They are, arguably, the best-known Chicago Cubs of all time.
All because of an eight-line poem.
"Baseball's Sad Lexicon" first appeared in print 100 years ago next month. It was written by Franklin P. Adams, a New York Evening Mail columnist who had been born in Chicago (and was a Cubs fan).
A little background: Back in Teddy Roosevelt's day, the Cubs were a dynasty. They won National League pennants in 1906, '07, '08 and '10, and the World Series in 1907 and '08 (their last world championship, for those keeping score at home). Anchoring their infield were shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance, the best double play combination of the day.
Their exploits against the arch-rival New York Giants are what inspired Adams to write the poem:
These are the saddest of possible words: "Tinker to Evers to Chance." Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds, Tinker and Evers and Chance. Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble, Making a Giant hit into a double— Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble: "Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Interestingly, Adams considered the poem something of a throwaway. In a 1946 letter, he explained: "I wrote that piece because I wanted to get out to the game, and the foreman of the composing room at the Mail said I needed 8 lines to fill. And the next day (an editor) said that no matter what else I ever wrote, I would be known as the guy that wrote those 8 lines. And they weren't much good, at that."
The notion that Adams jotted down the eight lines so he could run off to see the Cubs play the Giants is also incorrect. The Cubs didn't visit New York that month. In fact, the Giants had played in Chicago July 9, 10 and 11 – and in the final game, a Cubs victory, Tinker, Evers and Chance had turned a double play. That, most likely, inspired Adams' poem.
In anticipation of the poem's centennial, and aware of questions surrounding it, researchers Jack Bales and Tim Wiles did some digging. Bales is the reference and humanities librarian at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., and Wiles is the director of research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"The (publication) date is wrong in a lot of places," says Bales, an Aurora native. "Wikipedia, baseball-almanac.com. Do a Google search on ‘Baseball's Sad Lexicon' and ‘July 10,1910' and you'll get hundreds of hits, in both online and print resources."
Because the poem has been altered slightly over the years, Bales and Wiles – dedicated researchers that they are – needed to find the original version. They eventually did . . . and they found a lot more as well.
"You know, it all comes from a word," says Wiles, who grew up in Peoria and went to grade school with ex-Cub and current New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "There's a word in the seventh line, weighty. ‘Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble.' But we also saw ‘Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble' in different printings. So we just wanted to get the original printing.
"What we thought we were doing was the equivalent of running out a ground ball. You always run ‘em out, just in case. We ran it out and we found about 50 more related poems. So it just opened this door."
Their research also seems to have cleared up questions about the date the poem first appeared. Most sources say July 10 or July 18, 1910. But the Evening Mail didn't publish on the 10th, a Sunday. And a response to the poem titled "Gotham's Woe" – the first of dozens of spinoffs over the years that Wiles referred to – was published in the Tribune on July 15. So obviously, Adams' work had run before that.
Wiles and Bales eventually found the first appearance: July 12, under its original title, "That Double Play Again" – the day after the Cubs beat the Giants in Chicago. The Tribune version on the 15th and the Evening Mail's version on the 18th were just part of a back-and-forth between the rival cities.
"We don't tend to think of communication being that fast and that instantaneous between the two cities (in 1910)," Wiles says. "But it apparently was."
Bales says that the "Tinker to Evers to Chance" line kept the players in the public mind for years.
"The Chicago Daily Tribune reported in 1916 that a woman flipping flapjacks to her husband, who in turn passed them to a boarder in their house, were ‘working like a Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance combine,' " he says. "And a 2003 motion picture ad for Golden Globe-winner ‘The Hours,' starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, proclaims that ‘Kidman to Meryl to Moore' is ‘the acting version of baseball's fabled 'Tinker to Evers to Chance.' "
Even the players knew what the poem did for them. In 1938 Adams became a panelist on the "Information, Please" radio program. Evers once made an appearance on the show and thanked Adams, Bales says, "saying that he would have been forgotten years ago" if not for the poem.
"Baseball's Sad Lexicon" is also credited with helping Tinker, Evers and Chance get elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.
"Each of them has factors about his playing and managing that put them in the Cubs' top 10 or top 20 of all time anyway," Wiles says, "but they were probably not quite Ernie Banks or Ryne Sandberg or Albert Spalding or other guys who perhaps should be the top three Cubs of all time. But it's hard to find an American who doesn't know the phrase ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.' "
The Tinker-Evers-Chance triumvirate was broken up just two years after "Baseball's Sad Lexicon" was published. Chance left the Cubs after the 1912 season to manage the New York Yankees. He died in 1924 after a long battle with pneumonia. Tinker was traded to Cincinnati in 1912, played four more years in the majors and finished his career with the Cubs in 1916. He died in 1948 of complications from diabetes. Evers, who took over as Cubs manager after Chance left, was traded to the Boston Braves in 1914, his last season as a full-time player. He died in 1947 from a cerebral hemorrhage.
And the man who helped make them famous? Adams had a long and notable career as a columnist, author, critic and radio panelist, and was a member of the famous Algonquin Roundtable, hanging around and trading bon mots with the likes of George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. He died in New York in 1960 at the age of 78.