Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2003 / 21 Tishrei, 5764

Keith Olbermann

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When critical baseball games are decided by fans | Though, they were five outs away from making the World Series, the Chicago Cubs wound up losing to the Florida Marlin. It is Merkel's revenge.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, they had reached it only because, in essence, what the umpires term a "fan interference call" went in their favor.

That call ruined the life of a Cubs opponent, and led directly to the suicide of the president of baseball's National League, 10 months later.

The player was Fred Merkel, a 19-year-old rookie with the New York Giants, starting his first big league game ever against the Cubs on September 23, 1908. As the winning run for the Giants crossed home plate, 10,000 Giants fans stormed the field in New York in celebration. Rather than advancing from first base to second base, as he was supposed, young Merkel hightailed it for the safety of the clubhouse in centerfield. The Cubs got the umpires to call Merkel out, which nullified the winning run and turned their crucial pennant race loss to the Cubs, into a tie.

Merkel was forever after known as "Bonehead," and fans would yell from the stands, "Hey, Fred, don't forget to touch second base."

The Cubs and Giants wound up replaying that tie game to decide the National League Pennant. The Cubs won the replay, they advanced to the World Series and they won the World Series. But the appeals, the lawsuits, and the threats over the rulings on the controversy would lead the National League president, Harry Pulliam, to shoot himself in July of the following year. Merkel never shook that nickname, "Bonehead."

Last Tuesday, a fan interference call went against the Cubs. They were leading three nothing over Florida with one out in the eight inning, they needed five more outs to get to their first World Series since 1945. But, Florida's Louis Castillo lofted this fly ball, fouled to leftfield, and a fan named Steve Bartman interfered. He has Wednesday night identified himself publicly, apologized from the bottom of what he says is a broken heart.

He did exactly what the Cubs leftfielder Moises Alou did, he reached for the ball and neither of them got it. So, instead of being out, Castillo was still up. Moments later he walked. Three batters later, the Marlin's had tied the game three to three. Five batters later, it was Florida eight, Chicago three. Though at the time of the fracas, along the foul line, outfielder, Alou railed at the fan. Afterwards, he was much more sympathetic.

Fans do get involve. Infamous still, the game of the 1996 American league playoffs between Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees. Unlike in the Alou play last night, 12-year-old fan, Jeffrey Mayer, clearly reached over and into the field of play to grab Derek Jeter's fly ball, which the umpires, then inexplicably called a home run that animated a Yankee victory.

And, just in the last two years, both the photographer and the player in this infamous incident passed away: Al Smith of the Chicago White Sox got inadvertently drenched with beer during the second game of the 1959 World Series as a fan tried to catch a home run ball.

It always happens in Chicago.

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The writer hosts MSNBC's “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” The news program, dedicated to all of the day’s top stories, telecasts weeknights, 8-9 p.m. ET. Comment by clicking here.

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