World's Largest Baseball - Atlas Obscura

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World's Largest Baseball

Muscotah, Kansas

This unfinished tribute to a hometown hero and early baseball great is now an abandoned roadside attraction. 

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Franklin Pierce Adams may not have had it exactly right. The “saddest of possible words” may in fact be “an unfinished roadside attraction.” But for the town of Muscotah, Kansas, the oversized baseball is a potential lifeline to a better future. 

The inspiration for the World’s Largest Baseball is the life and career of Joe Tinker. Tinker was born July 27, 1880, in Muscotah, to a single unwed mother, and grew up playing baseball in nearby Kansas City, Missouri. He was scouted while playing in Kansas semi-pro leagues by the Chicago Orphans, signing with them in 1902. Tinker would go on to star for the team, now renamed the Cubs, for many years, becoming well-known as a stellar defensive shortstop.

Joe Tinker’s defensive skill, along with that of second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance, would go on to inspire the most famous poem in baseball history. “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” by columnist Franklin P. Adams, begins with the phrase “These are the saddest of possible words: ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’” The poem then ruefully recounts the ease with which the Cubs’ star infielders turned double plays against Adams’s hometown New York Giants. The poem, originally written as doggerel to fill column inches, became a nationwide hit, propelling each of the three Cubs it mentioned into the Hall of Fame. 

After his playing career ended, Tinker moved to Orlando, where he lived until his death in 1948. But by 2013, residents of his hometown of Muscotah, facing a shrinking population, were looking for a way to inspire residents to stay and tourists to visit. With a grant from the Kansas Sampler Foundation, more than 50 volunteers worked on the bubble of a decommissioned water tower, designing it to resemble a baseball. The hope was that the town would build a museum with memorabilia from Joe Tinker and the town of Muscotah, but the project was never completed. 

Today, the World’s Largest Baseball itself is still standing, although slightly worse for wear, and currently abandoned to the elements. The baseball stands 20 feet in diameter, surpassing the previous record holder located in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Visitors can walk inside the dusty baseball, and ponder what could have been, or what may be yet to come. Nearby, three metal silhouettes are placed around the ball, designed to evoke Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance in the process of turning a double play.

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