Along the Way: Moose McCormick

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During my visit to pay my respects to baseball pitcher Christy Mathewson (more information about him can be found here: Christy Mathewson ) I knew I had to visit another baseball player buried nearby. Following the directions I had at hand, I continued along the roadway that passed Mathewson’s grave and came to a stop at the grassy roadway where the paved roadway turned to the left. Getting out of the vehicle I began my search for another baseball player buried within the borders of Lewisburg Cemetery.

Although I had directions to his grave, it took a little longer to locate the final resting place of Harry “Moose” McCormick than I had planned. Though his stone is simple and very plain, his tombstone, unlike Mathewson’s, was decorated with small baseball bats and baseballs left by visitors.

Harry was born February 28, 1881, in Philadelphia. Harry’s father died when Harry was five years old and under Pennsylvania laws Harry was an orphan. Orphans could obtain an education at the cost of the state and Harry was able to attend Girard College for free. While attending Girard, Harry would get the nickname “Moose” due to being larger than most of his classmates.

After graduating from Girard, Harry attended Bucknell University beginning in 1898. Here he was involved with track and field, basketball, baseball and football, having taken over the fullback position from Christy Mathewson. McCormick did not graduate from Bucknell with his class – he left in 1903 to play baseball for the Jersey City Skeeters of the Eastern League. The following year he signed with the New York Giants.

McCormick played outfield for the Giants in 1904, but only for fifty-nine games. Harry was traded to Pittsburgh mid-season and he played sixty-six games with them. At the end of the season, Harry was traded to the Phillies. Harry decided at this point he was done playing baseball and went to work as a steel salesman. In 1908, Harry resumed playing baseball, resigning with the Phillies. He appeared in eleven games with them before being sold back to the Giants.

The Giant’s manager John McGraw realized that McCormick had a problem: Harry was not known to be fast. McGraw decided to make McCormick a pinch hitter. The decision paid off and McCormick appeared in seventy-three games, hit seventy-six hits, and had thirty-two runs batted in.

By all accounts McCormick’s career was not very memorable. In researching his life’s story, I found that his name mostly appears with a strange event known to baseball historians as “Merkle’s Boner.”

The game was played on September 23, 1908, when the Giants were playing the Cubs and the two teams were locked in a pennant race. As the game entered the ninth inning the teams were tied at one run each.

The Cubs were retired one, two, three at the top of the ninth inning, bringing the Giants to bat.

First up was Cy Seymour who grounded out to second. The second batter was Art Devlin who hit a single, putting the winning run on first. Harry sent a ground ball to second and reached first on a fielder’s choice.

Next up to bat was Fred Merkle. Merkle hit a single down the right field line allowing McCormick to reach third. Al Bridwell was next to bat. After noticing that Merkle was taking a very long lead, Bridwell stepped out of the batter’s box to stare at the nineteen-year-old. Merkle must have understood the look on Bridwell’s face because he returned to first base and stayed much closer to it.

Bridwell drove the first pitch past the second baseman, allowing McCormick to reach home and Bridwell arrived safely at first. Merkle for some reason, whether he wasn’t thinking or he was trying to avoid the crowd that flowed onto the field as McCormick crossed home plate, turned and jogged back to the clubhouse without touching second base.

The Cubs threw Merkle out at second, which nullified McCormick’s run. The rule states (in simple terms) that any runner forced out on the third out nullifies any runs that cross the plate.

After many appeals, the decision of the umpires stood. The practice of cutting off and heading to the clubhouse was a common practice at the time, but in this game it was enforced. Had it not been for the importance of this game – with the winning team winning the pennant – Merkle’s error probably would not have even been noticed, nor enforced.

The game would be replayed October 8 to break the tie between the Cubs and Giants. The Cubs won the game and went on to win the 1908 World Series.

An interesting note: Christy Mathewson was the starting pitcher of the game in which “Merkle’s Boner” occurred.

McCormick would play the 1909 season, but returned to being a salesman in 1910. Harry returned to baseball, playing for the Giants in 1912 and would retire from the sport at the end of the 1913 season. McCormick would go on the coach the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1914 and 1915.

In 1917 Harry enlisted in the United States Army and fought in France during World War One, serving with the 167 Infantry Regiment of the 42 Infantry Division. McCormick remained active in the army after the war and served as a civilian director in the United States Army Air Force during World War Two. At the end of World War Two he returned to Lewisburg and was employed by Bucknell. He died in 1962.

The sun was finally setting as I finished paying my respects and I left Harry resting peacefully in the cool evening air.

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