Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Along the Way: Moose McCormick

Grave of Harry "Moose" McCormick
Lewisburg Cemetery
 During my visit to the Lewisburg Cemetery 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. Continuing down the roadway from Mathewson’s grave, I stopped at the spot where the roadway turned to the left. I continued straight ahead into the section of graves on the left in search of one grave among the stones.

Although I had directions to his grave, it took a little longer to locate the final resting place of Harry “Moose” McCormick. Though his stone is simple and very plain, his (unlike Mathewson’s) was decorated with small baseball bats and baseballs left by others who had stopped to pay their respects.

Harry was born February 28, 1881, in Philadelphia, one of five children. Harry’s father died when Harry was five years old and under Pennsylvania laws he was an orphan, so he 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, he attended Bucknell University starting 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, having left in 1903 to play baseball for the Jersey City Skeeters of the Eastern League. In 1904 he was signed to the New York Giants.

As a member of the Giants, McCormick played outfield, but only for fifty-nine games. He 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, but rather than continuing playing baseball, he went to work as a steel salesman. In 1908, Harry resumed playing baseball, signing 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.

Reproduction of Moose McCormick's
baseball card
Part of author's personal collection
McCormick’s career was not one that was 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 apiece.

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 Feed 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 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 began to flow onto the field, 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 one game it was enforced. If it wasn’t 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 left baseball to become a salesman in 1910. He returned to the Giants in 1912 and would retire from the sport at the end of the 1913 season. He would go on the couch the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1914 and 1915.

In 1917 he enlisted in the United States Army and fought in France during World War One. He served with the 167 Infantry Regiment of the 42 Infantry Division. McCormick remained active in the army he served as a civilian director in the United States Army Air Force during World War Two. After the war 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.

As always, if you choose to visit, please do so with respect.

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