Fred Merkle

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Frederick Charles Merkle

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Biographical Information[edit]

"His outstanding talent, intelligence, and dedication to the game of baseball spanned three decades, having been a member of six World Series teams . . . He was a potent line-drive hitter, agile first baseman and a speedster on the base paths." - from a memorial in his home town dedicated to Fred Merkle

Fred Merkle, who had a long major league career, was best known for an alleged baserunning mistake. It was known as Merkle's Boner or as the "Merkle Bonehead Play", something that happened when he was a rookie in the heat of the 1908 National League pennant race, The "mistake" he committed was one that had typically been overlooked by umpires till Johnny Evers warned the umps that he would insist on compliance in the future. Although he was called "bonehead" in the press for the remainder of his career, his teammates consistently described Merkle as one of the smartest players they knew, and the only player who New York Giants manager John McGraw would consult on matters of strategy.

Merkle never led the league in offensive batting categories, but was often among the leaders. In 1910 he was fourth in the league in slugging. In 1911 he was fourth in the league in stolen bases. In 1912, he was third in the league in home runs. In 1915 he was sixth in the league in batting average. In 1917, having moved to the Chicago Cubs he was second in the league in doubles. In 1918 he was fourth in the league in RBI.

In 1918, he was a key player on the Cubs team that won the pennant. He batted fifth in each game of the 1918 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, and had one of the highest batting averages on the team during the Series, when the Cubs twice faced pitcher Babe Ruth.

After his major league playing career, Merkle returned to the minors as a manager. He returned to the majors as a coach for the New York Yankees and appeared in a handful of games for the Bronx Bombers in 1925 and 1926.

He was the youngest player in the league in 1907 and 1908. He went on to play 16 years in the majors, finishing twice in the top ten in batting.

He managed the Reading Keystones for part of 1927. In 1953 he was elected to the International League Hall of Fame.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mike Cameron: Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle, Sporting Chance Press, Crystal Lake, IL, 2010.
  • Eric Marshall White: "A Baseball with a Story: Fireworks in Philadelphia, July 4, 1911", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 40, Number 1 (Spring 2011), pp. 113-117.

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