As Easy as 1-2-3, Collecting Chicago Cubs Stars from the First Half of the 20th Century by Doug Koztoski

The Story of the Three Bears" took some time to evolve. About two hundred years ago the tale seems to have first gained traction, and it had an elderly woman as the antagonist. Eventually a girl became the antagonist and, early in the 20th century, she received the name Goldilocks.

The narrative has stayed about the same since then, but around the time the girl locked up a more starring role in the fairy tale, three other bears made a story of their own that has also stood the test of time.

In the latter, the bears were not named Papa, Momma and Baby, but Chicago Cubs who went by the last names of Tinker, Evers and Chance.

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In 1906, the Chicago Cubs posted 116 victories, the most regular season wins for a big league team, a record never broken and only tied once (2001 Seattle Mariners). Much of the success of that 1906 squad came from the famous double play combination of Joe Tinker at shortstop, Johnny Evers at second base and first baseman and manager Frank Chance. In 1946 the threesome all earned Hall of Fame election.

But in 1906 this trio could not combine with the other Cubs to win the World Series against their crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox.

So if the Cubs' porridge was ultimately "too cold" in 1906 (the third World Series in MLB history), in 1907 and 1908 it was "just right."

Brown

In both of those seasons the Cubs faced Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers in the Fall Classic. Each time the Cubs prevailed, the only two Series championships in the team's history. In those two matchups Tinker, Evers and Chance did their part, and pitching by Orval Overall and eventual Hall of Famer Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown helped drive the National League (N.L.) team to victory, as well.

Merkle on West 155th Street

Late in the 1908 season, a game between the Cubs and New York Giants produced one of the more famous and controversial contests in baseball history.

With the matchup tied in New York with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Giants had runners on the corners when a single appeared to end it.

  

"Baseball's Sad Lexicon"

By Franklin Pierce Adams (1910)

In 2010, The Chicago Tribune reported that the poem's original version, first published as "That Double Play Again," included the word "weighty" in Line 7, where most other versions ultimately used the word "heavy" in that spot. The word "gonfalon" in the poem is old school for "pennant." The first published try reportedly read this way:

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 Giants hit into a double,

Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble:

"Tinker to Evers to Chance."


The runner on first, the Giants' first baseman Fred Merkle, had jogged partially down to second as the apparent winning run scored and then he went back to the dugout to enjoy the victory at the Polo Grounds.

Almost immediately after the "game-winning hit," however, the Cubs' Johnny Evers came up with an idea. The crafty second baseman tracked down a baseball, had an umpire watch him step on second base and then pled his case that Merkle should be called out since he did not touch second and that the run did not count.

The umps sided with Evers and the game was declared a tie, partially since there were no lights to take it into extra innings. The game was replayed in full-and the Cubs won and eventually edged the 1908 pennant from the Giants (and Pirates) by a single game. The base running mishap would later be called "Merkle's Boner."

Despite winning 104 games in 1909, Chicago could not quite take the pennant from Pittsburgh. In 1910, however, they rebounded to capture their fourth N.L. flag in five seasons, only to come up short against Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in the Series.

That same 1910 season a pithy poem, "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," as it later became known, written by newspaper columnist Franklin Pierce Adams, helped give Tinker, Evers and Chance a certain level of sports immortality.

Joel Schantz read "Lexicon" as a 10-year-old while visiting Cooperstown in 1972, and that experience stuck with him. "I am a fan of the lore of Tinker, Evers and Chance," said Schantz. That interest in the double play combo has helped him compile an impressive cardboard collection of those players, from various sets.

His favorite cards of this triumvirate come from a fistful of different tobacco-era offerings: "T205, T206, T202, E98s, I like them all," he said. "But my favorites are the Turkey Reds [T3s from 1910-11]," he noted. "In general, I think they are the most attractive baseball cards ever made."

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Evers

The famous threesome appears individually in the T3 set, a cabinet issue. In the last few years, T3s of the 6-4-3 DP combo, in PSA 5-6-5 condition, have sold for $2,500, $7,062 and $2,940, respectively. In a 2012 auction, a PSA EX-MT 6 Turkey Red of Mordecai Brown, the first card in the set, sold for nearly $6,000. Without qualifiers, those four Cubs stars each have a T3 population of around 60 samples.

Don't Ever Tinker with That, Schantz

While in college, in the early 1980s, Schantz encountered an irresistible opportunity to acquire some baseball tobacco cards.

"I had a summer job working at a coin shop that also sold baseball cards," he said. "It had changed owners and the new owner did not know cards, so he said I could either make $5 an hour filling baseball card [magazine] orders or get $10 an hour in trade."

Schantz took Option B. "The shop had T206s for $1.60 each, so I got six or seven of them for an hour's work," he recalled. It was at this time that he picked up his first card from the well-known double play combination: "a T206 Chance Yellow Portrait."

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Brian Hodes also owns an impressive number of PSA-graded cards of the three Chicago legends. "I was born a Cubs fan," he noted. "Their [early 20th-century] teams were dynastic; they were really dominant and I found Cubs from that era very interesting."

Hodes called Frank Chance "one of the finest player-managers." The Hall of Fame pasteboard collector said, "One of my all-time favorite cards is the T202 [1912 Hassan Triple Folders] that includes Tinker, Evers and Chance." The 1912 season, by the way, was the final time the three players were together in the big leagues.

John Taube, PSA's chief authenticator of game-used bats, said real lumber of the double play combination is "very rare."

Evers and Chance used Spalding brand bats, Taube said, and near-identical copies could be purchased by the public from a catalog back then. "You really have to depend on provenance and whatever oral history can be provided," Taube said, to be certain a Spalding bat of these players was actually game-used. Few have hit that sweet spot.

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Tinker, on the other hand, swung a Louisville Slugger style bat that Taube said is "very, very rare." Within the last year a Tinker "game" bat sold through a Heritage Auction for around $39,000. "I think that's a deal," he said, "I would not have been surprised if the bat went for twice what it auctioned for."

• • •

In 1918 left-handed pitcher Babe Ruth helped Boston tame the Cubs in the Series. The "Babe" reached sports elite status just a few years later, shortly after joining the New York Yankees, and became a slugger that many others have since been judged against.

Ruth set the season home run standard for a generation at 60 in 1927. Yet in 1930, Cubs' outfielder Hack Wilson gave "The Bambino" a run for his money when he cracked 56 home runs and drove in 191 runs. Wilson's 1930 RBI total is still the record.

WilsonCuyler

The year before Wilson's memorable year, a powerful Cubs lineup met Mack's Athletics, again, in the Fall Classic. But Wilson, along with outfielder Kiki Cuyler, infielder Rogers Hornsby and catcher Gabby Hartnett, other Cubs players Wilson would eventually join in Cooperstown, still lost the championship. This defeat happened weeks before the stock market crashed and The Great Depression began. The severe economic downturn lasted into the 1940s.

"Hack Wilson is a very popular bat - collectors love them," Taube noted. "He was a power hitter and he used a bat with a broomstick-style handle," the authenticator said of the squatty slugger. "He was the only player during that time period who [regularly] used a handle like that." Most Wilson game-used bats bring somewhere between $7,500 to $20,000. By comparison, Taube added, "A Babe Ruth bat can sell for $750,000."

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EversEversBrown
BrownWilsonWilson

Ah yes, Mr. Ruth. He returned to face the Cubs in their next Series appearance, in 1932. That was the year Ruth smacked his famous "Called Shot" home run to help the Yankees sweep Chicago in the Series. More runner-up October destiny came the Cubs' way in 1935 and in 1938.

Infielder Billy Herman and Hartnett played on the Cubs' 1930s pennant-winning teams and their memorabilia has a solid place in the hobby, as well. "Billy Herman and Stan Hack [another Cub] used the same bat," said Taube. "Herman bats bring around $5,000 to $5,500, on a great day."

  

Hittin' the Leather

"The problem, if you will, with the really early [game-worn] gloves is that they are very, very difficult to authenticate," said Taube. The gloves, he pointed out, did not have the players' names branded on them. "So unless you have something with a rock-solid provenance, again, all you have is, possibly, a pro model glove that can have attribution to Player X."

Taube also mentioned that even when gloves had a player's name printed on them, it did not necessarily mean they used it. "Sandy Koufax used [both] a Warren Spahn model and a Rocky Colavito model glove."


When it comes to Hartnett game-used lumber, the expert said they are very difficult to find and have sold for $12,000 to $15,000 in the past. Taube added that in the PSA/DNA database, after some 17 years, there are only a handful of bats each for Herman and Hartnett.

Partly because The Great Depression produced cutbacks in so many areas, the average mainstream card issues, other than a few Goudey Gum Company sets, were about as few and far between as a Cubs pennant that decade. That meant 1930s Cubs stars on cardboard were almost as tough to find as a job was during that time.

About a month after World War II ended, the Cubs won their most recent pennant. Manager Charlie Grimm led the 1945 Chicago ballclub to a matchup with the Tigers in the World Series.

Due to wartime-era travel restrictions still in place in October 1945, the Fall Classic schedule had the first three games in Detroit.

With N.L. batting champ Phil Cavaretta, who would also win the league's MVP award that year, and 110-RBI man Andy Pafko, plus a sturdy pitching staff, the Cubs took two of the first three games.

HartnettHartnett
WilsonHerman

The matchup went the limit, with the final four contests on Chicago soil. But like many an original Grimm's fairy tale - very dark in tone - it was another unhappy ending, at least for the Cubs.

A Cavaretta signed baseball, with PSA/DNA certification, usually sells in the $30-$45 range.

Searching for the Oasis

Saying the team is overdue, for even a Series appearance, is like stating Wrigley Field has a hint of ivy on its outfield walls.

Yet with the frustration of not winning even a pennant for so long, the team has become a lovable underdog for many.

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CuylerCavarettaCavarretta
PafkoPafko

Is 2015 the year for a victorious "reboot" of the Cubs' version of "The Story of the Three Bears"? The team's classic version, of course, will always star Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. At press time, the Cubs' double play combo of Castro-to-Russell-to-Rizzo is well cast for an early 21st-century "fairy tale."

Maybe in the back half of the 2015 season the team will get "too hot" for several of their opponents and the ballclub will snag a divisional flag - or at least a wild card playoff spot, then maybe, just maybe, even their next pennant. Perhaps at that point, like in 1907 and 1908, the porridge might again be "just right."

PafkoCavarretta

It is fun to imagine what billboards around Chicago would be like to promote a new "Three Bears" tale. If the team comes out of postseason hibernation, maybe as a joke former Chicago Bulls basketball star Dennis Rodman, and his occasionally blond-tinged hair, could "play the part" of Goldilocks, pose with Castro and Co. and the slogan would read: "Bear Cubs, As Bad As We Wanna Be." Either way, the Cubs' story continues evolving.


Doug Koztoski has contributed to SMR for several years. He welcomes comments and questions related to the article at [email protected]. Please note that all images have been provided courtesy of PSA.