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September 26, 2003

by Bill Hogan



The Major League Baseball playoffs are about to begin. There will be divisional match ups followed by each league's championship series and then the World Series. October should provide some exciting and memorable moments as well as edge-of-your-seat baseball action.

In the end, one team will be crowned World Champions. Maybe this is the year the Red Sox – who haven't won the series since 1918 – and the city of Boston finally get the monkey off their collective backs. Or is it time for the Chicago Cubs to bring home a championship for the first time in 95 years?


At some point, a game or a series will likely turn on one mighty swing of the bat or an impossible over-the-shoulder catch or a legendary pitching performance; or, perhaps, on a base running blunder or a fielding miscue. A single play, seemingly insignificant during the 162-game regular season, can turn a player into a revered hero or a reviled goat in the heat of the post-season.

There have been plenty of post-season heroes in the long and storied history of Major League Baseball. Many of whom were forgotten as soon as the next hero emerged. Goats, on the other hand, seem to be bitterly remembered forever and mercilessly maligned – sometimes without just cause.

It's been 17 years since Bill Buckner booted a slow rolling Mookie Wilson grounder allowing the Mets to win game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Red Sox fans will never forgive Buckner for that 10th inning blunder. He's still a hated man in Boston.

One unfortunate incident and Buckner has undeservedly taken the heat for close to two decades. The Red Sox didn't lose the World Series because of his error. They went out two days later – as a team – and lost game seven 8-5. A game, by the way, in which the Sox pitchers blew a 3-0 sixth inning lead.

In game 4 or the 1941 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers were one out away from tying the New York Yankees two games apiece. Dodger pitcher Hugh Casey struck out Tommy Henrich for the final out and a 4-3 victory. However, the ball got by catcher Mickey Owen and Henrich was able to reach first on the error.

Given new life, the Yankees would score four runs and steal the game away from the Dodgers taking a 3-1 series lead. Owen was labeled the goat. Even though you can't score four runs on one passed ball. Even though Owen's error had nothing to do with the Yankees winning game five and closing out the series.

Mickey Owen had a decent major league career and was known as a great defensive catcher. But I know him, and now you know him as the guy who lost the '41 series for the Dodgers. Doesn't seem right.

In 1908, the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were battling for the National League Pennant when they met on September 23. In the bottom of the ninth, with the game tied 1-1 and men on first and third, New York's Al Bridwell singled home the apparent winning run.

Fred Merkle was the Giant on first. When Moose McCormick crossed the plate, Merkle figured the game was over and headed for the locker room without touching second base. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers, ball in hand, stepped on the bag and Merkle was declared out and the inning over.

Pandemonium on the field made it impossible for the game to continue and it was called a 1-1 tie. The game was replayed on October 8 with the Giants star pitcher Christy Mathewson – a 37-game winner – on the mound. The Cubs won 4-2 and clinched the pennant.

The mistake – known forever as Merkle's Blunder – was pointed to as the sole reason the Giants lost the pennant. One base running gaffe with 17 regular season games remaining and Fred Merkle was declared the pennant-losing goat.

Buckner, Owen and Merkle committed three of baseball's biggest boners and were declared three of the game's greatest goats. More like scapegoats, I say. Easy answers to why their teams just couldn't get the job done.

This year, some unlucky schmo is going to blow a save, boot a grounder or strike out at a crucial point in the game. Unless the fatal miscue leaves the team with no recourse; unless there are no outs, no innings and no games left to rectify the poor chump's mistake; give the guy a break.


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