Warm air, shining flowers, golden sunlight—summer in Chicago. And what summer would be complete without baseball? At historic Wrigley Field in Chicago, baseball has been a central part of summertime excitement for generations. I must confess that I am an avid baseball fan. I watch baseball, play baseball, listen to baseball, and read about baseball.
Recently, while flipping through a book about the Chicago Cubs, I came across a short, comedic poem written by Franklin Pierce Adams in 1910. Adams was a newspaper writer for the New York Times, and also a Giants fan. He wrote the short, woeful tale, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” while at a Giants and Cubs game. It tells the story of three Cubs infielders, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, who were notorious for turning double plays (getting two runners out in the same play). The poem laments the strong teamwork of the trio, and how they always took the championship from the Giants. The Cubs won the National League Championship four times between 1906 and 1910, so Giants fans had good reason for their frustration. This is expressed well in the final few lines of the poem:
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.”
When I first read the poem, I was very curious as to what “gonfalon” meant. I discovered that it means “pennant” or “banner”. The winner of the Championship would always receive a pennant, which always eluded the Giants.
I love poems that accurately reflect the spirit and thoughts of people from long ago. It gives a clear window onto history and helps me understand how people really felt about historic events. When Mr. Adams’s poem first came out in the New York Times, it was wildly popular. Fellow New Yorkers understood and agreed with Adams’ complaints. The poem turned Tinker, Evers, and Chance into double-play legends and is a big part of why they were elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1946.
To a baseball fan, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” provides a historic and fascinating view into the talents of these three players. Even someone who is not a baseball fan can appreciate the rich history the poem brings to life. It connects us with the events of the day, makes us feel as if we were there. When reading it, imagine yourself at the ballpark in the early 1900s, cheering on Tinker, Evers and Chance. The warm air, clear blue sky, golden sunshine—summer in Chicago.