Few men in the history of baseball have seen great success as a player and as a manager. Frank Chance was one of them.
But Chance’s most enduring legacy – despite his success on the field and in the dugout – has been as the subject of the most celebrated baseball poem ever written.
“Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” by Franklin P. Adams uses the refrain “Tinker to Evers to Chance” as a description of the Chicago Cubs' double-play combination in the early 1900s. After mostly catching and playing outfield for his first four years in the big leagues, Chance played the majority of his games at first base beginning in 1902, leading to his place in the poem.
“He was a great player – I think one of the best first basemen ever in the game – but in addition he was a great leader because he asked no man to take any chance that he would not take himself and because he had the power to instill enthusiasm even in a losing cause,” said fellow Hall of Fame manager John McGraw.
Born on Sept. 9, 1876 in Fresno, Calif., Chance played 17 seasons in the big leagues, 10 of those as a player/manager, earning the nickname “Peerless Leader.” He signed with the Chicago Orphans (the team name changed to the Cubs in 1903) in 1898 at age 21 and was moved to first base in 1902 by manager Frank Selee.
“Here’s the most promising player I ever saw,” said Bill Lange, former Chicago Colts outfielder who discovered Chance. “Some day he’ll be a wonder.”
Chance led the National League in stolen bases in 1903 with 67 and again in 1906 with 57. He also led the league in runs scored in 1906 with 103. As a first baseman, Chance had a .983 fielding percentage and was involved in 470 double plays.
“Chance is one great artist and to my mind ranks with Lajoie and Wagner,” said former major leaguer Danny Shay. “He is everything they are – a great hitter, splendid fielder, fast base-runner and has a head full of brains.”
He led the Cubs to four pennants in five years (1906-08, 1910), helping set a long-standing team record for wins in 1906 with 116. The Cubs lost the 1906 World Series to the White Sox, but won two back-to-back championships in 1907-08. He posted a .300 career average in the Fall Classic with 10 stolen bases and 21 hits.
Chance played for the Yankees in 1913-14, but appeared in considerably less games from 1912 on after suffering chronic headaches caused by several beanings. He finished his career with a .296 batting average, 1,273 hits, 401 stolen bases and 797 runs.
“Frank Chance was a wonderful fellow and a great manager,” Wilbert Robinson said. “He played the game hard all the way.”
Chance was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
He passed away on Sept. 15, 1924.