Tinker was immortalized in Franklin P. Adams’s verse, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” better-known, although incorrectly so, as “Tinker to Evers to Chance.” An intelligent, smooth-fielding, mediocre-hitting shortstop, Tinker and second baseman Johnny Evers, first baseman Frank Chance, and third baseman Harry Steinfeldt formed one of the better defensive infields of the day. But the celebrated Chicago trio did not actually turn that many double plays. During that era, none did, compared to today. Yet under Chance’s often brilliant guidance, what the trio did was to bring fielding into focus. They devised new defensive strategies to defeat the bunt, the hit-and-run, and the stolen base (the key run-producing techniques of the dead-ball era) and implemented the first known version of the rotation play. They brought Chicago to four World Series, in 1906-08 and 1910. All three went on to manage the Cubs.
Tinker had an aggressive, spirited playing attitude, but otherwise was quite an innocuous character. Yet one day in 1905, he argued with Evers over a cab fare, which led to a fistfight on the field. The contentious Evers would not speak to Tinker for decades, and gave him an unrepeatable nickname. Unbeknownst to one another, both were invited to help broadcast the 1938 Cubs World Series, 33 years after their falling-out. When they saw each other, after a moment’s strained silence, they hugged and cried for some time.
Tinker first came up in 1902, and remained Chicago’s everyday shortstop for 11 years. Always the elegant fielder, he led NL shortstops four times in fielding percentage, three times in total chances, twice each in putouts and assists, and once in double plays (he also led Federal League shortstops in total chances in 1914). He had superior speed, and stole an average of 28 bases a season for Chicago. On July 28, 1910, he tied a major league record by stealing home twice in one game. Though he was a respectable hitter, few pitchers feared his bat. Yet Christy Mathewson had trouble with him. Tinker registered a lifetime mark against the Giants great of almost 100 points better than his career batting average.
Tinker concentrated on his salary as few players had before. In 1909, earning a reported $1,500, he demanded a $1,000 raise. He sat out the early part of the season before settling for a $200 increase. After the 1912 season, the Cubs traded him to Cincinnati, where he became a shortstop-manager. Throughout the year, Tinker argued with owner Gary Hermann over money. Hermann, tired of the talk, sold Tinker to the Dodgers after the season. In the most outrageous player demand to that time, Tinker refused to play for either team unless “commissioned” with $10,000 of his $25,000 sale price. Federal League agents, always on the lookout for discontented stars, quickly signed Tinker as a player-manager with the Chicago Whales. Tinker brought them in second in 1914, and first in 1915. In 1916, he managed the Cubs, but finished fifth.
Tinker went on to become president and manager of Columbus (American Association), and bought controlling interest in the Orlando Gulls (Florida State League) in 1921. He briefly managed in the International League, and scouted for the Cubs. During the 1920s, he made and lost a fortune in Florida real estate; a stadium named after him was built on one property and was used by the Reds in spring training for decades. On his 68th birthday, he died from complications of diabetes. Along with Evers and Chance, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1946.