The Chicago Cubs Heroes of Wrigley presents “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) /

The Dead Ball Era trio became a metaphor for teamwork and precision, becoming the most famous double-play combination of all-time.

Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” was a poem published by American columnist Franklin Pierce Adams in the New York Evening Mail during the summer of 1910.

As he sat in the stands at the famous Polo Grounds, watching the New York Giants take on their fierce rivals the Chicago Cubs, Pierce observed multiple double plays initiated and executed by the Cubs infielders.  As he reflected on the devasting defense that was keeping the hometown Giants in check, he began to pen a poem to chronicle the sadness he was witnessing.

The poem was about three Cub infielders:  shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance.

The player-manager led his team into greatness, morphing the early century Cubs into one of baseball’s greatest dynasties.

Chance joined the Cubs back in 1898 when the team was still known as the “Orphans.”  Originally a backup catcher, manager Frank Selee saw a better fit for him as a first baseman.  Initially against the switch, Chance eventually warmed up to the idea and then began a fruitful career with the organization.

After Selee fell ill with tuberculosis in 1905, Chance stepped in as the team’s new player-manager.  From there, his legend only continued to grow.  Along with being a double and stolen base machine, he led the Cubs to four National League pennants in five years, including three straight from 1906-1908.

Under his leadership, the Cubs became one of the National League’s most formidable teams, and it cultivated in back-to-back World Series championships in 1907 and 1908.

For his contributions, he was the highest paid player in all of baseball at the time, earning $25,000 per year.

To this day, Chance still holds various Cub franchise records including stolen bases (400) and winning percentage as a manager (.644).

The thin-framed shortstop proved that the fundamentals of defense are an essential part of the game.

By the time Johnny Evers made his Major League debut with the Cubs in 1902, he was among the youngest players in the National League at just 21-years-old.  He only weighed 130 pounds and, when Evers took the field the first time, many fans thought he was part of a comedic act.

Evers committed his fair share of errors on the field, but he was very intuitive and possessed a knack for making smart playings, always likening himself as a student to the rules of the game.  His defensive IQ made him a pivotal part of what was called “the most controversial game in baseball history” due to an incident that was dubbed, “Merkle’s Boner.”

The Cubs and Giants were amid a tightly contested pennant race with both teams trading barbs in the standings throughout the season.

The pennant came down to a game on September 23, 1908, at the Polo Grounds.  Giants rookie Frank Merkle committed a fatal baserunning mistake by failing to advance to second base on what would’ve been the game-winning hit.  Evers was quick to notice the miscue and stepped on second base, demanding the attention of the umpire.

The Polo Grounds were chaotic with thousands of Giant fans rushing the field in celebration while the Cubs cried farce.  By the time the managers and umpires could assess the situation, the dark blanket of the night fell upon the stadium and, in a time before lights, the game was called a 1-1 tie.

The league decided to have the two teams play a makeup game to determine the outcome of the decisive contest.  The Cubs won the makeup game 4-2, clinching the National League pennant and eventually the World Series.

The workhorse worked on his craft to become one of the league’s best defenders and a thorn in the side of one of baseball’s all-time legendary pitchers.

Joe Tinker’s baseball career began in 1902.  His rookie season was a difficult one, to say the least, as the young shortstop committed a league-leading 72 errors.  However, Tinker’s defense rapidly evolved over the next seasons, becoming one of the best shortstops in the National League in fielding percentage, assists, and putouts.

During the Cubs’ dynasty, Tinker was a workhorse, playing in all 157 games of the team’s historic 1906 season, which saw Chicago finish the year with a 116-36 record.

In the Merkle game against the Giants, Tinkers hit an inside-the-park-homerun against legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson representing the Cubs lone run in the 1-1 tie.

In the aftermath of the controversial game, Tinkers once again came up clutch against Mathewson, hitting a leadoff triple in the third inning to ignite a Cubs four-run rally.  The rally, started by Tinkers, proved to be the factor, clinching the National League pennant for Chicago en route to a World Series championship.

“Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” forever an ode to sadness.

Along with their contribution to the early century Cubs dynasty that exuded dominance, the double play combination, that played together from 1902-12, was forever enshrined in Cooperstown, each being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

“Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” reads as follows:

"These are the saddest 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.”"

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Pierce’s iconic publication has been widely accredited to their induction.  Nonetheless, their flawlessly, smooth and calculated precision prompted an ode to sadness from an opposing fan that translated their poetry in motion into literary poetry onto the page which lives on in the zeitgeist of baseball lore forever.