Tim Layden explores the myth of the man who had once borne his blood on big league diamonds
Senior writer Tim Layden had been name-dropping his great uncle for years: Johnny Evers was a Hall of Fame second baseman and part of the Cubs’ famous Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance double play crew in the early 1900s. But it was less than a year ago that Layden decided to write a story about Evers, and he details the process that led him to understand his Uncle Johnny’s life, marked by success on the field but personal tragedy and financial ruin off it.
Layden took special care to learn about one of the most notable events in Evers’ career: A controversial game-ending double play in 1908, in which Evers forced out New York Giants first baseman Fred Merkle to prevent the Giants from winning a crucial pennant race game. Layden found he wasn’t the only one fascinated by the mysterious play: TV commentator Keith Olbermann bought the ball used in the play at auction in 2010, and has made an avocation of vigorously defending Merkle’s actions. Olbermann bought the ball at auction in 2010 not only because he is an avid memorabilia collector but also because the Merkle ball holds particular significance, saying: “It’s the Rosetta Stone. This is the time-travel node that puts you on the middle of this swirling dust storm with 10,000 fans on a Wednesday afternoon at the Polo Grounds 104 years ago” (page 60).