

These are saddest of all possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds.
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
== Franklin Pierce Adams, 1910


This past week those lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the opening of their historic home stadium, Wrigley Field. In classic Cubs’ style, they collapsed in the 9th-inning, losing a large lead to the Arizona Diamondbacks – the only Major League team at the time with a worse record than the Cubs in this young season. The Cubs have the ignominious record as North America’s professional sports franchise with the longest duration without a championship: 105 years, and running. This year the tally will surely increment to 106.

1060 W. Addison, Chicago, IL (Wrigleyville)

1060 W. Addison, Chicago, IL (Wrigleyville)

It might come as a surprise to baseball fans that the Chicago Cubs had fantastic teams in the early 1900s. They made it to three consecutive World Series – 1906 to 1908 – winning twice. Those Cubs of yore lay claim to the most famous double play combination in history. Simply stating the names – Tinkers, Evers, Chance – conveys an image of a well-oiled defensive machine, brutally turning double plays to snuff out potential rallies. In the dead ball era most games were low scoring, and hence most games were very close. Effectively turning base runners into double play outs could have a devastating emotional impact on the opposition.

So often did the Cubs, and their double play trio, dash the pennant and World Series hopes of the New York Giants that Franklin Pierce Adams, a columnist for the New York Evening Mail, wrote the poem above. [1]

Let us go back now, to 1908, when the Cubbies won their last championship, and consider how little Johnny Evers found a new and clever way to squash the Giants’ pennant hopes: he used his head, the rules of baseball, and applied them at a critical moment that involved one of the biggest base running mistakes in baseball history.

From the Official Rules of Baseball

Definitions: A FORCE PLAY is a play in which a runner legally loses his right to occupy a base by reason of the batter becoming a runner.

How a run scores: A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made … by any runner being forced out.

As the 1908 season wound down, the Cubs were two-time defending National League pennant winners. They were involved in a tense and tight race with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Giants.

In a late season game with the Pirates, the Cubs appeared to have lost on the last play of the game by a score of 1-0, when, with two outs and runners on first and third, a base hit fell in the outfield.

In that era, in the excitement of the moment for such “walk off” singles, the runners on first or second base would not advance to the next base … it being deemed not necessary since the winning run was scored when the runner touched home plate.

This day in Pittsburgh, September 4, Johnny Evers, the Cubs’ wily and wiry second baseman, was not deterred. He retrieved the ball, stood on second base and appealed to umpire Hank O’Day, who had not yet left the field. The winning run should not count, claimed Evers, since the runner on first did not touch second: this was the third out and the result of a force play.

Johnny Joseph Evers, Cubs scrappy 2nd baseman

Johnny Joseph Evers, Cubs scrappy 2nd baseman

Upon considering the situation, facts and the rule as Evers explained, O’Day agreed with Evers. But O’Day claimed he did not see whether or not the runner touched 2nd base and, since an umpire cannot call an out he did not see, allowed the run to count. The Pirates won the game.

The Cubs and Evers made quite a stink about this. There was some talk amongst league directors (this was the days before a commissioner), rules committee and umpires. Although it was generally agreed that rules are rules and should be enforced as such, this position was not flowed to all teams and players uniformly.

Two and a half weeks later, September 23, with just a few games left in the season, the Cubs were in New York to play the Giants. They were tied for first place in the National League at the time.

That day the Giants regular first baseman, Fred Tenny was ill. Giants’ Hall of Fame manager John McGraw inserted Fred Merkle into the lineup. At the time Merkle was the youngest player in the Major Leagues, at 19-years old. He had never started a Major League game before.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, the score was tied: one run apiece. The Cubs had scored when Tinker slashed a gapper to right field. Today this would be a stand-up double. In the old polo grounds the ball rolled and rolled. Tinker scampered all the way around for an inside-the-park home run.

Spacious outfield at the Polo Grounds Ball Park allowed line drives in gaps to roll a long way.

Spacious outfield at the Polo Grounds Ball Park allowed line drives in gaps to roll a long way.

The Giants had scored in the classic small-ball fashion of the era. A single. An error. A sacrifice. A single.

Both starting pitchers were still in the game, very common for that era. For the Giants future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson was pitching a great game. For the Cubs, lefty Jack Pfister – he of the wicked curve ball – was on the mound.

Not nearly as well-known today as Mattewson, in 1906 Pfister recorded one of the lowest ERAs ever by a rookie, 1.51. His career ERA of 2.02 stands as the third best ever for anyone who’s pitched at least 1,000 innings.

Classic Matthewson photo, 1907

Classic Matthewson photo, 1907

During the season Pfister had damaged an epicondyle tendon in his left arm – undoubtedly due to the strain from throwing so many of his devastating curves. In the heat of pennant race, Pfister continued pitching … and throwing curve balls. During the game his damaged tendon became dislocated.

Still, he continued pitching, needing to be escorted off the field between innings … so severe was the pain.

In the bottom of the 9th, Pfister had to stop throwing curve balls. With one out and Art Devlin on first base after a single, Moose McCormick hit a double-play ball to Evers at second. However, Devlin got a great jump on the pitch — correctly guessing that Pfister was too tired to make a throw to first base and hold him close.  Devlin was able to take out Tinker at the pivot, thus avoiding the double play (which would have reversed the classic line as Evers-Tinker-Chance). McCormick was now on first, with two outs.

Next up was the young Fred Merkle, who had only 47 plate appearances all year until then. He slashed a single to right field, allowing McCormick to get all the way to third base.
With the winning run on third base, the Giants and their 30,000 fans in the stadium – with many more watching from Coogan’s Bluff beyond the outfield – could sense a dramatic and critical victory over the visiting rival Cubs.

Fans standing on Boone's hill, beyond outfield, at Polo Grounds, September, 23,1908

Fans standing on Boone’s hill, beyond outfield, at Polo Grounds, September, 23,1908

Giants’ shortstop 24-year old Al Bridwell stepped into the left-handed batter’s box and wasted no time … hitting a line drive to center field on the very first pitch, getting a fast ball as he expected.

McCormick danced home, scoring the winning run. The Giants and their fans raced onto the field, celebrating the dramatic victory. Oh the joy!

Again, Johnny Evers was not about to give up. As fate would have it, Hank O’Day was also the umpire that day. Evers got O’Day’s attention and made sure he knew that Merkle had not touched second base, and hence the play was not yet over.

At this point, the various stories diverge. Some have Tinker retrieving the ball. Some Evers. Some Chance. Some say the ball was lost and Evers got a ball from O’Day’s ball bag.

Regarding the upshot, all stories agree. Evers had the ball, standing on second base before Merkle (who was dancing with his teammates and fans on the field) had touched second base. O’Day declared Merkle out, the result of a force play. This was the third out, hence the run did not count.

Fred Merkle, 1908

Fred Merkle, 1908

With such pandemonium in the Polo Grounds, there was absolutely no chance to clear the field and resume the game before darkness set in.

Consequently, the game was declared a 1-1 tie. Both the Cubs and Giants protested. The Cubs wanted a forfeit, since the behavior of the Giants’ fans precluded any chance to continue play. The Giants’ various claims included tradition, that O’Day had not actually seen the play and that Evers did not hold the actual game ball at second base. All appeals were denied. The tie stood.

At the end of the season, the Giants and Cubs finished atop the National League, with identical 98-55 records. The odd team out were the Pirates, oh-so-close, at 98-56: only one-half game behind. (ties were not counted). [6] [7]

A single extra Giants-Cubs game would be played, extending the season for these two teams.

The Make-up Game

The make-up game was deemed a replay of the September 23 game, so it was played at the Polo Grounds on October 8 — the day after the season ended. The Giants again called upon Christy Matthewson. But he turned them down. His arm was “dead.” He had pitched 390 innings, started 44 games, and pitched 3 complete games in the last week – the Giants were forced to play 10 games in the last 8 days of the season on account of rain outs. [2] [3] [4]

The Cubs again called on Pfister. With his dead arm and damaged tendon, he did not get out of the first inning, failing to retire a batter. He was replaced by Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown – who had lost a finger and mangled several others on his throwing hand in farm accidents as a youth.

Mordecai Brown's right (pitching) hand

Mordecai Brown’s right (pitching) hand

Thanks to Pfister’s ailing arm, the Giants jumped out to a quick lead. But, in front of 40,000 screaming Giants fans, the Cubs rallied, “Three Finger” held the Giants in check, and the Cubs won the game 4-2, and went on to the World Series.

The Cubs went on to again crush Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers in the World Series, four games to one. This was the first re-match in Series history; the Cubs had defeated the Tigers 4-0 the previous year.

Of all the reasons the Cubs made it to the 1908 Series – and won it! – is the most famous base running blunder in baseball history: now known as “Merkle’s Boner.” The Cubs have not won a World Series since that year. Whether this is on account of the demonic “Curse of Merkle’s Boner”, the poem of Franklin Pierce Adams, playing so many day games in a hitter friendly stadium, or carrying the heavy burden of a history of failure, it doesn’t matter; they remain America’s Lovable Losers.

Aftermath and ironies:

  • All together, and as a trio, Tinker, Evers and Chance were voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame on the same ballot in 1946.

  • Evers and Tinker hated each other. In 1905 they had ceased talking, except on the field when absolutely necessary. In 1926 Chance, dying of cancer, called them to his bed together. A modicum of peace was reached.

  • Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1949.

  • Both O’Day and Evers would go on to manage the Cubs in later years.

  • Merkle went on to have a long career, an additional 14 years, including a stint with the Chicago Cubs.

  • Adams’ poem seems to have done the trick. McGraw’s Giants went on to win the pennant in 1911, 1912 and 1913 (although the Cubs did win the pennant in 1910, the year of the poem’s penning).

  • The record of Cubs futility is astounding. They did make it to the World Series 6 more times, losing each time.  In a 7th visit to the series in the (WW2 caused athlete-depleted) year of 1945, they got close: losing 4 games to 3 to, the Detroit Tigers. But they have not been World Series Champions since 1908. And they’ve not even been in the Series since 1945.[5]



Joe Girard © 2014

[1] “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”, New York Evening Mail; July 12, 1910; by Franklin Pierce Adams. Originally titled: “That Double Play Again.” It was re-published on July 15 under the title that it is still known by today. It is often referred to by its refrain: “Tinkers to Evers to Chance.”
[2] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mathech01.shtml
[3] 1908 NY Giants game records: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teamstats/schedule.php?y=1908&t=NY1

[4] Matthewson’s 1908 Season is often called the best season ever by a pitcher. He led the Majors in ERA (1.43), wins (37) and even saves (5), as he had 12 relief appearances to go with his 44 starts. http://voices.yahoo.com/christy-mathewson-1908-greatest-season-ever-1975418.html

[5] http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1945_WS.shtml

[6] New York Giants 1908 Season record: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teamstats/schedule.php?y=1908&t=NY1

[7] Chicago Cubs 1908 Season record: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teamstats/schedule.php?y=1908&t=CHN

[a] Gonfalon, definition; Oxford Dictionary: “A banner or pennant, especially one with streamers, hung from a crossbar.” http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/gonfalon


[100] http://www.1907cubs.com/tinkers-to-evers-to-chance.php

[101] Fun little essay on Merkle, his boner, his career and more details of the Sept 23, 1908 game.