How did three Cubs who didn’t particularly like each other get voted into the Hall of Fame together? A poem.
Blame Franklin Pierce Adams, a Cubs fan, sportswriter and erstwhile poet, who published this little ditty in The New York Evening Mail on July 10, 1910:
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.”
Their fame was instant.
Their batting was average, however, with Frank Chance the better of the three (.296 career); none even approached the modest landmark of 2,000 career hits.
Frank Chance, the first baseman and team manager, twice led the league in stolen bases, and his on-base percentage was a healthy .450 in 1905 (helped by being beaned by a lot of pitches), but two of his four World Series outings were lackluster and he had just one standout year as a batter — 1906.
Johnny Evers, the second baseman, was named Most Valuable Player in 1914, then sank into oblivion. He was a career .270 hitter who rose to the occasion in three of his four World Series, but was otherwise just a journeyman infielder. Aside from the poem, he is best known for his involvement in Fred Merkle’s Bonehead Play during the 1908 season. It was Evers who alerted the umpires to Merkle’s shortcut across the infield.
Joe Tinker, the shortstop, batted .262 over his career and batted .317 in 1913. He did sacrifice a lot, but was otherwise firmly in the middle of the pack, statistically.
But fielding was their fame, at least in the poem. Frank Chance, who often skipped games, had a fielding percentage of .987; Johnny Evers at .955 and Tinker was at .938. Those were nearly identical statistics to their 1910 New York Giants peers, none of whom are in the Hall of Fame, but good enough to help the Cubs into five World Series appearances.
Tinker’s 3,758 career putouts was less than half of those of his contemporary, Honus Wagner (7,930). Wagner had far more career double plays, too, and also had more double plays in his best season than did Tinker or Evers or Chance.
And what about those storied double plays? Two of the three had their best years in 1912. Over their careers, Evers participated in 688 double plays (71 in 1912), Tinker 668 (73 in 1912) and Chance 470 (just 1 in 1912).
OK, let’s try the year of the poem, 1910: Tinker 54; Evers, 55; and Chance 48 double plays. That’s a maximum of one Tinker-Evers-Chance double play every three games. In other words, an opposing team might suffer at the hands of Tinker-Evers-Chance once per visit to Chicago. Hardly the stuff of poetry. Perversely, Frank Chance, who should have participated in the most double plays because he played first base, actually had the fewest.
Using another good National League team of that era, the 1910 New York Giants, we find that Fred “Bonehead” Merkle, playing first base, participated in 92 double plays, nearly twice as many as Frank Chance. Larry Doyle, playing second base, participated in 62 and Al Bridwell at shortstop 52. Clearly, Frank Chances’s dual role as player-manager caused his statistics to suffer.
Even more revealing: In 1914, Rabbit Maranville played at shortstop for the Boston Braves and participated in 92 double plays. That’s nearly two-thirds of the combined 1912 total for Tinker and Evers and Chance.
So the three poetic Cubbies — taken as a group — tended to more-or-less match their contemporaries in double plays, and individually they could be viewed as above average for a few seasons before World War I. Tinker was probably the better fielder of the three, and had the longer career as a Cub — 11 years. Evers was playing baseball part time by age 33 and Chance ended his years quietly managing the New York Yankees.
There was one vocation where the Hall of Fame might have been appropriate: managing.
Johnny Evers flopped as the Cubs manager in 1913 and 1921, and as the White Sox manager 1924. Tinker likewise failed as the Cubs manager in 1916.
However, Frank Chance (dubbed the The Peerless Leader) took over the Cubs as player-manager in 1905 and won the pennants in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910; they won the World Series twice. He managed the New York Yankees with less success in 1913 and 1914, then retired because of severe illness.
Of the three, only Frank Chance stands out as potential Hall of Fame material, albeit as a manager, but illness intervened to cut his career short. He was a manager fewer than 10 seasons. Had he played in more games (as a Cub he appeared in an average of just 85 of 154 games per year) or concentrated on managing he might have amassed Hall of Fame statistics. But he didn’t.
Drafting an infield squad into the Hall of Fame has always been unsupportable. In the 1970s, the Los Angeles Dodgers infield of Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Russell and Davey Lopes played together successfully for a record eight seasons, and helped the Dodgers dominate the National League West. Yet none are seriously discussed for Hall of Fame membership, because their sum far exceeded their individual contributions. And so it was with the Cubs of the early 1900s.
Adams called his poem Baseball’s Sad Lexicon, but its sadder consequence 36 years later was getting three above-average Joes into the Hall of Fame: Tinker and Evers and Chance.