ARTICLE OF THE DAY

An Athlete's Worst Nightmare
by Brian North
6/7/06

Poor Ty Conklin. He is the Edmonton Oilers goalie who was forced into a wild game one of the Stanley Cup Finals. He is also the Oilers goalie who had a miscommunication with a defenseman with 30 seconds to go in the game, and the gaff resulted in the Hurricanes Rod Brind'Amour stealing the puck and scoring the game winning goal.

I have come to like the Hurricanes, but I had trouble being excited with their victory, because it came at the expense of a player's actions. Sure the 'Canes won it, but Conklin played a big part in the loss. To me it was like cheering a player who missed the game-tying free throws at the end of a game. I hate cheering someone else's failure. I like great plays to win a game; Michael Jordan's shot over Craig Elhoe in the 1989 playoffs, Kirk Gibson's home run off Dennis Eckersley in game one of the 1988 World Series, Doug Flutie's game winning hail Mary, Sam Hornish's last-second dash to victory in this year's Indy 500.

I hate to see Bill Buckner miss a ground ball, Michael Johnson come up lame in his match race with Donovan Bailey, Jim Marshall running the wrong way. I know failure makes some people stronger, but it also follows others for the rest of their lives. Buckner has borderline hall of fame numbers, but will always be remembered for missing a harmless ground ball that let the game winning run score in game six of the 1986 World Series.  Is it fair that Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch and was more responsible for the blowing the three run lead in the 10th than Buckner? No - revisionist history can be cruel. Just ask Fred Merkle.

Merkle played baseball for the Giants, and is best known for a play between the Chicago Cubs and New York on September 23rd, 1908 that cost the Giants the World Series. He was 19 at the time. In the bottom of the ninth in a 1-1 tie, Merkle was on first base when Al Bridwell hit a single to center. Moose McCormick ran home with the apparent game winning run. However, when Merkle saw Moose McCormick touch home plate with the "winning" run, he left the basepath before touching second base and headed for the clubhouse in center field at the Polo Grounds.

Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers called for the center fielder to throw him the ball so he could get a forceout at second on Merkle. The ball was thrown in, and in the tussle, pitcher "Iron Man" McGinnity, who had been coaching at third base, wound up with it and threw it into the stands. Somehow, though, a ball appeared in Evers' hand and he touched second base. Umpire Hank O'Day called Merkle out and, with the Giants already having left the field and the fans swarming it, called the game a 1-1 tie.

Later, National League president Harry Pulliam upheld O'Day's decision. The game was replayed after the regular schedule was finished, with the teams tied for first place. The Cubs won the replay to capture the pennant and went on to win the World Series. It was one of baseball's most controversial plays and was called "Merkle's bonehead Play." It haunted Merkle not just for the rest of his playing days, but all his life. He played 16 years in the big leagues and had almost 1,600 hits, but he bitterly refused requests for interviews in later years because he didn't want to relive the incident.

So I feel for Ty Conklin. In hockey mad Edmonton, his play will go down in infamy, especially if the Oilers don't win the Cup. I know it's part of an athlete's job, and it's the risk they take every time they go into the athletic arena, but I just wish the 'Canes would win the Cup with stellar play, so no one has to go down in history in a negative way.
 
Brian North
bnorth@wcti12.com