September 9 – Happy Birthday Frank Chance
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.”
Known as “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” this verse was written by a newspaper reporter who had been born in Chicago but later moved to the Big Apple. He wrote it in 1902, when he was on his way to the Polo Grounds to watch his original hometown’s Cubs play his adopted home town’s Giants. The poem wasn’t published until eight years later, in 1910, inside a New York newspaper. It became an instant nationwide hit; think “Take me Out to the Ballgame” level of popularity without the music.
Tinker, Evers and Chance were respectively the starting shortstop, second baseman and first baseman for Chicago from 1902, when they were still known as the Chicago Orphans, until 1911 (they switched to “Cubs” in 1903). That remains the golden decade of the franchise till this day.Their full names were Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. All three ended up in Cooperstown but it was Chance, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, who was the best all-around player of the three and it was Chance who would also become the most successful Manager in the team’s history.
He took over as Skipper during the 1905 season and continued starting at first base. During the next eight seasons, he led the Cubs to a cumulative won-lost record of 768-389, while capturing four NL Pennants and consecutive World Series victories in 1907 and ’08, the latter of which remains the last world championship in that franchise’s history.
No modern ballplayer would have stomached playing for Chance. Why? Put it this way, if Chance were in Joe Girardi’s shoes today, he’d probably have gotten into at least one fistfight with Derek Jeter by now. Why? Because he had a strict rule against “fraternizing” with the opposing team’s players before, during or after a game and if he caught one of his players violating that rule he’d fine him. He was known to go after frequent offenders physically in the clubhouse. Chance was also accused of inciting on-the-field riots to get his players pumped up and on occasion, he was known to throw beer bottles at heckling fans in the stands.
As his record as Cubs’ manager indicates, Chance’s tactics were effective. His players may have hated him but they also respected him. That’s probably because as player manager, Chance was able to prove he was only asking his teammates to play the game the same hard-nosed, take no prisoners way he played it himself. One of the toughest brawlers in baseball, Chance actually took off-season boxing lessons from former heavyweight champion John Corbett. As a hitter, he would famously crowd the plate and dare opposing pitchers to try and back him off it. Many of the National League’s mounds-men certainly tried, because he was hit by pitches 137 times during his playing career and was a victim of head beanings so frequently that blood clots formed in his brain and he was forced to undergo emergency surgery during the 1912 season to save his life. It was while he was in the hospital recovering from that surgery that he was dismissed as Cubs manager for arguing with the owner about player trades being contemplated.
That’s when the Yankees hired the man who by then had become known as “the Peerless Leader.” Still considered a player manager, Chance would only appear in 13 games during his almost two full seasons in New York. He was relatively successful during his tenure. By the second year, his 1914 Yankee team had won 20 more regular season games than the 1912 Yankee team had won just before he became the team’s skipper. The problem was that 1912 Yankee team had only won 50 games. He was replaced as skipper by his shortstop, Roger Peckinpaugh during the final month of his second season. He would later manage the Red Sox and be hired to skipper the White Sox as well. But before he managed his first game for Chicago’s southside team, he came down with pneumonia and died at the age of 48.
I found much of the information used in this post in Frank Ryhal’s article on Frank Chance, published by the Society for American Baseball Research.