Boneheads, Goats & Flops
History can't tap all of us for laurels and accolades: someone has to suffer the slings and arrows of defeat. For every heroic deed performed on the anxious field of play, there is a corresponding bungle, muff, error or bonehead play. From "Merkle's Boner" to Snodgrass's muffed fly, the dead-ball era had its share of notable boneheads, goats, and flops.
bone head. (bõn'hed') noun. Slang. A term of opprobrium denoting a person who acts thoughtlessly or stupidly. A word common in early 20th century parlance; can be used as a noun or an adjective. In baseball history, bonehead (and it's truncated verb form "boner") refers almost always to luckless Fred Merkle and his baserunning gaffe against the Cubs in late 1908.
"I suppose that when I die, the epitaph on my tombstone will read: 'Here lies Bonehead Merkle.' The tough part of it is that I can't do things other fellows do without attracting any attention. Little slips that would be excused in any other players are burned into me by crowds. Of course, I make my mistakes with the rest, but I have to do double duty. If any play I'm concerned in goes wrong, I'm the fellow that gets the blame, no matter where the thing went off the line. I wish folks would forget. But they never will."
goat. (gõt) noun. Idiom. Short for scapegoat. In baseball, any player who commits a critical misplay, error, muff or boner can wear "the horns of the goat" if their mistake is perceived as the reason behind their team's loss. Goats are born most frequently in the hothouse atmosphere of postseason play, where all mistakes become magnified. Some of baseball's most famous goats are Fred Snodgrass, Ernie Lombardi, Ralph Branca, Donnie Moore, Mitch Williams, and Bill Buckner.
"Boston fans are mentioning his name only in whispers, and deepest gloom prevails [in New York] wherever baseball is discussed."
Hugh Fullerton in a late 1912 edition of the New York Times about New York Giant Fred Snodgrass, the undeserving goat of the 1912 World Series, who dropped a fly ball during the last game.
flop. (flõp) noun. Slang. An utter failure. In baseball, any player who fails to measure up to performance expectations.
"Bergen is a fine catcher, and would be finer still but for his desire to live well. Out this way we have rumors that now and then Bergen is late reporting for duty, all because he met some friends who will invite him to have a bite to eat, etc. Not caring about being churlish, he accepts, and will look on life as a round of pleasure. Time will come when the Brooklyn man will get down to solid base playing and forget good things in the pleasure line."
--A 1906 Pittsburgh sportswriter on Bill Bergen, whose lifetime batting average was .170.