May 21, 2019

A New York View of the 1913 Merkle Play

December 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

For those who read the accounts of Fred Merkle’s handling the ball hit to him in the third inning of the final game of the 1913 World Series—from the Philadelphia sport writers’ view—I have some follow up that presents the play from the New York writers’ view. One major difference is the Philadelphia writers all described the hit by Frank Baker as a ground ball, one even writing Baker “swung wickedly” at the first pitch. The New York version tells us Baker bunted the ball down the first base line.

Here are the versions from the New York Times of October 12, 1913.

In its inning by inning game account the newspaper simply reported:

“Baker bunted a slow grounder to Merkle, who advanced to touch the runner. Murphy was fast going toward the plate and Baker halted on the base line and then backed up as Merkle came in. Seeing Murphy on the way to the plate Merkle threw to McLean, but his throw was late and Murphy scored, Baker finishing his trip to first after the throw.”

A further detailed account of the game described the play as thus:

“Baker was up, but Mathewson has by this time become so well acquainted with Baker’s style that he avoids pitching the balls which the home-run king slams so hard. Baker resorted to a bunt, and the ball hopped down the first-base line to Merkle. The first baseman got the ball, and was ready to touch Baker out as he came up. Baker stopped short, and delayed the play as Murphy galloped down the third-base line toward the plate. This one bit of strategy by Baker threw Merkle’s reasoning all out of kilter. Plainly, he didn’t know what to do. He could easily have thrown Murphy out at the plate. Better than that, he could have taken just one step and tagged Baker out, and tossed the ball to McLean in time to get Murphy.

Merkle did just the only wrong thing which could be done. He delayed so long, holding the ball in his hand spellbound that Murphy had started to slide into home before Merkle threw the ball. As soon as he threw, Baker rushed to first. He was safe, Murphy had scored and the National League champions were in the air higher than a kite. There never was a ball player who is so closely pursued by ill luck as Merkle. His baseball mistakes have always come at critical times. He falls down when the cost is greatest.

This measly grounder of Baker’s which should have been the means of an easy double play, therefore suddenly became one of those ridiculous base hits. From an inconspicuous grounder it became the highly important hit which practically won the world’s series. And Baker was the man to do it. In the history of the Giant’s downfall this year and in 1911 the name of Baker stands out like a lighthouse at night. Baker, Baker, Baker—the name will ring in Giant ears for years to come. Before, it has been terrific home-run drives which have given him fame, but now he comes across with a schoolboy’s bunt which booms into such importance that it is heard around the baseball world.”

Hugh S. Fullerton wrote this in the Times the day after the game:

“Mathewson pitched perfectly to Baker under the conditions. He was striving to make him hit softly to the infield, and dropped slow, twisting curves inside the plate and low. Baker bit and swung at a curve in against his shins, tapping the ball easily down toward first. McGraw might have saved a lot of trouble right there by substituting George Wiltse before the ball reached Merkle, but did not. Merkle grabbed the ball in front of Baker, and chased him to tag him. Meantime Eddie Murphy was dodging and ducking toward the plate, and, seeing Merkle confused, he leaped for home and Merkle threw there, late and too high, and Murphy slid safe, while Oldring went to third and Baker to first”.

And finally, Giant manager John McGraw, who certainly had a good view of the play, wrote this:

“Baker, of home run fame, came to the bat and my infield moved in for the play, at the plate. Baker laid down another bunt, and it bounced to Merkle. Murphy hesitated about starting in from third base, and Merkle went after Baker, neglecting the base runner coming home. When he did throw, it was bad, and Murphy beat the ball anyway. Baker had made a Cincinnati base hit instead of a home run, and it served the purpose almost as well, because two runs were the eventual result…..Merkle should have had one play easily on this.”

Interesting play, if I may say.

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