Teaching the Thesis Sentence
Professor Cormen also recognizes that students are quick to "rush to thesis," and so he created an exercise to show students how additional information (research) can flesh out a thesis sentence. Professor Cormen presents students with a short poem, "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," written in 1908 by Franklin P. Adams, for the New York Globe . The poem laments how often it seemed that the Chicago Cubs' infield, with Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, turned double plays to stifle potential rallies by the New York Giants:
These are the saddest of possible words, Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. Trio of Bear Cubs, fleeter than birds, Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble, Making a Giant hit into a double, Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble,
Professor Cormen points out to his students that Tinker, Evers, and Chance are all in the Baseball Hall of Fame. They must have formed one of the greatest double-play combinations ever. Or did they? To debunk the myth of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, Professor Cormen gives his students another essay, written in 1954 by Warren Brown, called "Don't Believe Everything You Read." This essay challenges the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance mystique by doing a bit of investigating uncovering that, at the height of their careers (1906 - 1909), the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance combination turned only 29 double plays. By comparison, a second baseman with the Detroit Tigers participated in 150 double plays in 1950 alone, and a shortstop with the Cleveland Indians figured in 134 double plays in 1944. By demonstrating that players a few decades later were turning many times the double plays in one season that Tinker, Evers, and Chance were turning in four seasons,
clearly the writer of this essay has debunked the legend of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance.
Or has he? Professor Cormen asks students to consider the differences between baseball in 1908 and 1950. First, he asks them to consider the conditions of baseball fields in 1908: the fields were pocked and rocky, far from the groomed surfaces that we see today or were the norm by 1950. Second, he asks them to consider the gloves: not the cestas we see on players' hands today, or even the webbed gloves that players wore by the 1940s, but more like the winter gloves that we wear today, without the insulation. Finally, he asks students to consider the ball: it was neither perfectly round (balls were not as hard before the 1920s, and when a batted ball went into the stands, it was thrown back onto the field and continued to be used) nor perfectly white (before the spitball was outlawed in 1920, balls were stained brown with tobacco juice, making them hard to see). Tinker, Evers and Chance were playing on a field like a parking lot, with gloves like a motorman's mitt, and with a ball that more resembled a mini-football than what we think of as today's baseballs. How could anyone expect them to turn 150 double plays per year? Clearly, with this additional evidence, students are moved to compose a more complex thesis.
The moral of the story: as students engage in research, they will encounter evidence that will debunk (or at least challenge) their ideas. Encourage this research, and support students as they work toward better thesis sentences.