Where Have You Gone, Jim Merritt?

By Andrew Cohen

"Got nothing," Cincinnati Reds' manager Sparky Anderson said without rancor or objection to his young catcher, Johnny Bench, while they were standing together on the mound at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore during Game 5 of the 1970 World Series.

Anderson had just removed starting pitcher Jim "Got Nothing" Merritt from the game in just the second inning following a sharp lineout by Orioles pitcher Mike Cuellar. The O's went on to win the game, 9-3, and Series, 4-1. The record backs up the coach. Merritt's line for the night was: four earned runs allowed on three hits (including a home-run) and a walk. This from a fellow who had won 20 games for the team during the regular season.

I know all this because last week, nearly forty years removed from that moment, I am watching highlights of this game on the MLB Network, the latest, greatest gift to baseball fans in America. I am watching it and loving it and wondering whether poor Merritt, a journeyman pitcher who nonetheless earned 81 wins in the Major Leagues, is watching it too.
 
Merritt is now 66 (says Wikipedia so it must be true) and I am sure he is either laughing or crying at the notion that a whole new generation of baseball fans like me (who were toddlers in 1970) now know that his battery mate, a future Hall of Famer, and his coach, a future Hall of Famer, thought his pitches had "nothing" with his team's season on the line. Who says baseball history is static? What I had thought all along was the power and poise and precision of Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson and Paul Blair and Boog Powell turns out, in Game 5 anyway, to be poor ol' Merritt.
 
So I try to find Merritt, you know, to give him the final word on Sparky. I call the alumni group of the player's union and guess whose voice greets me on the answering machine as I call to find out about Jim Merritt? Why, it's none other than Brooks Robinson--Brooksie!--one of the merely five Orioles' batters Merritt retired before he was replaced in Game 5. I leave a message. I get an email back from a nice lady saying that Merritt has been given my request. And I wait. And wait and wait. 
 
I don't blame Jim Merritt for not calling me back. Forty years from now I won't want some punk calling me to ask me about my legal analysis of the Florida Recount (I predicted Gore would win) or the Martha Stewart trial (I predicted she would be acquitted). He deserves his privacy even as the glorious MLB Network arrives on the scene to help remind us all of one of his worst moments at work.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/01/where-have-you-gone-jim-merritt/33923/