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Baseball's Sad Lexicon: Wikis


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"Baseball's Sad Lexicon", also known as "Tinker to Evers to Chance" after its refrain, is a 1910 baseball poem by Franklin Pierce Adams. The poem is presented as a single, rueful stanza from the point of view of a New York Giants fan seeing the talented Chicago Cubs infield of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance complete a double play.

The trio first appeared in a game together on September 2, 1902. They turned their first double play on the next day, September 3, 1902. Likely, this double play combination would never have existed if not for Frank Selee, the Cubs' crafty manager from 1902 to 1905 (Chance took over the managerial reins midway through the 1905 season because Selee was forced to step down due to illness). Selee saw that Chance, who was originally a backup to catchers Tim Donahue and Johnny Kling, would be better suited as a first baseman. Chance at first opposed the move and even threatened to quit, but ultimately obliged. He quickly forgot his ambitions to be a catcher. Tinker, originally a third baseman, also shifted positions with a move to shortstop. And Evers, who was originally a shortstop, was switched to back up second baseman Bobby Lowe because of Tinker's move. When Lowe broke his ankle in the September 2 game, Evers came in to replace him. Evers then became the starter, and (somewhat like Lou Gehrig famously did in the 1920s) would long remain in the job he originally won due only to another player's injury. The Adams poem has made them perhaps the most famed double-play combination in history.


Text of 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."

This work was first published in the New York Evening Mail on July 10, 1910, and is now in the public domain.

This poem can be sung to the tune of the French ditty "Vive la Compagnie!"


Notes on the text

  • A gonfalon (Line 5) is a pennant or flag, referring in this context to the National League title.
  • "Hitting a double" in baseball means a two-base hit, but "hitting into a double" refers to hitting into a double play (two outs on a single play), most commonly accomplished by a ground ball hit to the shortstop (Tinker) thrown to the second baseman (Evers) to force the runner out who had been on first base and then thrown to first base (Chance) to complete the play.


Adams wrote the poem for his column "Always in Good Humor" in the Evening Mail; he signed it with his nickname, FPA. Adams, a native of Chicago and a former newspaper columnist there, penned the poem on his way to the Polo Grounds to see the Cubs–Giants game. The poem was such a hit that other sportswriters submitted additional verses to it. But it was FPA's that is remembered.

Tinker, Evers, and Chance were all part of the Chicago Cubs' World Series-winning teams in 1907 and 1908, as well as the pennant-winner in 1910. In 1911, the Giants finally overcame their repeated frustrations at the hands of the Cubs, capturing the first of three consecutive league championships as the Cubs dynasty faded.

All three players were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. It has been speculated that the fame they enjoyed through the poem penned by Adams contributed to their selection.

Despite their celebrated success at turning spectacular plays in collaboration, relations between the teammates were said to have been often strained. Tinker and Evers feuded for many years, and player-manager Chance was reputed to have had an occasionally combative approach to discipline.

About 1913, when the Cubs had faded in the standings (they finished third in 1913), club owner Charles Webb Murphy fired manager Johnny Evers, and a number of baseball people made an effort to drive Murphy out of baseball. This involved the National League president John Tener, and Charles P. Taft, whose brother William was President at the time. The effort was successful, and the Sporting Life commemorated the affair with this variation on the poem:

Brought to the leash and smashed in the jaw,
Evers to Tener to Taft.
Hounded and hustled outside of the law,
Evers to Tener to Taft.
Torn from the Cubs and the glitter of gold,
Stripped of the guerdons and glory untold,
Kicked in the stomach and cut from the fold:
Evers to Tener to Taft.

Source: The National League Story, by Lee Allen, 1961.

The fame of the double-play combination naturally led to the occasional trivia question "So who played third base?" The answer, during the period from 1906 to 1910, was Harry Steinfeldt.

The phrase and double-play combination helped inspire the song "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg" in the 1949 musical film, Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

The expression is still used on occasion today, to characterize any process that happens with smoothness and precision, as a near-synonym to expressions such as "like clockwork" or "a well-oiled machine".

References in popular culture

  • Canadian progressive rock band Rush references the poem in the liner notes for their 1993 album Counterparts; there is a list of certain "counterparts" (such as Larry, Curly, Moe and Lock, Stock, Barrel). Tinker, Evers, Chance is one of them. [1]
  • Ogden Nash's poem "Line-Up For Yesterday", written in 1949, mentions the famous trio:
'E' is for Evers
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance[2]
  • W. P. Kinsella's 1986 novel "The Iowa Baseball Confederacy" also mentions the famous trio. Along with the rest of the 1908 Chicago Cubs, they travel to the fictional town of Onamata, Iowa, to play a team made up of all-stars from the Confederacy. [1]
  • Brady Bunch S01 24 The Grass is always Greener. The maid welcomes the boys coming inside from a game of baseball and names them Tinker, Evers and Chance
  • In the movie "Brewster's Millions" starring Richard Pryor and John Candy, who both played minor league baseball players, their coach, played by Jerry Orbach, during a practice, gets upset with his team's failure at completing a double play, and yells, "beautiful play...Tinker to Evers to shit."

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