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TELANDER: Ump who called ‘Merkle’s Boner’ to be enshrined in Cooperstown

Umpire Hank O'Day said: 'The run does not count.' Then he walked away.

Umpire Hank O'Day said: "The run does not count." Then he walked away.

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The 2014 ballot

The big names: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez.

Other first-timers: Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Jose Cruz Jr., Ray Durham, Damion Easley, Keith Foulke, Eric Gagne, Scott Hatteberg, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Jon Lieber, Esteban Loaiza, Paul Lo Duca, Matt Morris, Trot Nixon, Hideo Nomo, Jay Payton, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, J.T. Snow, Shannon Stewart, Mike Timlin, Steve Trachsel and Jose Vidro.

Top returners from 2013 ballot (with years on ballot and percentage of vote): Craig Biggio (1st, 68.2); Jack Morris (14, 67.7); Jeff Bagwell (3, 59.6); Mike Piazza (1, 57.8); Tim Raines (6, 52.2); Lee Smith (11, 47.8); Curt Schilling (1, 38.8); Roger Clemens (1, 37.6); Barry Bonds (1, 36.2); Edgar Martinez
(4, 35.9); Alan Trammell (12, 33.6).

Top names in 2015: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz.

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Updated: July 22, 2013 12:15PM



Maybe this is what we’re left with in baseball.

Ghosts.

Dennis McNamara looked at the tombstone of his great uncle, Henry ‘‘Hank’’ O’Day, who has rested quietly in Evanston’s Calvary Catholic Cemetery for more than three quarters of a century.

‘‘Kind of amazing, isn’t it?’’ said McNamara, 69, a retired Chicago policeman.

McNamara meant the fact baseball’s highest honor somehow found its way to this quiet niche a wave’s length from Lake Michigan. But he also meant how amazing his relative is to the history of the ever-striving Cubs. Or the sad truth that steroids and blatant immorality have robbed modern baseball of so many of its potential heroes, so much of its integrity.

O’Day, the only man to spend an entire season as a major-league player, manager and umpire, was voted for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year by the newly formed Pre-Integration Era Committee, a panel that every three years makes decisions about baseball men from 1876 to 1946. That is, pre-Jackie Robinson.

He’s going in with Jacob Ruppert and Deacon White.

Those names ring a bell? Har!

Ruppert was the owner of the New York Yankees from 1915 to 1939. Former third baseman/catcher White, who retired from baseball in 1890, was born 14 years before the Civil War.

That’s what the Hall of Fame has come to?

Saluting guys who look like pals of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Carnegie?

Hey, kids, wanna drive hours and hours to Cooperstown, N.Y., to see three dead coots get honored with metal plaques?

Sadly, it has come to that.

And thus does the ongoing Steroid Era destroy the roots of a game.

Consider: It could be Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens getting honored in that beautiful tiny town hard by Otsego Lake in the land of Natty Bumppo and The Last of the Mohicans.

They could all be there.

If integrity and sportsmanship weren’t a condition of the voting.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America — of which I am a member — elected no living, or dead, former players to the Hall of Fame in 2013. Some future voter might elect any or all of those men, plus Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, etc. But it won’t be me.

The Hall had to hunt to find Dennis McNamara because O’Day never married and had no children. He outlived all his siblings, leaving Dennis — O’Day’s sister Mary’s grandchild — as his closest living relative. A private detective named Jodi McNamara — Dennis’ daughter — called Katie McNamara, another of Dennis’ four girls, and she talked to Pops about the situation. That’s how it transpired.

So — take your base! — Dennis, by trickle down, gets the honor of making the induction speech for O’Day on Sunday at Cooperstown.

It seems everything in baseball always winds through Chicago, and this is no different. Katie — O’Day’s great, great niece — is, of all things, a longtime bartender at Harry Caray’s on Kinzie Street. Her job description consists in large part of pouring drinks and talking about baseball.

‘‘It’s nice to know someone in your family was so accomplished,’’ she said cheerily last week at the Harry Caray’s outpost in Rosemont. ‘‘You know, if it weren’t for him, the Cubs never even would have gone to the World Series.’’

Ah, yes, that’s the Chicago element, for sure.

You see, O’Day the umpire was involved in what generally is regarded as the most controversial game decision in major-league history, one that’s all about the beloved Cubbies.

On Sept. 23, 1908, O’Day famously — or infamously, hinging on that rare possibility you are a New York Giants fan — declared that the Giants’ Fred Merkle never advanced from first base to second on what would have been a game-winning single by teammate Al Bridwell. Therefore, Merkle was out on a force play, the run was negated and the game was declared a 1-1 tie.

Yes, there was some chaos, not the least of which was created by a ball being put back in play. It came from the outfield stands and may or may not have been the game ball. They didn’t have cellphone cameras or ESPN or even the National Security Agency back in the day.

O’Day wrote a letter to National League president Harry Pulliam explaining what happened. Pulliam agreed with the call, and the Cubs and Giants had to play a makeup game. The Cubs won the rematch, thus passing the Giants by a game to win the pennant. Then they beat the Detroit Tigers four games to one to win the World Series.

That was 105 years ago.

I don’t think we need to explain the meaning or context of that championship here. Let’s just say anybody can have a bad 1.05 centuries.

Because of O’Day’s call, Merkle became something of a sporting pariah, a benchmark for apparent stupidity. The event became known as ‘‘Merkle’s Boner’’ and swiftly became a derogatory term applied to dumb maneuvers everywhere. As author Mike Cameron notes in his book, Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball’s Fred Merkle, about the very decent, very humble player, ‘‘Nineteen-oh-eight was the year ‘Merkle’ became a verb.’’

And not a good one.

Longtime Chicago sportscaster Tom Shaer is writing the induction speech McNamara will give in Cooperstown, and Shaer and many McNamara family members and friends will be there to hear it.

‘‘I’m trying to tell a little about who O’Day is and what he did for baseball,’’ Shaer said. ‘‘And what a role Chicago and its toughness played in all this.’’

‘‘I’m looking forward to it,’’ Dennis McNamara said as lightning crackled nearby and rain began to fall hard and fast in the cemetery. The ex-cop couldn’t help grinning wide.

Is this a signal from the baseball gods?

The ghosts of yore sure are restless these days.



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