More Than Merkle
By David W. Anderson, University of Nebraska Press, $29.95
Anderson, a businessman and youth-league umpire turned
historian, calls the 1908 baseball season "the best and most
exciting in history." The races in both leagues were
extraordinarily close: The Cubs won the National League pennant
by just one game over the Giants and the Pirates, and the Tigers
finished .004 percentage points ahead of the Indians and 1 1/2
games over the White Sox in the American League. Yet the season
was overshadowed by a single incident in a game between the Cubs
and the Giants on Sept. 23: the Merkle Boner.
When Giants rookie Fred Merkle failed to touch second base after
a teammate's apparent game-winning hit (Merkle jogged straight
for the Polo Grounds clubhouse instead), he set off one of the
game's great debacles. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers called
for the ball in the ensuing confusion and stepped on the bag.
Although what Merkle did was accepted practice back then, the
rules were against him. National League president Harry C.
Pulliam nullified the Giants' win and had the game replayed. The
Cubs won the makeup and the pennant.
The repercussions were astonishing. Merkle, who was a smart
ballplayer over his long career, went to his grave with the
odious nickname Bonehead. Pulliam, hounded by the Giants and
their fans, committed suicide less than a year after the game.
Anderson gives these sorry events their due, but, as his title
suggests, there was more to this memorable season than an
infamous blunder. For one thing, the Cubs went on to win the
World Series, something they haven't done since.
The National Game
By John P. Rossi, Ivan R. Dee, $25
This is a readable and workmanlike history, but it scarcely
fulfills the author's high-minded intention of providing "an
overview of the connections between professional baseball and
America's history over the past 175 years." In fact, it falls
well short of its acknowledged progenitor, Harold Seymour's
two-volume chronicle of the game's beginnings and golden years.
The Goose Is Loose
By Richard (Goose) Gossage with Russ Pate, Ballantine Books, $25
The accomplished relief pitcher's autobiography serves to
establish the maturity of major league ballplayers at, roughly,
the fifth-grade level. Actually, considering the petulant,
truculent, vengeful, coarse and practical-joking nature of the
athletes depicted herein, that comparison is hardly fair to
elementary school children.
The book suffers from the added defect of spewing forth enough
similes to embarrass Mickey Spillane. Yet it has its virtues,
chief among them unsparing candor. The Goose reams the players
(Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson) and managers (Billy Martin,
Bobby Valentine) he detests. And he doesn't mince words.
The Grand Minor League
(An Oral History of the Old Pacific Coast League)
By Dick Dobbins, Woodford Press, $27.95
To its fans during its heyday, from the 1920s through the '50s,
the Pacific Coast League was anything but "minor." In fact, in
the years immediately following World War II, there was talk of
the PCL becoming the third major league. Dobbins, who died
before this book was published, does a superior job of recalling
the glory days.