Tinker, Player, Hero, Legend

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

This 1911 Joe Tinker baseball card was printed just a few seasons after Tinker helped the Chicago Cubs win back-to-back World Series.  Image Courtesy Benjamin K. Edwards Collection, via Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

This 1911 Joe Tinker baseball card was printed just a few seasons after Tinker helped the Chicago Cubs win back-to-back World Series. Image Courtesy Benjamin K. Edwards Collection, via Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

No one still living in the small town of Muscotah, Kansas, ever saw Joe Tinker play baseball. They certainly weren’t around for either of the World Series the shortstop won with the Chicago Cubs in 1907 and 1908.

Despite that, Tinker’s memory is alive and well in his hometown of Muscotah, located in northeast Kansas, where the Kansas House of Representatives declared July 27—the anniversary of his birth in 1880 and his death in 1948—Joe Tinker Day.

The small community (population 176 as of 2010) embraces its heritage as the home of the Cubs legend, who formed one-third of the “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” infield combination immortalized in newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams’s famous 1910 poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.” Muscotah citizens are building a Tinker museum inside “The World’s Largest Baseball,” a water tower painted like a baseball. The hometown hero is the subject of a local mural, too, painted by artists from Lucas, Kansas, and finished in 2013.

The same year, Muscotah commemorated Joe Tinker Day with a vintage baseball game attended by several hundred spectators. The town also brought Tinker’s grandsons and great-grandsons, some of whom had never met one another, to Muscotah as part of the celebrations.

It’s a prime example of how sports can help hold communities together, even long after the fact, writes Bob Lutz:

“We’ve got people here [in Muscotah] now who are doing great,” said Tom Wilson, who has lived in Muscotah for all of his nearly 73 years. “The whole Joe Tinker thing kind of came to light about 15 or 20 years ago and ever since then it’s just grown. I think we had our first Tinker celebration back in 2002. Yeah, he’s helping us keep the town alive. At least his spirit is.”

Now Tinker just needs to help the Cubs end their drought. 100-plus years and counting…