Some Details on Franklin Pierce Adams and His Tinker to Evers to Chance Poem

The text of the poem:
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.”

Number of words: 50
Number of letters: 230
Number of lines: 8
Number of unique lines: basically 6
Line-by-line number of syllables:

The meaning of gonfalon: pennant or flag, or, to quote an official source:

1. a banner hanging from a crossbar, used esp by certain medieval Italian republics or in ecclesiastical processions
2. a battle flag suspended crosswise on a staff, usually having a serrated edge to give the appearance of streamers
[C16: from Old Italian gonfalone, from Old French gonfalon, of Germanic origin; compare Old English gūthfana war banner, Old Norse gunnfani ]

Notes on the man who wrote the poem:
A Dallas Morning News review of FPA: The Life and Times of Franklin Pierce Adams, by Sally Ashley, in 1987, said:

During the heyday of New York City’s big, competing newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s, no columnist was better known than Franklin P. Adams. Born in Chicago, he came to New York as a 22-year-old and virtually invented the personal column. In “The Conning Tower,” which ran for 37 years in various New York papers, Adams helped shove off the careers of many fledgling writers, such as Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, James Thurber. Adams died in 1960, a forgotten man. This small book happily recalls him.

Some notes from this website:

It was not until he was thirteen years old, when he was confirmed at Sinai Temple, that Frank Adams changed his middle name to Pierce, after the 14th United States president, Franklin Pierce.

He boasted of Dorothy Parker that he had “raised her from a couplet,” and other up-and-coming literary stars promoted by FPA included Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Eugene O’Neill, and E.B. White.

FPA was married twice, to showgirl Minna Schwartze (from 1904 to 1924) and to socialite Esther Root (from 1925 to about 1950). Both marriages ended in divorce.

FPA had no children by his first marriage, but his second marriage produced four — Anthony (“Tat”), Timothy (“Tim”), Persephone (“Puff”), and Jonathan (“Jack”).

Despite some tender poems written about his children, FPA was by all reports a distant, aloof father. One of his children later said, “If you read the Tower, you knew him as well as we did.”

Beginning in the late 1940s, FPA was increasingly troubled by loss of memory and outbursts of temper, probably the result of Alzheimer’s disease. After his second divorce, he lived for a time in an apartment at the Players Club (facing Gramercy Park). Unable to care for himself, he was placed in the Lynwood nursing home on West 102nd Street, where he died on March 23, 1960.

A few quotes from Adams via this website:

“I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way.”

“The trouble with this country is that there are too many politicians who believe, with a conviction based on experience, that you can fool all of the people all of the time.”

“The true republic: men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”

Some more notes from an article last year written by Jack Bales in the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Virginia:

One of the Cubs’ admirers was Franklin P. Adams, a popular newspaper columnist for the New York Evening Mail. According to his biographer, Sally Ashley, “baseball was a passion” for Adams, and he often sat in the press box at the Polo Grounds to watch the New York Giants play.

As he recalled in 1946, the foreman of the newspaper’s composing room told him one July 1910 afternoon that eight more lines were needed for his regular column, “Always in Good Humor.”

Anxious to get to the ballpark, Adams sat down and hastily scrawled [the] verse, which he titled “That Double Play Again.”

The “Tinker to Evers to Chance” refrain in quotation marks is not merely lyrical; it is exactly the way that the double plays executed by the three infielders were noted in box scores of that era. . . .

[Martin Gallas of Illinois College] carefully pored over the [New York] Evening Mail for the entire months of June, July and August. He turned up not only “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” in the issue for July 18, but also the original publication of Adams’ poem, which appeared on July 12 under the title “That Double Play Again.” (Not surprisingly, on July 11, Cubs players Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance turned a double play against the Giants in a 4-2 win for the Chicago team.)

Further study has uncovered variations of the poem as well as a few parodies contributed by other authors. The whole process has lent credence to what I often tell students at the University of Mary Washington’s Simpson Library: One, read everything with a critical eye, and two, when doing research, there is nothing like the thrill-and effectiveness-of using original source materials to shed new light on old stories.

Jack Bales is the University of Mary Washington’s longtime reference and humanities librarian. Like Adams (who was born 11/15/1881 in Chicago), he’s a Cubs fan, and is researching a book on the Cubs and their pennant-winning decade of the 1930s. In closing, here’s a second baseball poem from FPA, as Adams signed his columns:

A Ballad of Baseball Burdens

The burden of hard hitting. Slug away
Like Honus Wagner or like Tyrus Cobb.
Else fandom shouteth: “Who said you could play?
Back to the jasper league, you minor slob!”
Swat, hit, connect, line out, get on the job.
Else you shall feel the brunt of fandom’s ire
Biff, bang it, clout it, hit it on the knob—
This is the end of every fan’s desire.

The burden of good pitching. Curved or straight.
Or in or out, or haply up or down,
To puzzle him that standeth by the plate,
To lessen, so to speak, his bat-renoun:
Like Christy Mathewson or Miner Brown,
So pitch that every man can but admire
And offer you the freedom of the town—
This is the end of every fan’s desire.

The burden of loud cheering. O the sounds!
The tumult and the shouting from the throats
Of forty thousand at the Polo Grounds
Sitting, ay, standing sans their hats and coats.
A mighty cheer that possibly denotes
That Cub or Pirate fat is in the fire;
Or, as H. James would say, We’ve got their goats—
This is the end of every fan’s desire.

The burden of a pennant. O the hope,
The tenuous hope, the hope that’s half a fear,
The lengthy season and the boundless dope,
And the bromidic; “Wait until next year.”
O dread disgrace of trailing in the rear,
O Piece of Bunting, flying high and higher
That next October it shall flutter here:
This is the end of every fan’s desire.


Ah, Fans, let not the Quarry but the Chase
Be that to which most fondly we aspire!
For us not Stake, but Game; not Goal, but Race—
THIS is the end of every fan’s desire.

Miner Brown is Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown; I assume you recognize the other names in the poem.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Adams was not, as stated above, a Cubs fan. He was a Giants fan. The words, “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” (the infield of the Cubs) were “saddest of possible words” because they were “nothing but trouble” for the Giants.

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