Hall of Fame 2013 -- Big Year for Cub Fans

No former star Cub players entered the Hall of Fame this year (although Deacon White played for the franchise, then known as the White Stockings, in 1876. It was the inaugural year of the National League, and White helped the Cubs win the first ever National League Pennant) .

Nonetheless, the 2013 induction ceremony, held Sunday, July 28, in Cooperstown, New York, celebrated the achievements of the man perhaps most directly responsible for the last Cubs World Series Championship in 1908. Without him, the total number of Cubs championships would be cut in half from two to only one -- 1907.

All hail Hank O'Day! Hall of Fame

Here's why:

September 4, 1908.

The Cubs, NY Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates battle for the National League Pennant, each team within a game or mere percentage points from the others.

-- Cubs vs. Pirates in Pittsburgh. Game tied 0-0 in the bottom of the 10th inning. Pirates have the bases loaded with 2 out.

-- Pirate "Chief" Wilson hits a clean single to center to score the run from third. Pirates win 1-0?

Not so fast ...

-- The runner on first, rookie Warren Gill, sees the winning run score and leaves the field before touching second base. This is normal behavior as neither ballplayers or umps saw any reason to run out hits or advance a base after a "walk-off" hit. This would be the last season of this traditional ignoring of the rules because ...

-- Cubs Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers knows that technically the ball is still live and Gill can be forced out at second, nullifying the winning run. He calls for the ball.

-- The ball is thrown to Evers from center field. He steps on second and claims that Gill is out at second, and that the winning run does not count.

-- Future Hall of Fame umpire Henry "Hank" O'Day, following the same tradition as Gill, has already left the field and so does not see the play.

Hank O'Day leaves field

O'Day is the only umpire working that game, something like today's Little League! Most games were called by either one or two umpires back then.

-- Evers protests to O'Day, but O'Day is adamant that he cannot call a play he didn't see. However, he agrees in principle that if what Evers says is true, Gill should have been called out and the winning run nullified.

-- The Cubs file a protest with National League President Harry C. Pulliam, one of whose duties is to supervise the umpires. Pulliam upholds O'Day's decision, but states that if O'Day had called Gill out, no run could score, thus upholding both his umpire's call and the rule book.

-- Cubs lose.

September 23, 1908

19 short days later, the three teams are still neck-and-neck going into the final week of the season.

-- Cubs vs. NY Giants, Polo Grounds, New York. Game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th inning. Giants have men on first and third with two out.

-- Giant Al Bridwell hits a clean single to center to score the run from third. Giants win 2-1?

Not so fast ...

-- The runner on first, rookie Fred Merkle, sees the winning run score and leaves the field before touching second base. Delirious Giants fans storm the field, dancing and throwing things in the air and looking for Cubs to attack.

oct 8 crowd

-- Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers knows that technically the ball is still live and Merkle can be forced at second, nullifying the winning run. He calls for the ball.

-- Two umpires are working the game: field ump Bob Emslie and, you guessed it, Hank O'Day!

O'Day on field sepia

Remembering Pittsburgh and Warren Gill, O'Day makes his way through the celebrating mob to the pitcher's mound. He is known to be a stickler for the rules. He does not want to make the wrong call. He watches Johnny Evers.

-- The ball is thrown to Evers from center field. But it's a bad throw! It is retrieved by Cub pitcher Jack "the Giant Killer" Pfiester.

-- Giants third base coach Iron Joe McGinnity sees what Evers is up to and wrestles Pfiester for the ball -- and wins.

-- Two Cubs jump McGinnity and fight him to get the ball back. Iron Joe emerges from the brawl long enough to throw the ball into the crowd where it is caught by a tall gentleman wearing a brown derby hat.

-- Two more Cubs see who caught the ball, chase him down and fight him for the ball. Cub Floyd Kroh pounds the man's derby over his eyes. The man releases the ball. Kroh crawls among the stomping, racing feet of crazed fans and finds the ball.

-- Kroh throws the ball to Cub shortstop Joe Tinker. Tinker relays the ball to Evers who catches it and jumps up and down on second base.  He looks at O'Day, still on the field, and claims that Merkle is out at second, and that the winning run does not count.

OR -- The Cubs get a practice ball from their dugout and relay it to Evers, falsely claiming it's the game ball. In the chaos swirling on the field, no one can tell for sure where the ball came from.

OR -- Merkle actually makes it to second base before he bolts for the clubhouse.

OR -- Hall of Fame Giants pitcher Christy Matthewson sees what Evers is up to, catches up with Merkle and brings him back to touch second base before Evers can force him out.

There are as many different versions of the infamous "Merkle" play as there were witnesses that day, and writers who have described it since.

-- The two umpires, deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, leave the field rather than make the call while surrounded by blood-thirsty Giants fans.

-- Emslie asks O'Day if Merkle touched second. O'Day replies he did not touch second. Emslie calls Merkle out at second.

-- O'Day, as crew chief, confirms Emslie's call and determines that, because of the fans on the field and the late hour (no lights yet!), the game cannot be resumed. He declares a 1-1 tie.

-- President Pulliam is at the game. He requests a report from O'Day. O'Day pens a handwritten report summarizing the facts.

Hank O'Day note to Pulliam 09231908

(Many baseball historians debate whether Evers caught the game ball or some other ball, or whether Merkle actually touched second. In his note to Pulliam, O'Day as much as states that Merkle was out because McGinnity interfered with the play -- the correct call. The point about what ball was in play is therefore moot.)

-- Pulliam upholds O'Day's decision and states that in the unlikely event that the Giants and Cubs end the season tied, the game will be replayed in New York.

-- The Giants and the NY press go nuts. The Giants protest to the National League Board of Directors. The Board reviews the case and backs Pulliam and O'Day.

-- The Cubs and the Giants end the year with identical records. The replay of the Merkle game is scheduled for October 8, 1908.

-- A reported 250,000 people try to get into the Polo Grounds for the game. It's a baseball Woodstock! They burn down an outer wall of the ballpark, tunnel underneath the grandstand, fashion makeshift bridges from the surrounding elevated train tracks, climb telephone poles and billboards to get a view of the game, or just storm the gates. Two fans are killed in accidents. Upper Manhattan and much of the public transportation system are shut down. The gates are closed early. Irate fans assault scalpers, police, and each other.

Some of the 250,000 that tried to get into the Ocotber 8, 1908, game at the Polo Grounds, NYC.

Some of the 250,000 that tried to get into the Ocotber 8, 1908, game at the Polo Grounds, NYC.

-- The Cubs win behind the relief pitching of Mordecai Peter Centennial Three-finger Miner Brown, thus clinching the 1908 National League Pennant.

-- The Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series to win their second championship in a row, but their last ever as of this writing.

--

Henry "Hank" O'Day wasn't inducted into the Hall of Fame because of his courage during the wild events of 1908. His body of work during a long career as an umpire more than qualifies him to join the other 9 umpires in the Hall. He was also a player, manager (including the Cubs in 1914), and scout -- the only Hall of Famer for whom that can be documented.

So all Cub fans should celebrate Hank O'Day, born in Chicago and responsible for the last Cubs World Series championship. And if you're near Calvary Cemetery, on the lakefront at the southeastern corner of Evanston, pay him a visit.

Hank O'Day tombstone

Note:  There are dozens if not hundreds of accounts of the Merkle controversy, perhaps the nuttiest, wildest play in baseball history, both in print and online. Just Google "Merkle" and you'll find many. Or buy my book! I cover the Gill play, the Merkle play, the Pulliam tragedy, and much more in Waiting for the Cubs (McFarland, 2010). Click here to buy a discounted copy at Amazon.

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  • Familiar story. Still so great!

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