Memories & Dreams: Plaque Check – Johnny Evers

By Marty Appel

While today’s publishing industry seems to love books from big stars, it took a long time for books by players to find their way into the marketplace.

Mike “King” Kelly produced a book in 1888, John Montgomery Ward that same year, and then Cap Anson had one in 1900.

The next one would come from Chicago Cubs’ second baseman Johnny Evers, who in 1910 teamed up with sportswriter Hugh Fullerton to produce, “Touching Second,” largely an instructional book.

Published in hardcover by The Reilly & Britton Company, it included more than a dozen photos of “stars of the day,” including a Boston rookie outfielder named “Chris” Speaker, who we came to know as Tris. Hopefully, Johnny also came to know him better as well.

Evers remains known to fans for his link to the magical Cubs infield of Joe Tinker (shortstop), Evers (second base) and Frank Chance (first base). The three of them went into the Hall of Fame together in 1946, no doubt assisted by the poem written by Franklin P. Adams called “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” which read in part

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

While the poem elevated them to a status which may have been a bit above reality, they were still the infield that appeared in the World Series of 1906-07-08-10, winning two world championships, with Chance also serving as manager.

Evers greatest moment came in the famous “Merkle Boner” game of September 23, 1908. A heady player who really studied the rule book, he had been involved in a play ten days earlier in which a runner left the field on a game-winning hit without “touching second.” On September 23 , the opportunity came up again, and he reminded umpire Hank O’Day of his earlier word to call it an out – next time. The next time turned Fred Merkle of the Giants into a “goat” for life, and made a hero of Evers for stealing the win from New York and helping move the Cubs to the World Series. (It would mark their last world championship to date).

Despite the heroism of the moment, Evers was known for a dour personality (his nickname was “The Crab”) and he didn’t speak to Tinker for years. In 1910, the year his book was published, his daughter died, he lost his life savings in a failed business, he was the driver in an auto accident that killed his best friend, and to top it off, he suffered a nervous breakdown, followed by pneumonia. The Cubs never won again, although Johnny would go on to win MVP honors with the 1914 “Miracle” Boston Brave despite a 1-40-.279 offensive output. Clearly, his leadership was much in evidence that year.

As for the book, it included passages by Fullerton (the third recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award), which are identified as “the following is by Fullerton,” leaving us to believe that Evers did indeed craft his portions without ghostwriting assistance. He says, surprisingly, little of the Merkle game, despite the title seeming to come from it, and pays tribute to O’Day for his courage in calling the play as he did. Interestingly, considering the play went against the Giants, he notes that O’Day was greeted by cheers from Giants fans his next game at the Polo Grounds. “He knew the National League wanted New York to win. He knew the Giants ought to have won, that the hit was clean and one that deserved to bring home the winning run. Even when officers, politicians, men big in baseball, urged him to say he had not seem the play, had not made a decision, he stood firm.”

In the annals of player books, Evers delivered a good one. He died in 1947, the year after his Hall of Fame induction, and a year before Tinker, who would be the last survivor of the fabled infield.