As we head toward Shavous, the Chicago Cubs are sporting baseball’s best won-lost record.
Cubs fans are hoping their team holds the top spot through the October Yom Tovim and into the World Series.
It’s hard to find someone who remembers the last time the Cubs were in the World Series. After all, it’s been 71 years. And the Cubs lost that 1945 Fall Classic to Hank Greenberg’s Detroit Tigers.
It’s been 108 years since the Cubs actually won a World Series. The Cubs made it to the 1908 World Series because of what’s become known as “Merkle’s Boner.”
Most baseball fans have heard of Merkle’s Boner, but how many actually know when or how it happened?
Merkle’s Boner turned what was set to be a game-ending victory celebration by the New York Giants and their fans into a tie game with the Cubs.
Let’s dial back 108 years to 1908. Future actress Bette Davis was born on the first day of the baseball season. The first observance of Mother’s Day in the United States was held on May 10. The first Model-T Ford was built in August and General Motors was formed the following month.
Radio play-by-play was still two decades away and newspapers were the voice of America at the time.
Big Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox won 40 games in 1908. Walsh had eleven shutouts, 42 complete games, and pitched a whopping 464 innings (equal to more than 51 nine-inning games).
Christy Mathewson dominated the National League, winning 37 games for the New York Giants while compiling an earned run average of 1.43. Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators – in only the second season of what would be a 21-year career – amazed the baseball world by pitching three shutouts in only four days against the New York Yankees.
The 1908 season was the year of the pitcher. Both leagues compiled a paltry .239 batting average. Of the 16 major league teams at the time, only the pitching staff of the New York Yankees had an ERA over 3.00.
New York even then was the media center of the nation and many baseball scribes were on hand as the Cubs and the New York Giants squared off at the Polo Grounds on September 23. The game featured the Cubs’ famous infield double-play combination of Tinker shortstop) to Evers (second base) to Chance (first base). Today, 108 years later, the biggest trivia question is still “Who was the third baseman of that famous World Series-winning Cubs infield of Tinker to Evers to Chance?” Answer: Harry Steinfeldt.
The game moved along quickly. Each team had one run as the Giants batted in the bottom of the ninth with a runner in scoring position and 19-year-old rookie Fred Merkle on first base.
Merkle took off for second as the batter singled to right field. Meanwhile, the Giant who’d been in scoring position headed home with the winning run. Fans swarmed the field in celebration and Merkle quickly made his way through the bedlam, seeking the safety of the clubhouse.
Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers somehow got hold of a ball in the confusion; only he knew if it was really the ball the batter had hit into the outfield.
Evers found umpire Hank O’Dea and showed him the ball while stepping on second base for the force-out on Merkle, who had left the field before reaching second base.
Umpire O’Dea ruled that since Merkle was out, the inning was over and the run didn’t count. It was still a tie game. However, thousands of fans were still milling on the field and there was no public address system to inform them that they needed to clear the field because the game wasn’t over. Darkness was fast approaching and by the time all the fans had exited, the umpires ruled the game would have to be played over if both clubs ended the season in a tie.Irwin Cohen