“Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” featuring the famous double play combination of “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” was first published on July 12, 1910. However, the original name of the the poem was “That Double Play Again.” Six days later, the New York Evening Mail would republish the poem, this time with the title we know it by today, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.”
On June 25, 1924, left-handed relief pitcher Emil Yde hit a double in the ninth inning to tie the score, 6-6, against the Cubs and send the game into extra innings. Then, in the fourteenth inning, Yde hit a triple to lead the Pirates to an 8-7 victory.
The Red Sox and the Cubs aren’t the only teams in the baseball world to have suffered the effects of a curse. A Japanese team, the Hanshin Tigers, found itself the victim of the “Curse of the Colonel,” with the “colonel” being none other than KFC’s Colonel Sanders.
The Hanshin Tigers are located in Kansai, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan. In 1985, the Tigers faced the Seibu Lions and took their first and only victory in the Japan Championship Series. The team’s success came in large part due to the efforts of an American playing on the team, slugger Randy Bass (who would later serve as a Senator for Oklahoma).
As one might expect following a major championship victory, the Tiger fan base launched into celebration. A particularly raucous crowd gathered at Ebisu Bridge in Dōtonbori, Osaka. Fans here would yell the players’ names, and with every name, a fan resembling that member of the Tigers leaped from the bridge and into the canal. However, lacking a Caucasian person to represent MVP Randy Bass, the crowd seized a plastic statue of Colonel Sanders (who apparently resembled Bass, in their minds) from a nearby KFC and tossed it off the bridge as an effigy.
According to the legend, thus began the Curse of the Colonel. The Hanshin Tigers began an 18-year losing streak, placing last or next-to-last in the league each year. The Tigers had a surprisingly good season in 2003, winning the Central League and earning a spot in the Japan Championship Series. However, the Tigers lost the series to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, so the curse was presumed to still be in place. The curse, fans believed, would continue until the Colonel statue had been recovered from the river.
The Colonel was finally discovered in the Dōtonbori River on March 10, 2009. The statue was, not surprisingly, in pieces, and it lacked the glasses the Colonel held in his left hand. It was believed that the curse could only be lifted by returning the Colonel’s glasses, so a replacement set of glasses were given to him in order to ensure the breaking of the curse.
The KFC restaurant to which the statue originally belonged no longer exists, so the now-restored Colonel Sanders makes his home at the branch near Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.
Over the course of a doubleheader in Cincinnati on May 30, 1904, Cubs first baseman Frank Chance was hit by a pitch five times. In the first game of the day, Chance even lost consciousness for a brief period when one erratic pitch hit him in the head.
A few weeks ago, a co-worker came by my office and mentioned that she would be going on a day trip to see the world’s biggest baseball. She knew the information would interest me (it did), and it amazed me to discover that this baseball resides just over an hour’s drive from where we stood, in Muscotah, Kansas. Muscotah also happens to be the birthplace of Joe Tinker, the famous Cubs shortstop of the renowned Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination of the early 20th century.
I learned in my research that the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Baseball is not really a baseball. Rather, the people of Muscotah took an old water tank to create the twenty-foot diameter ball, using rebar to fashion the stitches. The eventual goal for the project is to create a Joe Tinker museum on the inside of the hollow, steel baseball. As things stand, my co-worker informed me the week after her visit, the World’s Largest Baseball isn’t much to look at. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to check it out for myself, and I took advantage of the opportunity to do so this weekend.
I left in the morning, shortly after breakfast. The route consisted primarily of small, winding, two-lane highways through rural Kansas. I took a couple wrong turns along the way, thanks to some confusion in the directions, so the trip took slightly longer than anticipated, but fortunately I had no reason to hurry. I passed through a number of small towns on the drive, though I noticed that Muscotah never appeared on any of the highway distance signs. The population of Muscotah, it turns out, was a mere 176 people as of the 2010 census.
When one finally reaches the city limits along highway US-159, one of the first things you notice is the welcome sign:
I continued driving for a couple more blocks, and the giant baseball itself proved hard to miss. I turned off the highway onto Kansas Avenue, where the ball stood, and maneuvered my car into an acceptable parking position in the tall grass along the side of the street.
As for the World’s Largest Baseball, well, it definitely looks like a very large, steel baseball:
I walked around and poked my head into the entrance of the hollow tank, and while it seems it’s still going to be quite some time until any kind of museum takes shape, there was at least the faint promise of it in the form of building materials on the interior floor:
Not too far from the steel baseball stood a trio of baseball player silhouettes, no doubt intended to represent the threesome that was Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance.
As my co-worker forewarned, there really wasn’t much to see beyond the baseball and the silhouettes. It would have been easy (and it was tempting) to just hop back into my vehicle and head home straightaway, but I decided to walk around for a few minutes to stretch my legs. But in truth, there doesn’t seem to be much to Muscotah itself.
Some of the older, run down buildings do seem to carry echoes of a more vibrant time in the town’s past:
And I do have to comment that this is quite possibly the smallest post office I have ever seen:
All in all, Muscotah is just a quiet, rural Kansas town, silent and still with sleepiness on this warm May weekend. I certainly wouldn’t say that the World’s Largest Baseball is a “must-see” attraction worth traveling halfway across the country to catch a glimpse. However, for any hardcore baseball fans who just happen to be in the area, it does make for a different and relaxing daytrip destination.
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.”
~”Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” by Franklin Pierce Adams
The Philadelphia Quakers (later known as the Phillies) won their first game in franchise history on May 14, 1883 again the Chicago White Stockings (later known as the Cubs). The Quakers had lost their first eight games of the season, but then proceeded to pound the White Stockings 12-0 at Chicago’s Lake Front Park. The Quakers would finish the season with a depressing 17-81 (.173) record, putting them in last place in the National League.
The nickname “Cubs” in reference to the Chicago team first appeared in print on March 27, 1902. The Chicago Daily News printed a headline that day reading, “Manager of the Cubs is in Doubt Only on Two Positions.” While the name had existed for the team since 1890, the team was more commonly known as the Orphans, and had also been called the Colts and the White Stockings. The name Cubs would become the team’s official name in 1907.