He is one of the most famous shortstops in the history of baseball, primarily for a piece of bad poetry that begins “Tinker to Evers to Chance.” Despite not having played a game outside baseball’s Stone Age, Joe Tinker is still known, if only vaguely, because people know that single line. But today marks the centennial of Joe Tinker doing something no other Major Leaguer had ever done. On Tuesday, 28 June 1910, in an 11-1 romp over Cincinnati, Tinker became the first big league ballplayer to steal home twice in a single game.
Over a career lasting from 1902 through 1916, Tinker played 1806 games, all but 267 with the Chicago Cubs. He managed to hit .262 with 2273 total bases, 263 doubles and 114 triples. His OBP was .308, his slugging percentage was .353, giving him an OPS of .661. He stole 336 bases (including the two on this date one hundred years ago) and walked 416 times. In 1914 and 1915 he played in the Federal League, hitting about what he hit for his career. He managed the Federal League Chicago Whales to second place in 1914 and then won the Feds pennant in 1915. In 1916 he took over the Cubs manager’s role and led them to fifth place, a spot down from their 1915 position. He was let go and the Cubs remained in fifth for 1916.
He played in four World Series’, all with the Cubs. He was part of a winning team in 1907 and 1908, and suffered losses in 1906 and 1910. He didn’t do particularly well in World Series play, hitting .235 with one home run, seven stolen bases, and 21 total bases. His best Series’ were 1908 when he hit the home run, slugged .421, and had four RBIs; and 1910 when he hit .333, slugged .444, and had two doubles.
Over the years, because of the poem, he’s become most famous for his fielding. It’s also become common to deride his fielding as nothing special. His fielding numbers certainly aren’t bad for the era, but Honus Wagner he isn’t. It is, however, wrong to deride his contribution at short. He finished first in assists by shortstops three times and second another three. He was also first in errors once and second a further two times. His range factor was consistently in the top four shortstops and led the league three times (plus once in the Federal League). He still ranks 38th in defensive games as a shortstop.
I think a lot of the problem people have with Tinker is that he’s in the Hall of Fame. His numbers aren’t bad, but to single him out for the Hall is a bit much for most people. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1946 by the “Old Timer’s Committee” (We now call it the “Veteran’s Committee”, which has a nicer ring for us old timer’s.). Prior to his election he’d not gotten a lot of support among the writers, but was steadily climbing the ladder, peaking at 27.2% in 1946, the year the Veteran’s Committee put him over the top.
I’m not sure Tinker really deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown. Maybe he does; maybe he doesn’t. And I guess that says a lot about what I truly think. It seems to me that there should be no question about whether a player is in the HoF or he isn’t, so if you have a question, then he’s probably not someone who should, in your opinion, be there. Now I don’t mean to imply by that comment that all of us will question the same people or agree on the same people, only that if you have a question in your own mind then you probably deep down inside don’t think the guy ought to be honored. For me Tinker is one of those. Having said all that, I’m still glad he’s remembered.