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.”
~ Franklin Pierce Adams, New York Evening Mail, 1910
In 1908, it was the infield of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance – shortstop, second base, first base – who helped carry their Chicago Cubs to a World Series victory.
They weren’t the greatest double-play makers in history, but they sure make a good poem, don’t they?
And, they helped lead those 1908 Cubs to the Series.
You know what happens next. It takes 108 years before the Cubs win another World Series. Which they did just two weeks ago.
Which is what I should be writing about. Because Chicago put on a celebration that was beautiful and exciting and embraced us all.
But, that’s not what this is about.
I often tell my friends that part of my love of baseball is how it – and its long, rich history – reflect us. Both good and bad. Our society, our culture. Who we are. Baseball is us.
Until this week.
Because I don’t think I can come up with any way to explain how Election Day and its impact and the reaction of America in the past few days – on all sides – has any connection to the game that I love.
I have seen people who rarely argue, argue. I have seen nice people become mean-spirited and cruel. I have seen people who have been friends since high school – for decades – fight over politics. I have seen family members squabble publicly and noisily on Facebook. I have seen a peaceful friend call a stranger “IDIOT!” on Twitter. I have seen people cry. I have hugged strangers.
I have seen sore losers and sore winners. I have seen anger and fear and petulance and condescension.
I have seen America turn ugly.
I’m not here to argue politics. I have a strong, unwavering position on the direction I want for my country and how I want my leaders to lead.
But, it doesn’t matter here. Not right now.
I have only one baseball story for you today. (And, you history nerds will already know it … but stick with me anyway, ok?)
One of the most important parts of baseball’s infield is teamwork. The ability to turn a double play, a fielder’s choice, or a simple ground out, is the ability of the infield to work together. No base runner gets picked off first, or thrown out stealing, or grounds into a 4-6-3 double play without the infield working together.
(The 4-6-3 double play is my favorite play in baseball. Why? Because it is. Let’s not argue about this either today, ok?)
So, here’s the thing.
Remember Tinker, Evers, and Chance?
(Evers is pronounced “Eeevers” with a long “e” by the way.)
Funny thing. Tinker and Evers couldn’t stand each other.
Hated each other. And, didn’t speak to each other.
(I’m not sure where Frank Chance fell in that relationship, but I kind of think Chance is like many of us today who duck and stay as quiet as possible as we watch our friends and family argue and post mean things on Facebook.)
On September 14, 1905, Tinker and Evers got into a fight. One of those knock-down, roll-around-in-the-dirt fights, right there at second base.
Thank you, Indianapolis News for proving that bad reporting is not a 21st-century Internet phenomenon. It’s Evers. EVERS.
It was an exhibition game between the Cubs and a team in Bedford, Indiana.
The story goes that Evers took a horse-drawn “hack” carriage to that day’s game and didn’t bother to wait for Tinker.
Seriously. Their years-long feud was over a ride to the game.
They got into a brawl while warming up and had to be pulled apart by teammates.
“At one time it appeared as though the players’ brawl would involve half the spectators in the grounds. ‘Bob’ Wicker seeing his teammates slugging each other, rushed between them to stop the battle, and all three men went to the sod in a clawing, kicking heap. … None of the players was hurt, and they played in the game as if nothing happened.” ~ Indianapolis News, 9/14/1905
The Cubs went on to win that exhibition 15-0.
Tinker and Evers went on to not speak to each other for years.
Just a few days before the on-field fisticuffs, a baseball writer in Pittsburgh noted what a good duo the two players were:
“… a good working combination.” ~ Pittsburgh Press, 9/5/1905
After the fight, they still played together, played as well as always. But, they never spoke.
Tinker later talked about the feud.
“I was mad,” he told reporters, “and I asked him who the hell he thought he was to have a hack all to himself?”
Evers, he later said, “was a great player and a wonderful pivot man. But, boy how he could ride you. Chance used to say he wished Evers was an outfielder so he couldn’t hear him.”
(This should be the origin of a famous line: “Give Chance a peace.”)
It’s said Tinker and Evers mended fences in the 1930s.
Baseball is us. But, there are a zillion things more important than baseball.
And, I don’t mean to trivialize what our country faces today.
What we do and what we say, as a nation and as individuals, makes a difference.
Don’t start a feud with a friend or neighbor that you won’t resolve for 20 years. Don’t be a sore loser. Don’t be a sore winner.
The Chicago Cubs have embraced everyone in their victory, inviting all of us to their celebration.
The Cleveland Indians have been gracious in defeat.
Life is more than a game, of course.
But, there’s a lesson here.
We are a team. Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Sure, some of us won’t want to talk to the Johnny Evers in our world for awhile.
We may not like each other right now. We might not want to speak to each other (which, actually, is preferable to yelling at each other on Facebook). But, to make this thing work, we still have to catch the ball, we still have to make the double play.
We still have to figure this out. We still have to be a team.
A trio of bear cubs and fleeter than birds.