December 8, 2019

Three Different Views of One Play

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Below I print three descriptions of the same play from the 1913 World’s Series. After over 30 years of interviewing eye-witnesses at accidents and crime scenes, I know that people see the same incident differently, so that three sport writers might see the same play different does not surprise me. For whatever the reasons when things happen in real life speed, and we have no foreknowledge it is about to happen, our eyes and brains read the story different than the next person. I guess that is one of the great things about being humans and not computers.

This is nothing new—think of Babe Ruth pointing to center field–, just something to keep in mind when reading differing accounts of any play. Most likely the people relating the account saw the play as they are describing it, not fabricating.

Back to 1913—-In the top of the third inning in game five Eddie Murphy led off with single. Rube Oldring then hit a grounder to Larry Doyle, who fumbled the ball, allowing Murphy to take second base and Oldring was safe at first. Eddie Collins then sacrificed both runners one base. Frank Baker came up and the infield moved up for a play at the plate.

The stage for set for Fred Merkle’s third mishap play in five years.

If what happened was or was not a “bonehead” play I let others decide. This is not meant to be an exhaustive study of the play. As I said earlier, the point here is to show how three baseball writers, presumably all at the game, saw and interpreted the play differently. All three accounts were from Philadelphia papers, so the journalists saw the play from their team’s perspective.

Philadelphia Inquirer, October 12, 1913

This was the frame in which they clinched the championship, put Merkle back in his bone-headed class of 1908 again and upset Matty……Baker swung wickedly at the first pitch, but hitting on top of the ball sent it but very feebly to Merkle at first. This, however, was as good as a hit from later results. Baker started to tear down to first, but suddenly stopped just as Merkle was about to tag him. Baker backed a couple of steps back toward the plate, and this confused Merkle, who, forgetting Murphy on third, concentrated every thought on getting Frank. This was the play [third base coach] Harry Davis and Murphy were looking for, and Eddie by a fast sprint home dashed over the rubber before Merkle, being roused from is slumber, could throw the ball to [Larry] McLean. The toss was high and it was all that McLean could do to stop it. Baker, as soon as Merkle threw home, rushed to first, making that bag without McLean making the throw there. Oldring in the meantime rushed to third. The entire Giant infield was up in the air over the play, and McLean stood with the ball in his hands, apparently not knowing what to do with it. Mathewson had to rush up and grab the sphere, for Baker was making a bluff attempt to dash to second.

Philadelphia Public Ledger, October 12, 1913
By D. L. Reeves, Sporting Editor of the Public Ledger

Merkle then assisted the world’s champions to a run by making one of the blunders for which he is famed. Baker swing at the ball and it rolled close to the first base foul line. Merkle picked it up cleanly and ran a few feet toward the plate. Murphy, seeing him with the ball started to return to third base. It was then that Merkle decided to give chase to Baker, who had just passed him. He turned to either run after Baker or throw to Doyle, covering the bag, and like a flash, Murphy darted for the plate. Merkle heeded McLean’s cry to throw the ball to him, but when the big backstop received the sphere it was high and little Eddie slid under him with the second run of the game.

Philadelphia Bulletin, October 12, 1913

The tin horn sports have picked Merkle as the goat of the 1913 World’s Series. In all the hotel bar-rooms within the glare of the electric signs along Main st., they were roasting McGraw’s first baseman for the loss of the big title. The man who lost the pennant for the Giants in 1908 when he failed to touch second and who helped Snodgrass throw away the World’s Championship last year, was universally condemned for this play in the third inning Saturday, which resulted in the Athletics getting the two runs across, which gave them the margin of victory.

As a matter of fact, most of the critics contend that it wasn’t Merkle’s boneheadedness so much as the Athletics’ brainy work which enabled Murphy to score from third and caused the Giants’ first baseman to lose his head so that Baker was safe on first. Three times previously in the series the Mackmen had lost runs by men being thrown out at the plate on short hits to first base.

Twice on Wednesday, in the memorable game in Philadelphia—the only one the Athletics lost—Strunk and Barry were called out at home in the ninth inning. Again on Friday, Philadelphia fans saw Oldring retired in the same way on Collin’s rap to Merkle, after the blond centre fielder had tripled in the first inning.

When Eddie Murphy saw Merkle field Baker’s grounder Saturday, instead of dashing to certain death at the plate, the little right fielder came to a dead stop half-way home. The first baseman was surprised. He had set himself for the throw home, but when he saw Murphy stop, he decided to make the play on Baker.

Frank had already sped past him on the first base line and Merkle prepared to throw the ball to Doyle, covering first. Just as he was about to throw, Murphy took him by surprise by scooting home. Merkle then made a hurried throw to McLean, but Eddie easily beat the ball. A sacrifice fly later scored Oldring from third, whereas, if Murphy had been nailed at the plate, no one would have scored. The fly would have been the third out.

But all the base ball scientists declare that the heady inside work of the Athletics was responsible for the score rather than the folly of Merkle. Murphy simply outwitted him—for it was his wits along that enabled him to score.

But the Broadway sports have singled out Merkle for their victim. They want satisfaction for the loss of their money, and it looks as if they hope to get it by the release of the first baseman. They started the clamor Saturday night, and apparently they won’t be contented unless McGraw lets go the man who has always done so well for the Giants during the regular season and yet has been guilty of unfortunate breaks at critical times in the championship series.

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