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From his short lead at first, Merkle followed a practice common at the time and ran straight for the clubhouse behind centerfield in hopes of escaping the boisterous crowd. He did not touch second base, so, technically, the force was still on. The canny Evers—"a hard, pitiless man," wrote Eric Rolfe Greenberg in The Celebrant—caught the oversight and, above the roar of the multitudes, called for centerfielder "Circus Solly" Hofman to throw him the ball. No one will ever know if the ball Evers got was the one hit by Bridwell, because Giants pitcher Joe (Iron Man) McGinnity, suspecting treachery, intercepted Hofman's throw and hurled that ball into the seats. Evers insists, however, that Cub pitcher Floyd (Rube) Kroh and third baseman Harry Steinfeldt climbed into the stands after the ball and wrested it away from the fan who caught it, Kroh squashing the poor fellow's derby during the struggle.
In all the confusion McCormick became convinced that Bridwell had failed to step on first, so he booted the young shortstop in the seat of the pants and hauled him over to the bag, only to learn that the problem was really at second. It is unlikely that, in this melee, either plate umpire Hank O'Day or Emslie saw Evers make the force play. But O'Day was particularly sensitive to the situation, because a few weeks earlier, in a Cubs-Pirates game, he had permitted the winning run to score in exactly the same circumstances. This time, under intense pressure from Evers and Cub manager Chance, O'Day called Merkle out—thereby nullifying McCormick's run—and declared the game a tie.
McGraw was predictably incensed. "If Merkle was out, then O'Day should have cleared the field and resumed the game," he protested. "If not, we won, and they can't take it away from us." Chance countered by claiming the Cubs should have been declared winners by forfeit since the Giants did not return to finish the game. But no one could have cleared that field of a crowd grown ugly in all the confusion. O'Day had to be escorted from the ballpark by police.
The final ruling was left to National League president Harry Pulliam, an unstable man who despised McGraw and who would commit suicide less than a year later. Pulliam finally decided, two days after the dispute, to uphold his umpire. The game was a tic and would be replayed only if it became a factor in the pennant race, which, as fate would have it, it did; the Giants and Cubs finished in a tie for first with 98-55 records. The Cubs won the rematch 4-2 when Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown bested Matty before another riotous crowd at the Polo Grounds. The Cubs went on to beat Ty Cobb and the Tigers in the World Series.
Merkle, meanwhile, endured weeks of relentless vilification by fans and the press. He was guilty, the Times wrote, of "censurable stupidity." Merkle "lost his head," wrote the New York Evening Mail. His "boner," they all said, had cost the Giants the pennant.
"Get rid of me, Mac," a disconsolate Merkle pleaded with his manager. "I don't deserve to play on the Giants." But McGraw never blamed Merkle. "It is criminal to say that Merkle is stupid and to blame the loss of the pennant on him," he said. "In the first place, he is one of the smartest and best players in the game."
But Merkle was never allowed to forget. "He was ragged unmercifully the rest of his life," Bridwell told Lawrence S. Ritter in The Glory of Their Times. But Merkle played in the big leagues until 1926 (with a four-year interval in the minors from 1921 to 1925) and had a respectable .273 career batting average. He retired to Daytona Beach, Fla., where he was, at the time of his death at age 67 in 1956, a partner in a firm that manufactured artificial bait. The Times' obituary began: " Fred Merkle, former major league baseball player who was best remembered for a 'boner' that cost the New York Giants the pennant in 1908, died today."
"Now his worries are over," Bridwell told Ritter. "If I could do it all over again, I wish I'd never gotten that hit that set off the whole Merkle incident. I wish I'd struck out instead. If I'd done that, then it would have spared Fred a lot of unfair humiliation. Yes, if I'd struck out, it would have been better all around."
There is so much pressure that I lose my brain.
It was his 45th birthday, and he was the darling of the gallery. "Happy birthday, Roberto, happy birthday to you," they sang as the merry Argentine strode the Masters fairways. And for all the world, this looked like one of the happiest days of Roberto de Vicenzo's professional life.