“Playing the Third Base is Pretty much of a Gamble”

22 Jun

In May of 1911, Chicago Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers suffered a mental breakdown—The Chicago Daily News said that in a letter to club President Charles Webb Murphy:

“Evers complains that his nerves are completely gone.  He is unable to remain on his feet for 10 minutes at a time and the attack is so severe that it has caused large swellings about his face.”

Evers rejoined the team in June, but his condition required another five-week absence from the team in July and August, resulting in him being limited to just 46 games, including 11 at third base—he had previously played the position just three times during his career.

Johnny Evers

Johnny Evers

Late in the season he talked to a reporter from The Chicago Evening Post about playing third:

“Right now it strikes me that there is more luck in playing third base.  You get them or you don’t.  I mean by that the hot shots. When one of those line drives or swift bounders comes at you the isn’t time to play the ball.  You leap and knock the ball down if you can.  If it isn’t right at you it is past you so quickly that you can’t get a square crack at it.”

“Playing the third base is pretty much of a gamble.  If the ball happens to be hit right at you then you get it.  Otherwise, there is nothing doing.”

Evers compared it to his usual position at second base:

“Down on second, it is different.  There you have to play the ball, come in or go back.  That’s one condition which makes the play at third more difficult than at second.

“There is a whole lot more inside baseball at second then there is at third. You play in for a bunt or you play deep.  There is no moving to right or to left.  When you are at second you have more opportunities. You study the batter and you play him accordingly.  Maybe you take a step or two nearer second or a step or two nearer first.

Johnny Evers,


“Nothing like that at third.  You play in for a bunt or you play back for a clout.

“When it comes to throwing, third base is by far more difficult than second…And the difficulty is not in making the throw so much as it is that a man scarcely has enough to do to keep his arm in shape.  It is this which makes it so much easier for a man to injure his arm playing third.  We’ll say that he goes six or seven innings without a ball being hit to him.  In the eighth or ninth he grabs the ball and checks it to first.  The chances of injuring his arm on a play like that are greater…Down at second base, a man probably handled the ball 20 times.”

In the end, he was not ready for a permanent switch:

“After playing both positions it is my opinion that second base overshadows third as a place for inside baseball.  There is where a man has opportunities of applying his knowledge of batters.  It is the position where he can play the ball as well as the batter.  At third a man attempts to stab a fierce drive.  If he succeeds all well and good, and if he doesn’t, he can turn and watch the outfielder chase it.  It’s hit or miss.”

Evers never mastered third base; he made three errors in 31 chances during those 11 games in 1911—and committed eight errors in 61 total chances in the 21 games he played at third throughout his career, an .869 fielding percentage at the position.

In 1912, fully recovered–he told reports he “felt nothing from his breakdown,” Evers appeared in 143 games, and had his best season at the plate, hitting .341.










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