Fred Snodgrass’s Muffed Fly Ball in the 1912 World Series

SABR’s biography of Snodgrass does a good job of explaining what happened in the eighth and final game of this series:

With the Giants leading 2-1 in the bottom of the 10th of the deciding game, Fred dropped an easy fly ball by leadoff batter Clyde Engle for a two-base error. The ball was hit more toward right fielder Red Murray, but on the Giants the center fielder was supposed to call for everything he could reach. Snodgrass made the call, Murray stepped aside, and, as Snodgrass explained in later years, “because of over-eagerness, or over-confidence, or carelessness, I dropped it.” He was forever blamed for the winning rally that ensued, but two other events also contributed to the downfall of the Giants. The next batter, Harry Hooper, drilled a long shot that Snodgrass speared for a spectacular catch. In a just world, he would’ve caught the first ball and the second would’ve gone for a double, yielding the same outcome. The key to the inning was a high foul pop by Tris Speaker on which Christy Mathewson made the mistake of calling for Chief Meyers to make the catch. Meyers couldn’t reach the ball, while Merkle, who could have caught it easily, stood still as directed by Mathewson. Given a reprieve, Speaker singled to score the tying run and set up the Series-winner.

In its account of the game, the Boston Globe wasted no time in blaming Snodgrass:

Write in the pages of world’s series baseball history the name of Snodgrass. Write it large and black. Not as a hero; truly not. Put him rather with Merkle, who was in such a hurry that he gave away a National League championship. Snodgrass was in such a hurry that he gave away a world championship.

All that Engle can do with the elusive drop served up is to hoist it high between centre and right fields. Snodgrass and Murray are both within reach of it, with time to spare. Snodgrass yells, “I’ve got it,” and sets himself to take it with ease, as he has taken hundreds of the sort . . .

While the ball is soaring its leisurely way let us pause for a moment to think what hangs upon that fly.

It is not the 2,000 Giant rooters who are gayly waving their blue and white flags and yelling exultantly over the certain downfall of the foe. It is not the 15,000 Boston fans who have groaned and sat silent, as though at a funeral. A President is forgetting the bitter assaults that have been made upon him. A former President is being eased of his pain by his interest in it. A campaign which may mean a change in the whole structure of the Nation’s Government has been put into the background. What happens will be flashed by telegraph the length and breadth of the land, and thereby carried over and under the sea, and millions will be uplifted or downcast.

And now the ball settles. It is full and fair in the pouch of the padded glove of Snodgrass. But he is too eager to toss it to Murray and it dribbles to the ground. Before Snodgrass can hurl the ball to second Engle is perching there.

Years later, Snodgrass said Engle “hit a great big, lazy, high fly ball halfway between Red Murray in left field and me. Murray called for it first, but as center fielder I had precedence over left and right, so there’d never be a collision. I yelled that I’d take it and waved Murray off, and –well–I dropped the darn thing.”

In 1940, Snodgrass reflected: “Hardly a day in my life, hardly an hour, that in some manner or other the dropping of that fly doesn’t come up, even after 30 years. On the street, in my store, at my home . . . it’s all the same. They might choke up before they ask me and they hesitate–but they always ask.”

Given the persistent image of Snodgrass choking away the series, it’s important to add what Harry Hooper said in The Glory of Their Times:

The famous Snodgrass muff. It could happen to anybody. I was up next and I tried to bunt, but I fouled it off. On the next pitch I hit a line drive into left center that looked like a sure triple. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred no outfielder could possibly have come close to that ball. But in some way, I don’t know how, Snodgrass ran like the wind, and dang if he didn’t catch it. I think he outran the ball. Robbed me of a sure triple.

I saw Snodgrass a couple of years ago at a function in Los Angeles, and I reminded him of that catch.

“Well, thank you,” he said, “nobody ever mentions that catch to me. All they talk about is the muff.”

I don’t know about anybody else. But I remember that catch all right. I’m the one guy who’ll never forget it. After that, Steve Yerkes got a base on balls, and that brought up Tris Speaker. We’re still behind, 2-1, and there’s one out. Well, Spoke hit a little pop foul over near first base, and old Chief Meyers took off after it. He didn’t have a chance, but Matty kept calling for him to take it.

If he’d called for Merkle, it would have been an easy out. Or Matty could have taken it himself. But he kept hollering for the Chief to take it, and poor Chief–he never was too fast to begin with–he lumbered down that line after it as fast as his big legs would carry him, stuck out his big catcher’s mitt–and just missed it.

Spoke went back to the batters box and yelled to Mathewson, “Well, you just called for the wrong man. It’s gonna cost you this ball game.”

And on the next pitch he hit a clean single that tied the game, and a couple of minutes later Larry Gardner drove in Yerkes with the run that won it.

There’s a further note about this World Series, and in it, evidence that gambling on baseball’s greatest stage was pervasive years before the Black Sox series of 1919. After the final game, the Globe wrote: “Boston will suffer in a baseball sense from the suspicion attached to the series. This suspicion is entirely unjustified, of course, as such a series could not be fixed, but a large proportion of the fans believe it was staged for theatric effects. That word was passed all over town today . . . Merkle’s failure to go after Speaker’s foul fly netted the Boston players and cost the New York players about $1,283 each.”

And one final item, on Snodgrass’s life away from the ball field: he was a prominent figure–rancher, banker, city councilman-in Oxnard, California for decades, even serving as its mayor from 1937 to 1938.

Published in: on October 14, 2010 at 6:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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