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Merkle’s Boner and False Imprisonment

Posted By John Racanelli On October 11, 2013 @ 5:12 pm In Research | 2 Comments

Talcott v. National Exhibition Co., 144 A.D. 337, 128 N.Y.S. 1059 (2 Dept., 1911)

What was Merkle’s Boner?

On September 23, 1908 the Chicago Cubs played the New York Giants at the famed Polo Grounds.  Al Bridwell came to bat with two outs and the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth.  He laced a single to the outfield and the runner on third trotted home, thinking he had just scored the winning run.  The Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers, of the famed “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” double play combination and future Hall of Fame inductee, however, called for the ball from the outfield because Fred Merkle, the Giants runner on first, had not touched second base.  Although there is controversy regarding whether Evers got the actual ball back, the umpire ruled Merkle out at second and due to the force, the apparent winning run was erased.

As was common at the time, the fans at the Polo Grounds would walk across the field after the game to exit the ballpark.  By the time the play was decided and the winning run nullified, however, the fans believing the Giants had won were already streaming across the field and it was impossible to resume the game before the game was called on account of darkness.

On October 6, 1908, the National League Board of Directors made its final ruling that because Merkle had failed to reach second, the force rule was applied correctly and the game was a tie.  At the end of the season, the Cubs and Giants were tied for first place and a makeup game was needed to determine which team would play in the World Series.  This game was played on October 8, 1908 at the Polo Grounds and reportedly drew 40,000 people, the largest crowd ever to have attended a single baseball game at the time.

The Cubs won this game over the Giants and went on to beat the Tigers 4-1 in the World Series, their last World Series victory.

The play that forced the makeup game was dubbed “Merkle’s Boner” and Fred Merkle was tagged with the nickname “Bonehead.”  Years later, Merkle admitted that he never touched second base but claimed he had been assured by umpire Bob Emslie that the Giants had won.  Despite a solid 16-year Major League career, including four seasons with the Cubs, Merkle was never able to shake the stigma of the play.

What does Merkle’s Boner have to do with this case?

As a result of the play and the October 6th mandate for the makeup game, the Polo Grounds played host to the makeup game on October 8, 1908.  This game was “of very great importance to those interested in such games, and a vast outpouring of people were attracted to it.”  On the morning of the game, the ticket booths at the Polo Grounds were inundated with people trying to secure reserved seats for that afternoon’s game.

Plaintiff Fredrick Talcott, Jr. went to the ballpark intending to buy tickets for the game and entered an “inclosure” where the ticket booths were located.  After finding that the tickets were sold out, he tried to leave the inclosure along with a great number of people also trying to exit at the same time.  As he attempted to leave, however, ballpark attendants prevented his exit and he was “detained in the inclosure for an hour or more, much to his annoyance and personal inconvenience.”  Mr. Talcott brought this lawsuit seeking damages for false imprisonment.  He further claimed to have been pushed by the defendant’s “special policemen.”

The Giants countered that plaintiff simply could have used one of the other exits available.  Mr. Talcott alleged, however, that he was not aware of any other exits to the inclosure and none were pointed out to him.

Who won?

The case went to a jury trial and Mr. Talcott was awarded $500 in damages (approximately $12,000 today) with judgment entered on May 19, 1910.

The Giants appealed but the appellate court affirmed the judgment in favor of Mr. Talcott.

Why?

The jury found that that plaintiff’s detention was unwarranted.  The appellate court agreed with this finding, ruled that the award was not excessive and found no reason to interfere with the jury’s verdict.

Additionally, the court found that Mr. Talcott was not required to demonstrate that he incurred any special or actual damages as a result of the detention.


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