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Fred Merkle, Lou Gehrig, and the Yankees’ trade that never happened

After becoming infamous for one major baseball blunder, Fred Merkle was nearly a footnote in another.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Fred Merkle is an infamous name in baseball. In 1908, a 19-year-old Merkle was on first base when Al Bridwell hit a single that scored a runner from third, seemingly winning the Giants the pennant. There were two outs in the inning, however, and Merkle never touched second base. After fans stormed the field to celebrate, the Cubs second baseman got the ball back and touched second base. Merkle was ruled out, the inning was over, and the run didn’t count.

Since there were fans on the field, the game could not be resumed that day. The Cubs ended up winning the makeup game and the pennant. Despite this shortcoming, Merkle went on to have a solid major league run. He received MVP votes in 1911 and 1912, and was a pretty good hitter for most of his career.

After finishing up his fourth season with the Cubs in 1920, Merkle left the majors. He did, however, play for a couple of seasons with Rochester in the International League. If Rochester had their way a few years later, he might also be remembered for something worse.

Under former Yankees manager George Stallings, Merkle put up several productive seasons with Rochester. In 1924, he hit .351 to get himself back on the radar of major league teams. The Yankees, meanwhile, were looking for insurance for first baseman Wally Pipp and were reportedly interested in Merkle. Stallings was willing to send him to the Yankees, and supposedly, he knew who he wanted in return: Lou Gehrig.

Gehrig had played in parts of the two previous seasons for the Yankees and had hit well. He was also just 21 years old and only had 38 at-bats on his resume. The Yankees held strong and didn’t give up Gehrig. Instead, they got Rochester to accept $6,000 in exchange for Merkle. Turns out, the money was well spent if it meant keeping Gehrig.

On June 2nd, Gehrig got the start at first base instead of Pipp. You may have heard something about this, because he then proceeded to play the next 2,130 games. Merkle did get some time with the Yankees, and played decently as well. He appeared in seven games in 1925, making 16 plate appearances, hitting .417/.500/.500. The problem was Gehrig also performed quite well, and unlike Merkle, appeared to have a long-term future with the team.

Merkle didn’t play after July 29th in 1925. He remained with the team, did some coaching, and played one game in September 1926. Gehrig, on the other hand, won six World Series titles and two MVPs. Had the Yankees actually given into Rochester’s demands, Merkle might be remembered for two infamous baseball stories. Thankfully for the Yankees, they did not, and Merkle’s Boner lives on in lore.

Sources

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/372b4391

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/merklfr01.shtml

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ccdffd4c

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/gehrilo01.shtml