Baseball History: Who Were Tinker, Evers and Chance?

In 1910, American author (and member of the famed Algonquin Round Table) Franklin Pierce Adams, published what has become one the most famous baseball poems ever written. Entitled “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”, the work is more commonly known by the poem’s refrain, “Tinker to Evers to Chance.” This article profiles the poem’s legendary namesakes, the Chicago Cubs’ infielding trio of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance.

The poem begins:

“These are the saddest of possible words: Tinker to Evers to Chance”

Adams’ most famous work was written from the perspective of a New York Giants fan, watching a game as a Giants player hits into a double play, which is, of course, fielded by shortstop Joe Tinker and thrown to second baseman Johnny Evers, and finally to first baseman Frank Chance, thus completing the double play much to the chagrin of the New York fans.

Below are the profiles of these three players who became a dominant infielding force during the early 20th century, helping the Cubs win four National League pennants and two World Series titles between 1906 and 1910.

Joe Tinker (shortstop): An excellent baserunner, Tinker once stole home twice in one game in 1910. While history remembers Tinker as an average hitter, the shortstop was the leading fielder in his era, leading the National League in fielding percentage four times. His fielding prowess eventually led to his Hall of Fame induction in 1946.

Johnny Evers (second baseman): Like Tinker, Evers was an unremarkable hitter. He finished his twenty-year playing career with 12 home runs and a .270 batting average. Evers was one of the smallest players in baseball history; as a rookie with the Cubs in 1902, Evers reportedly weighed under 100 pounds. Nicknamed “The Crab” because of his ornery disposition, Evers set a major league record in 1914 by being ejected from a game nine times. Despite the fact that he only batted over .300 twice in his career, Evers was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1946.

Frank Chance (first baseman): Perhaps the best offensive player of the famous Cubs trio, Chance retired after 15 major league seasons with 20 home runs, 401 stolen bases, and a .296 batting average. Chance also compiled an impressive 946-648 managerial record, thus ensuring his place in the Hall of Fame. Like Tinker and Evers, Chance was inducted in 1946.

Even though Adams’ poem forever links the names Tinker, Evers, and Chance, in truth Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers were not friends in real life. In fact, the two men once engaged in an on-field fistfight in 1905. Because of this event, the two men did not speak to each other for 33 years, long after the two men retired from the game.

While “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” made many baseball fans familiar with the names of the shortstop, second baseman, and first baseman, very few people remember the name of the Cubs’ third baseman, who never earned a mention in the famous poem. The “forgotten” infielder not mentioned in Adams’ poem was Harry Steinfeldt, who spent 13 seasons as a player, compiling 1576 career hits with a .267 batting average. Despite career numbers similar to those posted by Tinker, Evers, and Chance, Harry Steinfeldt never made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame.