Baseball is sometimes called "the thinking man's game." And what do people watching baseball think so much about?
Baseball, The Cruelest Game
Imagine, for a moment, the worst event in your personal athletic history (which probably took place in gym class and may or may not have involved a wedgie) becoming the defining moment of your entire life, following you through all your days, taking up most of your obituary, and dominating your Wikipedia page (which you might not even have without your famous screwup or embarassment). This, to the chagrin of a number of otherwise talented, successful people, is one of the occupational hazaards of the game of baseball.
Yes, it's true. Our leisurely, pastoral pastime is, in fact, hopelessly cruel, capricious, and unforgiving. Just ask these folks, who had one moment in time, one false step, immortalized forever in baseball lore and their name forever associating with screwing up. You won't hear a "luckiest man on the face of the Earth" speech from this bunch.
Fred "Bonehead" Merkle
As a 19-year old New York Giant, Fred Merkle had his whole life in front of him. As it turned out, he had another 48 years to live. That's over 17,000 days, every one of which he had to live known as Fred "Bonehead" Merkle, responsible for "Merkle's Boner," the most famous Boner in American history until Bill Clinton didn't have sex with that woman.
In a late September game against the Chicago Cubs, Merkle was on first base heading for second when the Giants scored the apparent winning run. Unfortunately, he never got to second base, instead running off the field in the mistaken belief that the game was over. After some confusion resulting from the fans storming the field, the Cubs second baseman was able to retrieve the ball (or a different ball, as some stories attest) and step on second base, resulting in a forceout of Merkle for the third and last out of the inning The run was disallowed, the game ended in a tie, and the Cubs won the make-up game to win the pennant. They went on to win the World Series, which to this day is the Cubs' most recent championship (more on that later).
Fred then spent the next 48 years being known far and wide as "Bonehead." When he died in 1956, every obituary in the land referenced the story of his famous boner.
Had the internet and YouTube existed in the early 1900's, perhaps he would have gained a Chris Crocker "leave Bonehead alone" type of defender, but alas, he had the ill fortune of being born way too early.
Or, considering the fact that this boner has now lasted 101 years, he probably should have called his doctor long ago.
Mickey Owen played 13 seasons of big league ball, hit .255, set a record for fielding by a catcher, had the first pinch-hit homerun in an All-Star game, served in the navy, was elected Sheriff...and failed to catch one ball that would have been the third strike, that would have ended the game, that would have tied up the World Series at two games apiece back in 1941. Instead, Owen's Dodgers fell behind the Yankees three games to one and lost the series the next day. For all his accomplishments, young people best know him today as "that guy the announcer mentions in MLB 2K7 (video game) whenever the catcher drops a third strike." He's lucky not to have picked up a nickname like "Droptard" or "Feeblebutt," but hey, it's never too late for Wikipedia.
Had officials decided in 1963 to bury Lee Harvey Oswald at Arlington and consign JFK's body to an unmarked grave, the Kennedy family would have nothing on John Roseboro.
OK, so Roseboro actually forgave and eventually befriended Juan Marichal, but I'm not going to let that get in the way of a good story. This is Cracked, not Wikipedia. If there's a difference.
John Roseboro played 14 years in the big leagues and was the starting catcher on three World Series winners, but had his proto-YouTube moment in 1965 while San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal was batting and Roseboro was catching.
The details of the provocation have always been in dispute, but the result has not-Marichal proceeded to beat Roseboro over the head with the bat, making solid contact at least three times. In today's world that would likely result in assault charges. In 1965, that resulted in a nine-game suspension for Marichal and a fine of $1750.
Juan Marichal is a proud member of the baseball Hall-of-Fame, elected to that honorable shrine in 1983. John Roseboro is "that guy that Marichal hit over the head with a bat." Technically that's not a screwup, but it still seems cruel, especially the "getting hit over the head with a bat" part.
Bill Buckner, a longtime Los Angeles Dodger and Chicago Cub who played 21 seasons in the big leagues, hit .289 with one batting title, had 2715 hits for his career and made an All-Star team. Really, a career he could and should be proud of.
But in 1986, playing for the Boston Red Sox, he made an error in game 6 of the World Series that became his signature moment.
With two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning, the Red Sox (trying to win their first championship since 1918) held a 3-2 lead in games and a two-run lead over the New York Mets. Seemingly minutes away from a long-awaited series win, the Sox let the Mets tie it up with three straight singles and a wild pitch. Then, the immortal Mookie Wilson sent an easy ground ball towards Buckner at first base. Pick it up, step on first, and the game continues into the eleventh inning and the dream is alive.
The ball rolled unimpeded through Buckner's legs. The Mets won game 6, and wrapped up the series with a win in game 7. Red Sox fans had to wait another 18 years for that championship, by which time many of them were dead and unable to enjoy it fully.
Boston has a bridge with Y-shaped legs between which cars pass without slowing down. It is popularly known as "Bill Buckner's Bridge."
In 2003, the Chicago Cubs were five outs away from reaching their first World Series since 1945. Leading the Florida Marlins 3-2 in games and holding a 3-0 advantage in the eighth inning of game six, the Cubs were on their way.
When a Marlins batter lofted a foul ball just into the seats on the left-field side and Cubs outfielder Moises Alou ran over to attempt the catch. Reaching into the stands, seemingly with a chance to catch it, he stomped away in frustration after the ball deflected off the hands of one Steve Bartman, long time Cubs fan.
But that's no problem, right? I mean, that doesn't score any runs, and you're still up 3-0. Right?
The Cubs proceeded to give up eight runs in the inning, lose the game, and went out and lost game 7, missing the World Series once again. Bummer.
Bartman, the devout fan, was escorted out by security while other Cubs fans pelted him with debris. His name and address was online in a matter of minutes, and police protection was required. The Witness Protection Program was discussed as an actual option. Uber-bummer.
All because Bartman, among the several fans reaching for that ball, was the one unlucky enough to actually touch it. Which, obviously, lost the game and the series for the Cubs.
Ever lose the game for your baseball team? If so, did the Governor of Florida offer you asylum?
Of course, you might point out that one missed foul ball does not let in eight runs. But this is the Cubs, who apparently are so bad at dealing with adversity that they not only cannot recover from one missed ball, they go to pieces so fast their tickets must come with shrapnel warnings. Which brings me to...
The Chicago Cubs*
The Cubs get an asterisk here, for being a whole team instead of one player, and for 100 years of screwing up rather than a single moment. But, since leaving them off this list means leaving out that image of Nomar Garciaparra, here they are.
The Chicago Cubs are the team embodiment of you in gym class, forever failing to climb the rope, always getting hit or kicked in the balls, essentially getting a big, collective wedgie year after year after year. They last won a championship in 1908. To put this in perspective, the last time the Cubs won the World Series, Arizona did not have a major league team. Probably because it was not yet a state.
The Cubs haven't even played in the World Series since 1945, about six months after Adolph Hitler's makeshift Viking funeral amidst the ruins of Berlin.
And, like that kid in gym class who missed the ball because a rock got in his way, they and their fans are absolutely stellar at coming up with excuses. The Steve Bartman incident is a mere sub-paragraph in this story. The leading theory: the Cubs cannot win because at that series in 1945 a man who brought his goat to the game at Chicago's Wrigley Field was ejected from the stadium and, in his anger, put a curse on the team.
That's right. Despite a nine-figure player payroll, the Cubs are unable to overcome the 64-year-old voodoo magic of a guy with a pet goat. If futility had a mascot, it would be a small bear with a "C" on his cap.