Power of poem immortalizes Cubs trio

Power of poem immortalizes Cubs trio

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."

Myth and reality intersected a century ago at second base at West Side Grounds, the Chicago Cubs' pantheon in the early 1900s. The North Side chorus had for years hummed the praises of the heart of the National League terrors -- and then it was handed lyrics by a frustrated, short-winded New York reporter.

Franklin Pierce Adams' "Always In Good Humor" column in the New York Evening Mail ran short one mid-summer day. His editor, not a fan of white space, ordered him to fill it.

So, on his way to the Polo Grounds, Adams jotted down a poem, his muses being the three thorns in the Cubs infield who eternally vexed his beloved New York Giants.

Shortstop Joe Tinker. Second baseman Johnny Evers. First baseman Frank Chance.

Certainly not the most prolific double-play combination in baseball history. However, the most creative, arguably. And the most famous -- that can't even be argued.

The power of the poem: Adams' immortalizing words turned a trio of relatively modest ballplayers into Hall of Famers, and into the enduring icons of the Cubs' last World Series championship.

Tinker, Evers and Chance first took the field together on Sept, 13, 1902.

They collaborated on their first double play on Sept. 15, 1902.

They last played together on April 12, 1912.

From beginning point to end, they turned many a timely double, gladdened fans' hearts, broke opponents'.

There is considerable confusion about the origins of Adams' epic 50 words -- the verse titled "Baseball's Sad Lexicon."

Most references claim it first appeared in The Evening Mail on July 10, 1910, but others argue it surfaced between the covers of a 1912 collection of poems by Adams, "In Other Words."

However, there is no debate about the roles of Messrs. Tinker, Evers and Chance on the powerhouse Cubs of the turn of the last century, and thus their ranks in Cubs history.

They are the Three Horsemen of this Apocalypse, the National League of 1906-1910.

The Cubs clubs of those five seasons combined to win 530 games, four pennants and consecutive World Series, and their constants were the synchronized middle infielders and the first baseman who multi-tasked as the Cubs' manager.

The three were offensive fuses on pitching-dominated teams, regularly combining for 100 steals and 150 RBIs and 200 runs -- lively numbers in a dead-ball era.

But it was in the field, as thieving accessories to those meal-ticket pitchers, where they made their mark and earned their legend.

Tinker, Evers and Chance, because of the unexpected impact they often had on games, are credited with first making people notice the importance of defense. They also had a practical influence -- originating, for instance, the first crude version of the "rotation play" to defend bunts -- but their grip was mostly ethereal.

And no part of the mythology is as poignant as the animosity between Tinker and Evers, who often exchanged tosses -- and punches -- but never words.

Around the bag, they were Scotch and water, a seamless blend, hailed as the "Siamese Twins of baseball, they play the bag as if they were one man, not two." Off the field, they were oil and vinegar, incompatible and mutually contemptible.

Evers once bared his soul: "Tinker and myself hated each other, but we loved the Cubs. We wouldn't fight for each other, but we'd come close to killing people for our team. That was one of the answers to the Cubs' success."

Like most blood feuds, this one apparently had silly roots: Late during the 1905 season, when the Cubs were in Washington, Indiana to play an exhibition game, Evers jumped into a taxi for the ride to the ballpark, bailing on teammates waiting in the hotel lobby. When Tinker eventually got to the park, he called out Evers and the two of them brawled in the middle of the diamond, leaving each other bloodied.

Thereafter, their knuckles often met. But they wouldn't shake hands with, or speak to, each other.

The resulting tension was probably silently applauded by Chance, a between-the-ears manager ahead of his time. Chance encouraged his players to gulp shots, play the ponies and deal poker -- with a strict 11 p.m. curfew -- reasoning that the rush "helps stir up mental activity."

If so, there is no telling of the eddy of "mental activity" stirred up by the Tinker-Evers antagonism.

So stood the three pillars of perhaps the greatest team in baseball history -- the 1906 Cubs posted 116 wins, a record matched 93 years later by the Seattle Mariners, who needed 10 more games to do it; imagine being 80 games over .500, as were those 116-36 Cubs.

Tinker ... NL shortstops' four-time leader in fielding percentage ... an original gamer who on July 28, 1910 stole home plate twice ... Says his 1911 baseball card produced by the American Tobacco Company: "'Joe' Tinker, the brilliant Chicago shortstop, has a consistently good record in the field and at bat."

Evers ... "The Crab" or "The Trojan," neither a nickname of endearment from foes and mates who all found the lightweight (5-foot-9, 125 pounds) grating ... The 1911 baseball card calls him "the physically and mentally active second baseman of the Cubs ... a valuable asset ... being a good waiter."

Chance .... the Peerless Leader, as he became known, or just P.L. in the headlines ... known alternately as The Husk, for his stocky physique and aggressive personality ... his .664 managerial winning percentage (768-389) remains the best in Cubs history ... His 1911 card: "His batting has been uniformly good ... and at first base he has had few equals."

Oddly, by the time of the American Tobacco Company's testimonials, Tinker and Evers had no Chance: By 1911, the Peerless Leader had become a Sitting Leader, continuing his managerial duties while abdicating first base to mostly Vic Saier.

But what a run they had -- one that would not be surpassed for three quarters of a century, or until Bill (Ropes) Russell, Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey dropped their own roots in Chavez Ravine in the mid-70s.

Funny, we don't recall anyone penning any poems for "Ropes to Lopes to Garv" -- a trio certainly as lyrical on the ears.

Chance died as a young man, at 48 in 1924. Evers passed away in 1947, at the age of 65. Sixteen months later, Tinker caught up to his partners in heaven; he died on his 68th birthday on July 27, 1948 -- he and Gabby Hartnett, another lifelong Cub, are the only members of the Hall of Fame to have died on their birthdays.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.