The Chicago Cubs of the first decade of the 20th century are known for being the last championship teams of the franchise until 2016. Those teams were dominant during the first few years of the World Series and they were led by Frank Chance. A product of Fresno, California, Chance had the unique distinction to not only play for the Cubs but to also manage them at the time that he played. Known as the "Peerless Leader", he led the Cubs through their greatest era. This is his story.
Frank Chance was born on September 9, 1877 in Salida, California but his family moved to Fresno when he was young. After graduating from Fresno High School he went to UC Berkeley in pursuit of a dentistry degree. While pursuing that degree, he went out for the baseball team where he showed enough talent to eventually pursue a career in baseball, not dentistry. After a couple of years in Berkeley, he transferred to Washington College in Irvington, California where his baseball skills continued to shine.
While playing in an independent league game the summer before he transferred, Chance caught the eye of Chicago Orphans outfielder Bill Lange. Lange convinced the Orphans management to sign Chance and by the Spring of 1898, he joined the team as a backup catcher and outfielder.
These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance"
Trio of bear cubs and fleeter than birds,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking out 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"- Franklin Pierce Adams
When Frank chance first came to Chicago, the World Series was still several years from beginning and Wrigley Field was more than a decade from being built. In the midst of baseball's Dead Ball Era, Frank Chance shined on the diamond as an excellent fielder and hitter. His connection with Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers inspired columnist Franklin Pierce Adams to write one of the most famous baseball poems of all time "Baseball's Sad Lexicon". Their connection would launch a dynasty in the first decade of the 20th century and put fear in opposing batters all across the National League.
In Frank Chance's rookie year of 1898, he managed to hit one home run, drove in 14 more runs and stole seven bases. He stayed within those stats the first few years of his career until 1903 when he had his breakout year. In that year he led the National League with 67 stolen bases and drove in 81 runs.
At this point he had transitioned from catcher to first base, where he would remain for the rest of his career. After hitting six home runs, driving in 49 scores and stealing 42 bases in 1904, Orphans upper-management decided that Frank Chance would make a good manager and promoted him to player-manager midway through the following year.
In 88 games as Chicago's manager, Chance won 55 of those contests while finishing third in the National League. The strong finish gave the Orphans the confidence they needed to absolutely dominate the competition during the next three years.
The Glory Years
The 1906 season brought an unexpected amount of promise for the Chicago Orphans. The team stormed through the schedule, winning 116 games and reaching the World Series against their crosstown rival White Sox. Though the Cubs lost in six games, they knew that greater days were just around the corner. Frank Chance proved to be sensational as a player-manager. On top of winning a major league record 116 games, he also led the league in runs scored (103) and stolen bases (57).
Following their heartbreaking loss in the World Series, the newly named Cubs were determined to win their first world championship in 1907. They accomplished this feat by winning 107 games and sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
The 1908 season was one for the ages as the Cubs were in a tight pennant race with the New York Giants from the very beginning. Late in the year the two teams were tied in the standings when they met at the Polo Grounds. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the score was tied 1-1 when Giants shortstop Al Bridwell hit a single, sending Moose McCormick home for the winning run. Rookie Fred Merkle had been at first and made a brief stride toward second base when he realized that the game would be over as soon as McCormick reached home. He failed to reach second base, a common practice at the time.
This is where fact becomes legend. According to legend, Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle had failed to reach second base. Sensing an opportunity, Evers alerted outfielder Solly Hofman who then grabbed the ball in the middle of a now very packed Polo Grounds field. With jubilant fans all around him, Hofman managed to toss the ball in Evers' direction. However, Giant's pitcher Joe McGinnty intercepted the pass and tossed it into the stands. Somehow, someway, Evers still managed to retrieve the ball and touched second. Mass confusion ensued among the game's officials. Eventually, with the Polo Grounds in utter chaos, it was decided that the game would end in a tie on a count of darkness and would be replayed at the end of the year if necessary.
Fate has a funny way of showing its colors. Sure enough, when the regular season ended, both teams were dead-locked at the top of the National League. The rematch was set at the Polo Grounds in front of a then major league record 40,000 spectators. The Cubs took advantage of a "dog tired" Christy Matthewson and won the game 4-2, securing a third straight National League pennant. Throughout much of the later innings, the crowd had become more and more restless. It became so dangerous that the Cubs players were forced to leave the stadium in paddy wagons. The next week, Chicago defeated the Tigers to claim a second straight World Series championship.
The following year, despite winning 104 games, the Cubs failed to win the National League title as the Pittsburgh Pirates won 110 games. Frank Chance drove in 46 runs, stole 29 bases and had a batting average of .272. The Cubs made the World Series the following year after again winning 104 games, losing to the Philadelphia Athletics. Chance drove in 36 runs and stole 16 bases that year. Statistically, it would be his last decent year as a player. He would only steal 11 bases in the last four years of his career.
Over the course of his playing career, Frank Chance had the propensity to crowd the plate, making his head a major target for balls thrown in his direction. As a result, his playing career was much shorter than it probably would have been due to various ailments in relation to getting hit in the head by baseballs. By the beginning of the 1910's his playing career was all but over. After winning 92 games in 1911 and 91 games in 1912 with the Cubs failing to win the pennant in each year, Chance went in for a procedure to relieve him of blood clots that had formed in his head.
While in the hospital he was visited by Cubs owner Charles Murphy where they had a heated discussion about various players that Murphy had recently traded without Chance's consent. Incredibly, Frank Chance was fired in the right there in the hospital. But his managerial career was not over as he was quickly hired by the New York Yankees as a player-manager. However, these were not the Yankee's made famous by Babe Ruth a decade later. This was a directionless franchise who shared a stadium with the New York Giants, the Polo Grounds.
In Frank Chance's year and a half at the helm, the Yankees won 57 and 60 games respectively. As a player, Frank Chance only appeared in 13 games between those two years in New York. He resigned late in the 1914 season and returned to California where he operated an orange grove and served as the California Angel's manager in the Pacific Coast League. In 1923, Chance was hired to be the Boston Red Sox manager. He won 61 games with that club, dead last in the American League standings.
The following year, Chance was hired as the Chicago White Sox manager but soon his body would fail him. There has been wide speculation about what illness brought Frnak Chance to his ultimate demise, with popular opinion speculating that it was heart disease. Whatever the illness was, it kept him from fulfilling his managerial duties. Frank Chance never suited up as the White Sox manager and passed away on September 15, 1924 at the age of 47. He was posthumously voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
Gregory Ryhal. "Frank Chance". Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/frank-chance/
"Frank Chance". Baseball Hall of Fame. https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/chance-frank
"Frank Chance". Baseball Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/chancfr01.shtml