Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Dwight Evans: One of the Most Underrated Players in Baseball History
In the pantheon of all-time great Red Sox hitters -- the likes of which includes Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz -- another Sox great is often overlooked.
That would be Dwight Evans. The long-time Boston right fielder was often overshadowed by his teammates and fellow outfielders, Jim Rice and Fred Lynn. However Evans was a fantastic player in his own right.
Who do you think had more career runs, doubles, walks, stolen bases and a higher on-base percentage — Rice or Evans? Remarkably, the answer is Evans.
No. 24, who played for the Sox from 1972-1990, also amassed just one less total bases, three fewer home runs and just six less hits than Rice, who is in the Hall of Fame.
Evans is often overlooked in the history of great Sox hitters. Yet, after a 20-year career, all but his last spent with the Red Sox, Evans left his mark with 2,446 hits, 483 doubles, 1,470 runs, 1,384 RBI, 385 home runs, a .272 career average, a .370 OBP and an .840 OPS.
Evans was an on-base machine, leading the league in OBP in 1982 (.402) and in walks three times (1981, 1985, 1987). In 1981, he had as many walks, 85, as he had strikeouts. Even more impressive, in three seasons Evans drew more walks than strikeouts (1985: 114 BB/105 Ks; 1987: 106 BB/98 Ks; 1989: 99 BB/84 Ks. Even in his final season, with Baltimore, Evans walked 54 times, while striking out just 54 times. Overall, Evans had three seasons in which he drew at least 100 free passes.
His offensive prowess led to two Silver Slugger Awards, in 1981 and 1987. In ’81, Evans led the league in walks, times on base, home runs, total bases, runs created and OPS.
Evans was a three time All-Star (1978, ’81, ’87), yet it’s surprising that he wasn’t selected more often, given that he had four top-10 finishes for the AL MVP Award (1981, 1982, 1987, 1988).
What may surprise many is that Evans hit more home runs than any other American League player during the 1980s (256) and the fourth most overall, behind only Mike Schmidt, Dale Murphy and Eddie Murray. Evans also led the AL in extra base hits during that span.
Evans, long known for his exceptional defense in Fenway’s challenging right field, won eight Gold Gloves (a Red Sox record). The only major league outfielders with more are Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline and Ken Griffey, Jr. With the exception of 1977 and 1980, Evans won the Gold Glove Award every year from 1976 through 1985.
While Evans was a very solid offensive player, as his numbers attest, he was a gifted all around player, whose greatest asset may have been his defense. He had a phenomenal arm and made great catches seem routine. Evans quickly and accurately read balls right off the bat and had a great first step, which usually put him in position to make a play.
Some of his backers argue that Evans is worthy of induction into Cooperstown. Among them is famed statistician Bill James, who wrote, “Dwight Evans is one of the most underrated players in baseball history.” No matter your stance on that issue, Evans’ on field exploits seem to be forgotten, though they are surely worthy of greater merit. Evans lasted only three years on the Hall of Fame ballot, never getting more than 10.4 percent of the vote.
There were two seasons, in particular, that may have kept Evans out of the Hall.
In 1977, he battled a knee injury all year, spending a good portion of the season on the disabled list. We’re left to wonder what kind of offensive numbers me may have posted had he not been limited to 73 games due to the injury. It's a shame, since Evans hit better than he ever had, finishing with 14 home runs and a .287 average, which was a career high at the time. It's also likely that he would have won a second straight Gold Glove.
The other season that negatively affected Evans, through no fault of his own, was the strike-shortened 1981 season.
"Dewey" was having his best year in '81—he hit .296/.415/.522, played every game and led the league in homers, total bases, walks and OPS. And, naturally, he won another Gold Glove.
However, due to the strike, Evans played in just 108 games. Had he played a full season, he may have won the MVP award—which would have boosted his case. Instead, Rollie Fingers, a reliever, won the MVP, as well as the Cy Young Award. The MVP Award was highly controversial that year. Fingers edged out Rickey Henderson by 11 points, while Evans finished third. It was one of the closest MVP races in MLB history.
In essence, Evans' career-year, his masterpiece season, was shortened by a labor dispute. Through forces beyond his control, perhaps his greatest chance for MVP consideration was cut short.
Combining the ’77 and ’81 seasons, Evans missed a possible 143 games (89 and 54, respectively).
If Evans had hit just 15 more home runs — which he might have done in ’77 alone, given that he hit 14 in 73 games—he would have finished his career with 400 homers, which might have caught the voters’ attention. In addition, he would have certainly driven in a lot more than 16 additional runs—which would have raised his career total over 1,400. Evans would have also surpassed 500 doubles and 1,500 runs.
While none of those numbers, individually, are critical benchmarks for Hall of Fame consideration, in totality they would have made his resume look a lot more impressive.
Dewey was never a superstar, but he was an excellent player who was extraordinarily valuable to the Red Sox during his long career. Possessing a cannon-like arm that could reach home plate with pin-point accuracy and enough pop in his bat to swat at least 20 homers in 11 out of 12 seasons, including nine in a row, Dwight Evans is surely an all-time Red Sox great.
Indeed, the club validated that truth by selecting him to their Hall of Fame in 2000, an honor of which he was most deserving.