SABR

Moose McCormick

This article was written by Ralph Berger.

If there were a Hall of Fame for pinch hitters, one of the first to enter would be Harry Elwood "Moose" McCormick.

In 1922, when asked how he explained his pinch-hitting success, McCormick said, "It was because I never worried when I went to the plate. I always thought this when I was asked to bat for another: ''Well, if I fail, no fault can be found with me, for if everybody on the team had been hitting I would never had been called on.'"

Nearly two decades after McCormick's death, two men, one from Washington, D.C., the other from Philadelphia, met halfway between their hometowns, off an I-95 ramp in Rising Sun, Maryland. After they exchanged pleasantries, one reached into his pocket and produced a medallion. The other man opened his wallet and counted out a stack of twenty-dollar bills. The medallion changed hands. The price has never been revealed.

The original owner of that medallion, as reported by the Union County (Pennsylvania) Journal on October 11, 1979, was Moose McCormick, a graduate of Girard College in Philadelphia, a school for orphaned children.

The Journal said McCormick received the medallion in 1908. Ten years later, he walked into William Tenn's pawnshop in Washington and sold it for a paltry three dollars. The story goes that McCormick came back for his medallion time after time, but the pawnbroker refused to return it, claiming he had better offers.

Eventually the medallion wound up in the hands of Moe Parzow for forty dollars. Parzow was the son-in-law of William Tenn and was helping his father-in-law clean out his shop for the last time because the building had been condemned. The medallion had sat in the pawnshop for nearly half a century. Parzow's wife put it on a chain and wore it on special occasions. A friend noticed it and suggested they contact the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the Hall was not interested. Parzow also contacted Maria Billhardt, McCormick's daughter, but negotiations broke down.

Frank Steele, a collector of baseball memorabilia, overheard a conversation between Parzow's son Howard and an auctioneer. One month later, Steele met Howard Parzow on the I-95 ramp and took the medallion home.

Born February 28, 1881, Harry McCormick entered Girard College at the age of six. His father, Alexander, was a stoker at the Philadelphia Gas Works. His mother, Mary, was a housewife who bore five children. When Harry was five years old, his father died of unknown causes. Under the laws of Pennsylvania, if a child's father died, he or she was considered an orphan and therefore eligible to enter Girard College.

Harry grew to be 5'11" and 180 pounds, a big man in those days. He excelled in baseball and football in high school. Because of his size, his classmates dubbed him "Moose." When asked for his autograph, McCormick would ink-stamp a little moose head under his signature.

After graduating from Girard College in 1898, McCormick entered Bucknell University in 1901. He made an immediate impact as a four-sport athlete, earning letters in baseball, football, track, and basketball. In a showdown between Penn and Bucknell, two football powerhouses, McCormick capped off his career at Bucknell when he ran for the winning touchdown on a rain-soaked Franklin Field in Philadelphia. He bulled into the last Penn defender at the five-yard line and carried him into the end zone. His athletic achievements earned him a place in the Bucknell Sports Hall of Fame in 1979.

McCormick did not graduate from Bucknell with his 1904 class; he left to play professional baseball with Jersey City in 1903. He then joined the New York Giants in 1904.

Giants' manager John McGraw tried to sign as many college men as possible because he felt they were smarter and had a better chance of learning the game than players lacking college experience. McGraw is quoted in Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia: "The difference is simply this-the college boy, or anyone with a partially trained mind, immediately tries to find his faults; the unschooled fellow usually tries to hide his. The moment a man locates his faults he can quickly correct them. The man who thinks he is keeping his mistakes undercover will never advance a single step until he sees the light."

Outfielder McCormick appeared in fifty-nine games for the Giants in 1904, compiling a .266 average. Sent to Pittsburgh the same year, he batted .299 in sixty-six games. According to the Daily Item (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania) and the New York Times, McCormick dropped out of baseball for three years and worked as a steel salesman.

In 1908, he returned to baseball and appeared in eleven games for the Phillies, batting a lowly .091. The Phillies sold him back to the Giants.

When McCormick talked to McGraw, the Giants manager told Moose he had been thinking about using him as a pinch hitter and part-time outfielder. He knew that McCormick, because of his lack of speed, could not be a first-string outfielder.

This move paid off immediately. McCormick batted .302 in 73 games, with 76 hits, 16 doubles, 3 triples and 32 runs batted in. McGraw was delighted with the results.

According to accounts in the Daily Item (July 10, 1962), and the Bucknell Public Relations Department (January 1, 1980), he was involved in some quirky baseball events. At bat late in a game, doing his pinch-hit duty, he lined a clean single to center field, but Bill Klem, the home plate umpire, ruled the pitch and the hit did not count because he had not finished announcing McCormick as the pinch hitter. Moose proceeded to strike out.

On another occasion, standing in the on-deck circle, lost in his thoughts, Moose looked up in time to see an errant throw from the outfield coming right down his wheelhouse, Instinctively, he swung and blasted it out of the ballpark.

The Giants clubhouse at the Polo Grounds was in deep right center field. The players rushed there immediately after the last out or after the winning run scored to avoid the crush of fans running onto the field.

It was no different on September 23, 1908, a bright sun-splashed day. The Cubs and the Giants were locked in a tight pennant race. A band in right field played Sousa marches, vendors sold their hot dogs, pennants, and beer. It was a glorious day for a ball game. The fans sat on the edge of their seats as the Giants and Cubs, locked in a 1-1 tie, entered the ninth inning.

The Cubs were retired in order in the top of the ninth. The Giants came to bat.

With two outs McCormick lined a single to left. Nineteen-year-old Fred Merkle was the next hitter. Merkle rifled a long single down the right field line and McCormick raced to third. The fans were salivating, ready to taste a victory that would bring the Giants closer to a pennant.

The next batter, Al Bridwell, noticed that Merkle was straying far off the bag at first. That did not make sense to him because the only run they needed was McCormick's on third. Bridwell stepped out and looked at Merkle. Merkle returned to first and stayed closer to the bag.

Bridwell dug in and lined the first pitch past the diving second baseman, Johnny Evers, into right center field. McCormick, jumping for joy, raced home with the apparent winning run as Bridwell ran to first.

Bedlam ensued as the fans poured out of the stands to celebrate. Merkle, to dodge the delirious mob, cut off halfway between first and second and made a beeline for the safety of the Giants clubhouse.

Things that go bump in the night also do it during the day. In the bottom of the ninth on September 8, 1908, Johnny Evers had complained to umpire Hank O'Day that Warren Gill of the Pittsburgh Pirates had failed to touch second base in the same situation and that the winning run should not count. O'Day said he did not see it and the game was over. However, O'Day said that he would be more alert the next time it happened and would call the runner out if he failed to touch second base.

But the real credit goes to Johnny Evers, who lived and breathed baseball twenty-four hours a day. His regimen after games was to curl up in bed with a few candy bars and study the baseball rulebook.

Evers's regimen paid off. The umpire-in-chief on September 23, 1908, was the same Hank O'Day. Evers saw that Merkle had not touched second base and immediately called for the ball to touch second, forcing Merkle out and negating the winning run. Whether Evers had the same ball hit by Bridwell we will never know. O'Day called Merkle out, and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.

According to an account in Girard's Major Leaguers, McCormick was furious. Thinking Bridwell had failed to run to first base, he ran after him and kicked him, yelling, "Don't you know where first base is?" Actually, Merkle's failure to touch second resulted in the out and negated the winning run.

As McGraw pointed out, Merkle did not deserve the "goat ears." It was customary for players to cut off between first and second base in those days and head for the haven of the clubhouse. Merkle was a victim of selective enforcement of the rule.

Merkle's name survives as one of baseball's most infamous goats because the game helped cost the Giants the pennant. The Cubs and Giants finished the season tied for first place, a tie that would not have happened if McCormick's run had been allowed.

The Cubs beat the Giants in a one-game playoff at the Polo Grounds on October 8, 1908, then had to fight their way to their clubhouse through an angry mob of New York fans. For the rest of his life McGraw claimed he had been robbed of the pennant, blaming not Merkle but the umpires and the league president.

Many years later Bridwell lamented that he wished he had struck out and saved Merkle from infamy. Merkle was crucified in the papers and the fan reaction was just as bad.
"Anyway Merkle's gone now; God rest his tortured soul. The only thing he did wrong was, he got caught," Bridwell told Lawrence S. Ritter in The Glory of Their Times.

In 1910 and 1911 McCormick was again out of baseball and worked as a salesman. He returned to the Giants in 1912 and enjoyed his two finest seasons as a pinch hitter, going 11 for 30 in that role in 1912 and 10 for 39 the next year. The Daily Item and the New York Times stated that McCormick was a dependable and productive pinch hitter.

During his career, McCormick hit .301 in a pinch-hit role, with 30 hits in 93 at bats. In those days, starting pitchers usually finished their games and managers used far fewer pinch hitters than today. Historian Bill James says John McGraw "used pinch hitters probably more than any other manager of his time."

McCormick retired after the 1913 season and became a salesman with the Hess Steel Company in Baltimore.

Enlisting in the United States Army in 1917, McCormick saw action in France as a first lieutenant and later as a captain in the 167th infantry regiment of the famed 42nd Rainbow Division during the Great War.

Moose McCormick married Dorothy Walls, a graduate of Bucknell's class of 1905, on November 5, 1921, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. They honeymooned in Buck Hills Falls in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, then resided at Ridley Park, a suburb of Philadelphia.

After the war McCormick managed the Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern Association and returned to Bucknell in 1922 as graduate manager of athletics and head baseball and basketball coach. He held those positions until 1925, when he became head baseball coach at West Point. He remained in that capacity until 1937, writing a small book on coaching college baseball, Fundamentals of Baseball (1931).

McCormick was permanent coach of a baseball instruction exhibition at the New York World's Fair of 1939-1940. In May 1941, seven months before Pearl Harbor, he returned to active duty with the Army Air Force and was director of physical education and training at Mitchell Field, Long Island, until the end of the war in 1945. From 1947 until he retired in 1958 he served as director of veterans housing at Bucknell.

Harry McCormick died on July 9, 1962, at his home in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He was eighty-one years old. Obituaries in the New York Times and the Daily Item lauded his athletic ability, his service in the army, and his coaching career.

He was survived by his wife, Dorothy; a daughter, Maria (Mrs. Kenneth Billhardt); and two granddaughters, Betsy and Christine Billhardt, of Manhassett, New York.

Sources

The Baseball Encyclopedia, 9th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1993.

Bucknell Public Relations Department, July 10, 1962.

Bucknell University Archives, March 1922.

Daily Item (Lewisburg, PA), (July 10, 1962).

Girard College Major Leaguers. Philadelphia: The Stephen Girard Memorial
Committee: 2002.

"Harry Ellwood 'Moose' McCormick," Obituary, New York Times (July 19, 1962).

James, Bill. The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers. New York: Scribner, 1997.

Neft, David S, Richard Cohen, and Michael L. Neft, eds. The Sports Encyclopedia:
Baseball.
New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000.

Pietrusza, David, Matthew Silverman, and Michael Gershman, eds. Baseball:
The Biographical Encyclopedia.
New York: Total Sports Illustrated: 2000.

Ritter, Lawrence S., ed. The Glory of Their Times. New York: Macmillan, 1966.

Union County (PA) Journal (October 11, 1979).

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