Bates: Fred Merkle, the postseason, and the plays that define us

From SABR member Mike Bates at The Hardball Times on September 27, 2018:

While some people get remembered for the entirety of their contributions, many more are remembered for the individual moments that stick in your brain, that distort and block out the larger picture of who they were. It’s the perfect time of year for that now, actually. Late September. Early October. The time when pennant races and Wild Cards are decided and playoffs are settled. The time when one decision or play can totally remake a career, and obscure who a ballplayer really is.

Take Fred Merkle, for example. What do you remember about Merkle? My guess, for 90 percent of you, it’s Merkle’s Boner. Which, if I’m being honest, is a pretty hilarious name for something that made a person miserable. But it’s how Merkle is filtered down to us 110 years later. He’s an anecdote about a famous screw up. A dummy. A headcase. A guy whose nickname, forever, would be Bonehead.

That’s what frustrated Fred Merkle so much. Merkle was a 19-year-old kid when he was thrust into the public consciousness. In 1908, after a season spent almost entirely as a pinch hitter, he was given his first start of the year at first base. It was September 23 and Merkle was replacing borderline Hall of Famer Fred Tenney, who had a bad case of lumbago and couldn’t start for literally the only time that season. The Cubs and the Giants (and the Pirates) were in a pennant race that was going down to the wire in the National League. The game was tightly played, with Christy Mathewson and Jack Pfeister each allowing just a single run through the first eight innings.

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Originally published: September 27, 2018. Last Updated: September 27, 2018.