Baseball’s Sad Lexicon immortalized a historic infield
But the foreman of the composing room said: “Wait – I need eight more lines before you can go.” So FPA, as he was known, sat down and wrote these eight immortal lines, entitled “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon:”
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.
Thoughtlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
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From 1938 to 1948, he became a quick-witted personality on the “Information Please” radio show, some of whose episodes were so entertaining that they became movie “shorts,” played before and between the longer feature films in theaters.
His column, “The Conning Tower,” was the toast of New York literary society, no matter in which paper it appeared. One of his specialties was publishing new work and witticisms by up-and-coming young writers, and he played a major role in shaping American literary culture of the 20th century, helping to bring to prominence an amazing number of young writers, including Theodore Dreiser, Edna Ferber, George S. Kauffman, D.H. Lawrence, Sinclair Lewis, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Edith Wharton and E.B. White.
He was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers, poets, and personalities who met daily for lunch at a special table at the Algonquin Hotel. He was portrayed by actor Chip Zein in the 1994 movie about the Algonquins, “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.” In addition to his long-running column, he wrote nearly 30 books and several plays and musicals.
The Cubs, of course, were a true dynasty during the heyday of Tinker, Evers, and Chance, winning four pennants and two World Series in five years. During those five years, the Cubs averaged 106 wins and 47 losses per season, a sustained run of success that would not have been possible in the dead ball era without strong defense.
That infield defense was as scintillating as the poem that FPA composed that summer afternoon. The poem has perpetuated the names of all three players, and has given, as FPA biographer Sally Ashley wrote, “a phrase to the language.” Indeed, the phrase “Tinker to Evers to Chance” has been used even in non-baseball circles as synonymous with what historian Glenn Stout calls “a metaphor denoting cool efficiency.” It is something of a synonym for “like clockwork.”
Tinker, Evers, and Chance clearly were sublime. But without FPA’s sublime poem, their history would have been quite different.
Tim Wiles was Director of Research at the Hall of Fame. He gratefully acknowledges Jack Bales of the University of Mary Washington, Martin Gallas of Illinois College, and Joanne Hulbert of Mudville for research assistance.