“Crying as if our Hearts Would Break”

29 Mar

Many different versions of how and when Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker finally reconciled—and when—after years of mutual animus have been told over the years. Evers told the story himself—and talked more about both Tinker and Frank Chance—while he was scouting for the Boston Braves in Georgia, in a 1931 interview with Ralph McGill of The Atlanta Constitution

McGill, incidentally, was an outspoken anti-segregationist who rose from assistant sports editor to managing editor and publisher at The Constitution and won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on the civil rights movement.

“(W)hen Johnny Evers sat in a room at the Atlanta Athletic Club until a late hour Saturday morning and recalled the old days he held a dozen men on his words: Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

 

Johnny Evers,

McGill said Evers, “told the story of how the trio played for 12 years and were then parted for 11 to meet for the first time two days before Jack Dempsey went into the ring against Luis Firpo (1923)”

With “something glistening in his eyes,” Evers told the story to McGill and the others:

“Joe Tinker and I never got along well. We were both high strung. If a man bumped me at second, Joe was over there to help me. But when it came to just us—well, we often raced off the field into the clubhouse and went to it with fists. If I made a good play, he told me. If I made a poor one, he told me. And I him. As I said, we didn’t get along.”

Then, he said, “came the breakup…And not for 11 years did I see either of them or them one another.”

Days before the Dempsey/Firpo fight Evers received a telegram from Chance who was in New York:

“Come on down. Joe is here.”

Evers said:

“I got on the train and went. I got the number of the room from the clerk. And I went up and knocked.

“’Come in,’ yelled Frank Chance.

“’I knocked again.

“’Come in,’ he yelled louder than ever.

“I knocked once more.

“’All right, you so and so, stay out,’ yelled Chance.

“I turned the knob of the door slowly and then swung it open.

“Tinker and Chance were sitting there at a table, staring at me and I at them across a span of 11 years. We stared there motionless and wordless for five minutes.

“And then I took a step forward and we were all together with our arms about each other’s shoulders and we were all crying as if our hearts would break.”

Tinker to Evers to Chance

Evers turned his attention to Chance, who had died seven years earlier. McGill said:

‘”The Peerless Leader’ they called him. And he must have been. Johnny Evers thought so. He didn’t say, but as he talked of Chance there was something in his voice, something he felt in the old days when they were helping to make the Cubs famous.”

Evers said of his former manager:

“Chance had more courage than any man I ever saw. He was a born fighter.”

 Evers cited Chance’s sparring with Joe Choynski, a heavyweight contender who finished with a 59-17-6 record, with 39 KOs; Jim Corbett said no opponent ever hit him harder:

“Chance stayed four rounds when he was a student in California with Joe Choyniski [sic], one of the greatest of the heavyweights. (He) was touring then and offering $100 to any man who would stay four rounds. Chance was the college champion, and he went in there and stayed four rounds. He was cut to pieces and knocked down innumerable times. But he stayed four rounds.”

Evers either embellished the story in places or heard an embellished version to begin with.

Chance took part in a three-round exhibition with Choynski on May 18, 1896. The fight was not part of some challenge offered by Choynski, but rather a benefit for one of the instructors at the Fresno Athletic Club. Chance’s bout was part of what was advertised in The Fresno Bee as a night of “vaudeville and novelty.”

The bout with Chance was the first of two sparring matches for Choynski that evening—the other was with the honoree E.V. Bradstreet—and The Bee makes no mention of any knockdowns or the savage beating Evers implies:

“Chance is Fresno’s best boxer and did nobly, but Choynski taught him several things…Chance did comparatively well.”

Evers also suggested that the “fight” with Choynski did permanent damage to his former manager:

“It left him with an impediment in his speech from which he never recovered.”

Finally, he suggests the embellishments were Chance’s and not his:

“’Johnny,’ he used to say to me. ’that was hardest $100 I ever earned.’ What a fighter he was.”

More insights from Evers from his 1931 scouting trip for the Braves, Wednesday.

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