Bingo to Bango to Bilko

One double play combination produced a legendary refrain, the other a clever phrase that’s now a trivia question.

Ernie “Bingo” Banks (Courtesy George Brace)

Ernie “Bingo” Banks (Courtesy George Brace)

In the early 1900s, the defensive wizardry of Chicago Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance inspired the poem, Baseball’s Sad Lexicon, and the famous line, “Tinker to Evers to Chance”. In 1954, the trio of Ernie Banks at short, Gene Baker at second and Steve Bilko at first lifted Cubs play-by-play announcer Bert Wilson to new alliterative heights with “Bingo to Bango to Bilko”.

Gene “Bango” Baker (Courtesy George Brace)

Gene “Bango” Baker (Courtesy George Brace)

Wilson was hoping for another winner like his signature one-liner, “I don’t care who wins, as long as it’s the Cubs.” Banks and Baker were promising rookies, Ernie moving up from the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues and Gene joining the Cubs after four solid seasons with the Los Angeles Angels where he was the best shortstop in the Pacific Coast League. The older, more experienced Baker moved to second base so Banks could continue at short. The Cubs acquired the right-handed hitting Bilko from the St. Louis Cardinals in early 1954 to complement Dee Fondy, a left-hander who racked up a .309 batting average and 18 homers the year before. The bulky Bilko was a big, sure-handed target at first base.

Steve Bilko’s name put the rhyme in Bingo to Bango to Bilko.

Steve Bilko’s name put the rhyme in Bingo to Bango to Bilko.

“Bingo to Bango to Bilko” had a nice ring to it. Unfortunately for Wilson, Bilko spent most of the season on the bench, rendering the rhyme a useless piece of trivia for Stout Steve’s Wikipedia profile. That’s likely where Larry Rifkin of WATR radio in Waterbury, Connecticut, came across the phrase. The host of the long-running Talk of the Town show puts it to good use at the end of this interview with Gaylon White, author of The Bilko Athletic Club. You can listen to the interview by clicking the “play” arrow below:

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The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ. The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:

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