1908 National League

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The 1908 season of the National League was the thirty-third season of the league.

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Season summary[edit]

The 1908 National League season has largely been distilled down to a single play, known colloquially as Merkle's Boner. The play occurred in the 9th inning on September 23rd, in a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs, with the score tied at 1-1. There were runners on first and third base for the Giants in the bottom of the inning, with Moose McCormick on third, the 19-year-old rookie Fred Merkle on first base, and Al Bridwell batting. Bridwell hit a game-winning single into the outfield and the Giants left the field to celebrate as soon as McCormick crossed home plate, with Merkle not bothering to touch second base. This was an important game in a very tight pennant race that also involved a third team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the celebrations were understandably raucous, with fans invading the field. During the mayhem, the Cubs' Johnny Evers managed to recover a ball (no one is sure that it was the actual game ball) and step on the second base bag and appeal to umpire Hank O'Day, who declared Merkle to be out, the inning over and the game a tie since it was now impossible to resume play. National League President Harry Pulliam upheld O'Day's controversial decision. The game was re-played on October 8th, the Cubs won, and this proved to be the difference in their winning the pennant. Poor Merkle, who had done nothing except what every player up to that time had ever done on such a play, was unfairly blamed for the loss.

The dramatic events of September 23rd were set up by an earlier game, this one between the Cubs and Pirates on September 4th. In this game, it was the Pirates who won, in the bottom of the 10th, when Chief Wilson hit the game-winning single, scoring Fred Clarke from third base, with Warren Gill not bothering to touch second base. Evers had tried to get the umpires' attention to the fact Gill had not touched second base, but O'Day, who was also the umpire that day, had ignored him. The Cubs filed a protest, but Pulliam failed to accept it. However, O'Day reflected about the Cubs' argument, found it logical, and vowed to accept such an appeal were such a play to re-occur. And as faith would have it, not only did the play re-occur, but it did in the most dramatic circumstances possible.

The replayed game of October 8th was made necessary by an extraordinary finish, without which Merkle's play would have become only a historical footnote. The Giants were beaten three times in the span of five days down the stretch by the Philadelphia Phillies and rookie pitcher Harry Coveleski, who earned the nickname "The Giant Killer" for his feat. On October 3rd, the Pirates and Cubs faced off in their final game of the season, with the Pirates in position to win the pennant outright had they won the game. But Mordecai Brown earned his 28th win of the season for the Cubbies, defeating the Bucs, 5-2, to go in front by half a game while awaiting the results of a three-game series between the Giants and the Boston Doves. The Giants swept all three games to move into a tie with the Cubs, turning the make-up game into a decisive contest. Christy Mathewson, with 37 wins, faced off against Jack Pfiester in the game, but Pfiester did not make it through the 1st inning, with Brown taking over for him and pitching the remainder of the game. The Cubs ended up on top, 4-2, winning the pennant.

The Cubs went on to face the Detroit Tigers, winners of an equally dramatic pennant race over in the American League, and easily won the World Series, four games to one, which would turn out to be their final championship for over a century, until 2016 to be precise.


Bold indicates league champion, Italics indicates World Series champion
1 Chicago Cubs 158 99 55 4 .627 -.- 624 (3.95) 461 (2.92) 0.249 0.306 0.321 2.14 0.969
2 Pittsburgh Pirates 155 98 56 1 .632 1.0 585 (3.77) 469 (3.03) 0.247 0.304 0.332 2.12 0.964
3 New York Giants 157 98 56 3 .624 1.0 652 (4.15) 456 (2.90) 0.267 0.333 0.333 2.14 0.961
4 Philadelphia Phillies 155 83 71 1 .535 16.0 504 (3.25) 445 (2.87) 0.244 0.291 0.316 2.10 0.963
5 Cincinnati Reds 155 73 81 1 .471 26.0 489 (3.15) 544 (3.51) 0.227 0.282 0.294 2.37 0.959
6 Boston Doves 156 63 91 2 .404 36.0 537 (3.44) 622 (3.99) 0.239 0.296 0.293 2.79 0.962
7 Brooklyn Superbas 154 53 101 0 .344 46.0 377 (2.45) 516 (3.35) 0.213 0.262 0.277 2.47 0.961
8 St. Louis Cardinals 154 49 105 0 .318 50.0 371 (2.41) 626 (4.06) 0.223 0.265 0.283 2.64 0.946

League leaders[edit]

Bold indicates league record, Italics indicate all-time record


Statistic Leader Team Number
Games Played Art Devlin
Joe Tinker
New York Giants
Chicago Cubs
At Bats Eddie Grant Philadelphia Phillies 598
Runs Scored Fred Tenney New York Giants 101
Hits Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 201
Doubles Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 39
Triples Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 19
Home Runs Tim Jordan Brooklyn Superbas 12
Total Bases Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 308
Runs Batted In Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 109
Stolen Bases Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 53
Walks Roger Bresnahan New York Giants 83
Hit by Pitch Dan McGann Boston Doves 19
Sacrifice Hits Otto Knabe Philadelphia Phillies 42
Batting Average Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 0.354
On-Base Percentage Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 0.415
Slugging Percentage Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 0.542
On-Base plus Slugging Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 0.957
On-Base plus Slugging Plus Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates 205


Statistic Leader Team Number
Wins Christy Mathewson New York Giants 37
Losses Bugs Raymond St. Louis Cardinals 25
Win-Loss Percentage Ed Reulbach Chicago Cubs 0.774
Appearances Christy Mathewson New York Giants 56
Games Started Christy Mathewson New York Giants 44
Complete Games Christy Mathewson New York Giants 34
Shutouts Christy Mathewson New York Giants 11
Games Finished George Ferguson Boston Doves 16
Saves Mordecai Brown
Christy Mathewson
Joe McGinnity
Chicago Cubs
New York Giants
New York Giants
Innings Pitched Christy Mathewson New York Giants 390.2
Batters Faced Christy Mathewson New York Giants 1499
Hits Allowed Christy Mathewson New York Giants 285
Home Runs Allowed Joe McGinnity New York Giants 8
Base-on-Balls Allowed Nap Rucker Brooklyn Superbas 125
Hit Batsmen Harry McIntire Brooklyn Superbas 20
Strikeouts Christy Mathewson New York Giants 259
Wild Pitches Bugs Raymond St. Louis Cardinals 9
Balks 12 players tied 1
Runs Allowed Gus Dorner Boston Doves 120
Earned Runs Allowed Patsy Flaherty Boston Doves 88
Earned Run Average Christy Mathewson New York Giants 1.43
Walks plus Hits
per Inning Pitched
Christy Mathewson New York Giants 0.837


In the World Series, the National League champion Chicago Cubs defeated the American League's Detroit Tigers, 4 games to 1.

Notable events[edit]


Further Reading[edit]

  • Dave Anderson: More Than Merkle, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2000.
  • G.H. Fleming: The Unforgettable Season, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2006 (originally published in 1981). ISBN 0803269226
  • Cait Murphy: Crazy '08: How a cast of cranks, rogues, boneheads and magnates created the greatest year in baseball history, Smithsonian Books, Washington, DC, 2007.
  • Tom Ruane: "A Retro-Review of the 1900s (the 1908 edition)", Retrosheet.org [1]
  • Steve Steinberg: "1908's Forgotten Team: The Pittsburgh Pirates", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 47, Nr. 2 (Fall 2018), pp. 103-111.
  • Stew Thornley: "Regular Season Showdowns", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 47, Nr. 1 (spring 2018), pp. 85-90.