Fred Merkle's great-grandson was quietly scuttling across the floor of my Los Angeles apartment in 1991, unexpectedly sturdy for a fourteen-month old, honing in on a piece of ornamental wood on a mirrored wall while his mother regaled me with her mother's stories of the years "after" in the Merkle household. Suddenly the baby grunted, pulled the wood slat off the mirror, and began to wave it around his head.
"My God," I said. "He's swinging it."
His father smiled, and his mother moved towards her young cleanup hitter. "Heredity," she said, matter-of-factly.
I have done a report of some kind on the Fred Merkle story, whether in print, on radio, or on TV, on or about its anniversary, September 23rd, virtually every year since I was in college. The saga has always seemed to me a microcosm not just of baseball or of celebrity, but of life. The rules sometimes change while you're playing the game. Those you trust to tell you the changes often don't bother to. That for which history still mocks you would have gone unnoticed if you had done it a year or a month or a day before.
That's who Fred Merkle is.
I have often proposed September 23rd as a national day of amnesty, in Fred Merkle's memory. Not forgiveness; forgiveness requires guilt. But amnesty means merely an acknowledgment that something that could deserve blame, might in fact be far more complicated, and meriting not of reproach but of understanding and dismissal from retribution.
If anybody deserves dismissal from retribution, it's Fred Merkle. Dave Anderson will tell you in the coming pages of all that led up to his extraordinary collision with history, a day that went from being a moment in the sun to a moment in infamy. "Merkle's Boner" will be explained for what it is, and what it isn't; why the never-enforced arcane baseball rule requiring men on base to advance while a two-out game‐ ending, winning run scored, suddenly began to be enforced just as Fred veered off the baseline toward the safety of his team's clubhouse in the outfield, and, ultimately, toward eternal, misplaced blame.
To appreciate the story you are about to read, you must remember that while now, nearly a century later, the "Merkle game" is remem