Chance was the first baseman in the double-play trio of “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” immortalized by Franklin Adams in the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.” He was dubbed “The Peerless Leader” as he led the Cubs to pennants in 1906-08 and 1910 as their player-manager. Some called him “Husk” because he was husky, strong, and aggressive. He made his opinions known and never backed down from an argument. He ran his clubs with a clenched fist, coming down hard on any player who gave less than 100%. Eventually, he had trouble hearing criticism or anything at all. Since he crowded the plate, he too often was beaned, and his hearing was eventually affected. As a result, he developed a peculiar whine which grated on his teammates and opponents.
Chance reached the majors as a catcher and part-time outfielder with Chicago, but when Johnny Kling came along, he shifted to first base. He led the NL with 67 stolen bases in 1903, and with 57 in 1906, when his 103 runs scored were also the league high. In only six seasons (1903-08) did he play in more than 100 games, but he batted better than .300 in the first four of them.
Chance’s great success came as a young manager. He was 27 when he took over the Chicago club from Frank Selee in mid-1905; in seven full seasons, he won at least 100 games four times, and never finished lower than third. His .664 winning percentage (768-389) stands as the best in Cubs history. In 1906 the Cubs won 116 games – a major league record – while losing just 36. They lost to the White Sox in the ’06 World Series but defeated the Tigers in the next two. Chance led all participants in the ’08 WS with a .421 batting average.
Chance moved to the Yankees in 1913, but ill health forced him to retire with New York in seventh place in 1914. He returned to his native California, and owned and managed the Los Angeles (Pacific Coast League) team in 1916-17. He returned East in 1923 to try to rebuild the Red Sox, decimated by the sale of stars (including Babe Ruth) to the Yankees, but finished in the cellar. He was to manage the White Sox in 1924, but his health worsened, and he died that September. In 1946 Chance, Joe Tinker, and Johnny Evers were inducted into the Hall of Fame.