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Tinker to Evers to Chance

August 14, 2020

What American hasn’t heard or used the phrase “from Tinkers to Evers to Chance?”

We know what it means: the expression is synonymous with clockwork-smooth teamwork or a polished transition. But for those of us not at home in the deep cuts of baseball lore, its origins might be a mystery.
It all started in 1910. It was a time when baseball ruled, and poetry had the power to make people famous. Franklin Pierce Adams had just published a poem called “That Double Play Again” or “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” in the New York Evening Mail:
These are the saddest of possible words:<br> “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”<br> Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,<br> Tinker and Evers and Chance.<br> Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,<br> Making a giant hit into a double—<br> Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:<br> “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
“Sad Lexicon” was a lament scrawled by a scorned New York Giants fan forced to watch his team lose, yet again, to the Chicago Cubs. In 1910, the Cubs were unstoppable, having taken home four pennants and two championships in the four years prior. They were heavy hitters. Heavy hitters with a secret weapon: the best double-play group of all time. Joe Tinker on shortstop, Johnny Evers at second base, and Frank Chance on first.
The trio really only played together until 1912. Despite that, they remain harrowed figures in Cubs history, in the Hall of Fame, and in the American lexicon. But there is irony in their namesake turn-of-phrase. In truth, despite being paragons of teamwork, in 1905 Tinkers and Evers had gotten into a petty squabble, that led to a less-than-petty fistfight, that ended in a very serious estrangement that lasted for 33 years. Not only that, but the famous infielders would be the first to credit (and did so, publicly) their historical acclaim to the success and relatability of the poem itself, rather than their stellar career stats.
But never mind their dirty laundry: the trio’s synergy on the field was legendary, and the expression lives on. Tinker, Evers and Chance became inseparably woven into the fabric of baseball history and within American mythology itself. Their spirit stays neatly folded into a passing phrase that each of us has heard between the stripes of the foul lines as we go for one more ground ball. “Alas, it was a Tinker to Evers to Chance.”