Cubs History: Tinkers to Evers to Chance tells all you need to know

Portrait of Frank Chance, Joe Tinker, and John Evers
Portrait of Frank Chance, Joe Tinker, and John Evers / George Rinhart/GettyImages

I once proudly wore a gray t-shirt with “Chicago Cubs 1908 World Champions” on the front. I thought it was cool and people seemed to laugh or smile at it, hopefully not me. It’s gone now, and wouldn’t be the same for two reasons. First, the Cubs finally won that long-awaited World Series back in 2016 and secondly, it would no longer fit. Anyway, let’s get to that team, the first (and arguably only) Cubs dynasty.

It’s time to bring some poetry to the Crib:

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."

As much fun as 2016 was, they never had a poem. The Bulls had “The Last Dance,” the '85 Bears, “The Superbowl Shuffle,” but this particular team had a poem.

The early 20th century Cubs were cut from a different cloth

The 1908 Cubs marked a letdown from the previous two seasons, as they only won 99 games (out of 154). In 1906, the Cubs and White Sox played in a real Crosstown Classic, and the pale hose upset the 116-36-3 Cubs, winning their first (of three) world championships. In 1907 the Cubs won their first title (also of three) against the Tigers and repeated in 1908. Yes, the North Siders were once really, really good.

Tinkers, Evers and Chance formed three-quarters of the Chicago infield. Shortstop Joe Tinker was the team’s slugger, leading the Cubs in homers and RBI. How many homers? Six. Yes, six. This was the Dead Ball Era. The future Hall of Famer earned $3,400 that year. Yes, you read that correctly. This is far beyond the astronomical contracts we'll spend the next few months discussing at length. WAR? Not a thing yet - not even close. Yes, the United States just won the Spanish-American War and President Theodore Roosevelt was the hero of that “Splendid Little War.” No one would consider the world going to war even once, not twice.

Two numbers from that year are unthinkable in modern context. The Cubs hit 19 home runs as a team, but had 270 sacrifice bunts. In 2022, the defending champion Atlanta Braves had one, just one, and you’d think someone could have accidentally achieved that. Ten Cubs players back then stole 10 bases or more, and if you're wondering, our 2022 Cubbies had 111, fourth-most in MLB. Rossy, old school isn’t all bad.

Second baseman Johnny Evers led the team in hitting with a .300 mark. The batting averages look much like today. He also scored a team-leading 83 runs. Frank Chance was the first baseman, and manager, at the ripe old age of 31. All three of these infielders are all enshrined in Cooperstown, as was their ace, Mordecai Brown, who went 29-9 with a 1.47 ERA, pitching a jaw-dropping 312 innings. The ERA isn’t that impressive as teams didn’t score that many runs. Chicago trotted out just 10 pitchers all season, that’s all, and six did almost all of the work. The other four threw just 45 innings. Tommy John wouldn’t be born for another 35 years, and when did that become underwear? That was not my visual expectation when I Googled the name.

I re-learned Cubs first took their name in 1903 after being called the White Stockings, Colts and, yes, Orphans. The Cubs had a winning record from 1903-1914. Manager Frank Chance was let go after 1912 when they finished third. His record was 768-389, winning two-thirds of his games. He died at the age of 48 ‘after a long illness.’ Tinker managed a bit, was involved in Florida real estate that was good, then bad, and died at 68 in Orlando.

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Evers, who known to be surly and argumentative, had some managing, and a sporting goods store and lived to be 65, life expectancy at the time. Mr. Brown, he of ‘three fingers,’ was a Hoosier lacking part of the index finger on his pitching hand. After the game, he ran a gas station in his hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana. Since we have veered off the diamond to the library, he was mentioned in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel.