Sports Collectors Digest: These are the saddest of possible words: Tinker to Evers to Chance

By Marty Appel

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the appearance in a Cubs box score of a double play marked 6-4-3, “Tinker to Evers to Chance.” It would be six years before Franklin P. Adams immortalized the three by writing a poem about them in the New York World under the title “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.”

Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance were probably not as good as Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker and Cecil Fielder, but the poem so immortalized them, that they went into the Hall of Fame together in 1946. Without the poem, it’s possible they wouldn’t have gotten in. And possible they would be no better remembered today than the third baseman in that infield, Harry Steinfeldt.

The fact that Tinker and Evers couldn’t stand each other was a whole ‘nuther story. They never had anything to do with each other off the field, and communicated as little as possible on it.

Evers had a magical moment on September 23, 1908, the date of the famous “Merkle Boner” in the Polo Grounds. It was a critical game in the pennant race between the Giants and the Cubs. Evers, who lived and breathed the game, and who was always studying the rule book, had been part of a game ten days earlier in which a Pirates runner had left the field on a game-winning hit without touching second. Evers called it to the attention of umpire Hank O’Day, who said, “if it happens again, I’ll call it an out.”

Sure enough, Fred Merkle forgot to touch second, Evers screamed to O’Day for the call – and got it. O’Day called Merkle out, the Giants lost the game, and a few days later, lost the pennant to the Cubs . Evers was a hero. Merkle would forever be “The Bonehead.”

In 1910, working with Chicago writer Hugh Fullerton, Evers wrote an instructional book. It was cleverly called “Touching Second,” and it was published in hardcover by The Reilly & Britton Company of Chicago. It included more than a dozen photos of stars of the day, including one of the rookie “Chris” Speaker of Boston, who we would come to know was really Tris. Until that point, player-authored baseball books had only been written by Mike “King” Kelly, (1888), John Montgomery Ward (1888), and Cap Anson (1900). (Albert Spalding and Christy Mathewson were waiting in the wings, 1911 and 1912 respectively.) Ward’s had been the first instructional book, but written at a time when the rules and manner of play were still evolving.

“The manuscript was originally written by the reporter {Fullerton},” wrote Hugh, in the introduction, “and was rewritten, added to, corrected and revised, by the player.”

Fullerton was one of the founders of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Thirty-seven years old by 1910, he had been on the Chicago baseball beat since 1896, first for the Record, then for the Tribune. He would later be one of the first sportswriters to catch on to the shadiness of the 1919 World Series.

Evers, born in Troy, NY (just like Kelly, imagine the odds), was 29 when the book came out. He wasn’t particularly liked. Nicknamed “The Crab,” he was a long-jawed 125-pound scrapper, of whom it was said, “he rarely had anything nice to say.”

But with Fullerton’s help, he wrote a nice book. It is divided into chapters on managing and on playing each position, with some history thrown in. There is even a chapter on scoring a game, with a two-page illustration of a neatly scored game by Fullerton, Chicago vs. Pittsburgh, September 5, 1909. It was a 5-1 Pirate win, with the game’s only double play being pitcher Mordecai Brown to Tinker to Chance. Go figure.

We are made to assume that Evers wrote the text, because on occasion, there would appear a passage headed by “(the following is by Fullerton).” This would include a description of Evers, on page 64, which read “All there is to Evers is a bundle of nerves, a lot of woven wire muscles, and the quickest brain in baseball. He has invented and thought out more plays than any man of recent years. He went to second base to fill {Bobby} Lowe’s place the first day he reached Chicago, played twenty-two games to the end of the season without an error, and became the baseball idol of Chicago.”

It then says, “(Evers wanted that left out).”

Modesty seemed to be Johnny’s goal. After searching for a description of the Merkle game in the chapter called “Deciding Moments,” we instead found only a tribute to Hank O’Day in the umpiring chapter, in which he lauds O’Day’s courage for making the call in New York against the Giants. “Even after New York claimed the game and the entire country was aroused over the situation,” he wrote, “O’Day could have ended the trouble with a word and given New York the pennant. 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 seen the play, had not made a decision, he stood firm. It was said O’Day would be mobbed if he ever went to the Polo Grounds again, but when he next appeared he was greeted with cheers that showed the admiration of the fans for his courage.” (Why do I have trouble believing that?)

I enjoyed reading some of Evers thoughts on the reserve clause, in a chapter called “Baseball Law.” He would not have been a favorite of Don Fehr. “Legally,” he wrote, “the baseball player is a slave held in bondage, but he is the best treated, most pampered slave of history, and while there are many cases of oppression, the majority of the players received just and equitable treatment.”

I also found interesting this passage:

“From the field in the pasture lot at Cooperstown, where Doubleday stepped off 90 feet, an era of million dollar plants, each seating up to 40,000 spectators, shows the change in the game.

“As an amusement enterprise baseball today is scarcely second to the theater. It caters to millions of spectators and represents an investment of perhaps $100 million in property and players. The property holdings of the National and American Leagues alone represent an investment of about $15 million. The sixteen major league clubs pay over $1 million a season in salaries to players and spend nearly as much in securing and trying out new players. Add to this the salary lists of 38 minor leagues, and the wages paid by thousands of semi-professional clubs, and the immensity of the baseball business as an amusement enterprise may be imagined.”

Despite the publication of his book, 1910 was not a good year for Johnny Evers. His daughter died. He lost his life savings in a failed shoe store business. He was the driver in an automobile accident that killed his best friend. In the off season, he suffered a nervous breakdown, and who could blame him? That was followed by a bout with pneumonia.

He came back to be a player-manager for the Cubs in 1913, but then was sent to Boston the following year, where he was part of the Miracle Braves team that went from last on July 4 to win the pennant. He won the league’s MVP award, and he must have been Roberto Alomar in the field, because at bat he was .279-1-33, and stole 12 bases.

He managed the Cubs again for part of the 1921 season, and served two stints as White Sox manager in 1924, at the start and at the finish of the season. “Evers was temperamentally ill fitted to manage a club and did not care particularly about having it thrust upon him,” wrote White Sox historian Warren Brown.

In his later years, he returned to Albany, N.Y., where he operated a sporting goods store. He reconciled with Joe Tinker. He suffered a stroke in 1942, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in April of 1946. A second stroke, 11 months later, would be fatal. He died in Albany at the age of 66.

The book was barely remembered, and it is hard to find it today. In mid-September, one copy was listed at, a used book search engine, with an asking price of $1750, but $100-$300 is probably closer to its true worth.

An instructional book in 1937 by the old Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Jack Coombs, then the baseball coach at Duke, had a foreword by Connie Mack, in which he wrote “This is the first volume of the kind ever written in the history of baseball.”

No it wasn’t.