Tinker was the shortstop in the double-play trio of "Tinker to Evers to Chance," immortalized by Franklin Adams in the poem "Baseball's Sad Lexicon." Tinker was an aggressive and spirited performer who excelled in clutch situations. He became a regular in 1902 as a 21-year-old rookie and contributed greatly to four Chicago pennants. Always the elegant fielder, he led NL shortstops four times in fielding percentage, three times in total chances, twice each in putouts and assists, and once in double plays (he also led Federal League shortstops in total chances in 1914).
He had superior speed, and stole an average of 28 bases a season for Chicago. On July 28, 1910, he tied a major league record by stealing home twice in one game.
Ironically, he did not get along well with his partner in one of the finest keystone combinations of all time, Johnny Evers. One day in 1905, he argued with Evers over a cab fare, which led to a fistfight on the field. The contentious Evers would not speak to Tinker for decades, and gave him an unrepeatable nickname. Unbeknownst to one another, both were invited to help broadcast the 1938 Cubs World Series, 33 years after their falling-out. When they saw each other, after a moment's strained silence, they hugged and cried for some time.
Under Chance's often brilliant guidance, what the trio did was to bring fielding into focus. They devised new defensive strategies to defeat the bunt, the hit-and-run, and the stolen base (the key run-producing techniques of the dead-ball era) and implemented the first known version of the rotation play. 1910, just two years after Adams fashioned his poem, was the final season that the trio played together.
An intelligent and savvy man, Tinker was ahead of his time in salary disputes. He earned a reported $1,500 in 1909, and he demanded a $1,000 raise. He sat out the early part of the season before settling for a $200 increase. After the 1912 season, the Cubs traded him to Cincinnati, where he became a shortstop-manager. Throughout the year, Tinker argued with owner Gary Hermann over money. Hermann, tired of the talk, sold Tinker to the Dodgers after the season.
In the most outrageous player demand to that time, Tinker refused to play for either team unless "commissioned" with $10,000 of his $25,000 sale price. Federal League agents, always on the lookout for discontented stars, quickly signed Tinker as a player-manager with the Chicago Whales. Tinker brought them in second in 1914, and first in 1915. In 1916, he managed the Cubs, but finished fifth.
He retired with a career .262 batting average and a terrible .308 on-base average.
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."
— Franklin P. Adams, New York writer (and Giants fan) on July 10, 1908
The term "gonfalon" refers to a flag or pennant, and the phrase "gonfalon bubble" describes the repeated success
of the Chicago Cubs and their celebrated infield against their National League rivals, his beloved New York Giants.
Picture from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc.
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