Art "Solly" Hofman of the Cubs, at West Side Grounds in 1909. Credit: SDN-054737, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.
This is another in a six-part offseason series this year in which I revisited the rankings of the top 100 Cubs of all time, originally done in the winter of 2006-07. In addition to six new profiles (the first was Jon Lieber, the new #100 on Nov. 29), I'll be revising the profiles of the four active players on this list (Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano and Derrek Lee) over the winter.
Art "Solly" Hofman wasn't a great player -- his career triple-slash line is .269/.340/.352, which in the deadball era was about league-average; his career OPS+ is 104 (105 in his 10 years as a Cub). He did play for all four of the Cubs' pennant-winning teams in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910, although for some reason did not play at all in the 1907 World Series. Born in St. Louis on Oct. 29, 1882, he and several of his siblings -- including a sister who was a star basketball player in an era when most women didn't play sports -- were athletes. He was an infielder in the minor leagues when acquired by the Cubs from the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1904; unable to break into the great Cubs infield of Tinker, Evers, Chance and Steinfeldt, he became an outfielder. The nickname "Solly" was actually shortened from "Circus Solly", a comic-strip character of the age; various stories say either that Hofman resembled the character or for circus catches he made in the outfield.
His best season was 1910, when at age 27 he put up a 154 OPS+ season and had 16 triples, which ranked fourth in the National League.
He'd be sort of the Reed Johnson of his time, a decent but unremarkable player, except for the memorable Merkle Game of 1908, in which he played a pivotal role and the reason he makes the top 100.
No doubt, you are familiar with the Merkle Game, perhaps the single most famous game in Cubs history. On September 23, 1908, with the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth between the Cubs and Giants in New York, Moose McCormick was on third base and Fred Merkle on first with two out. Al Bridwell singled, and McCormick apparently scored the winning run.
But Hofman, playing center field, grabbed the ball, just as he had been told to do by Johnny Evers in an identical incident about three weeks earlier. That link picks up the story:
Hofman threw, but the ball got away from Evers. It rolled into the crowd surging onto the field, unaware of what was going on. Two Giants, however, must have known exactly what Evers was up to. Pitcher Floyd Kroh raced from the Giant dugout and picked up the ball. Joe McGinnity was right behind him. Before Kroh could move, McGinnity snatched the ball from Kroh's hands and heaved it into the stands.
Evers still didn't give up. He dashed to the plate and took another ball from umpire O'Day. Then he ran back to second, stepped on the bag, and insisted that Merkle was out. Umpire Emslie couldn't rule on Evers' appeal. In ducking away from Birdwell's hit, he had been unable to watch Merkle. This left it up to Hank O'Day.
"What do ya say, Hank?" Merkle shouted above the noise of the screaming crowd.
"Merkle is out!" was O'Day's prompt reply. He then declared the game a tie and suspended play.
The league upheld this ruling and the game was replayed on Oct. 8, where the Cubs needed to win to win the pennant; they did, 4-2, and won the World Series -- otherwise we'd be talking about 103 years, not 102.
Hofman's solid play in center field, his role in this incident, and his solid play for four pennant winners, qualifies him for this list. Later traded to the Pirates, he played briefly in the Federal League and then back with the Cubs in 1916. He lived in Chicago for a time after retirement, running various businesses and coaching high school baseball. He died in his native St. Louis on March 10, 1956. His nephew, Bobby Hofman, was a reserve infielder for the Giants in the early 1950s.