He had a throwing arm like a howitzer, as accurate as it was powerful, and there is no way to measure the number of runners who thought twice about taking an extra base on a hit to right field because of his presence out there.
Last week, Dwight Evans missed out on being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by a panel made up of Hall of Famers, executives and media members. But his credentials are becoming more and more well known, which bodes well for him the next time his name comes up for consideration.
He was a wonderful ballplayer. We just didn't realize at the time how wonderful he was.
He was for years the best defensive rightfielder in the game, and his eight Gold Glove Awards attest to that; but as a young outfielder he had a reputation as a good-field/no-hit guy. Through hard work and determination, he made himself into an offensive force, but as he was doing that, the Gold Dust Twins -- Jim Rice and Fred Lynn -- came up to the Red Sox and took the American League by storm, so we hardly noticed how good Evans had become. He was thought of as just the third guy in the Red Sox outfield. Plus, there were plenty of other players on those Red Sox teams of the '70s who sucked up all the oxygen of media attention. They included, in addition to Rice, future Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, and Dennis Eckersley; one who should be in Hall of Fame, Luis Tiant; and one who might very well be in the Hall, Lynn, who, until he left Boston, with Fenway Park's left field wall so tailor-made for his inside-outside swing, was well on his way to putting up Hall of Fame numbers.
Fast forward a decade into the mid-'80s: Yaz and Tiant had retired; Fisk, Eckersley, and Lynn had moved on to other teams; Rice had begun his decline -- and there was good old Dewey Evans, still out in right field, where he remained the best defensive player in the league, and more productive offensively than ever. All the attention in the '80s, though, went to Roger Clemens and his mesmerizing fastball and to the at-bat wizardry of Wade Boggs, with his seven consecutive 200-plus hit seasons.
We almost didn't notice that Evans won two Silver Slugger Awards. In the decade of the '80s, he had more home runs (265) and more extra base hits (605) than anyone else in baseball, and it somehow stayed under our radar. All this from a "good-field/no-hit" guy.
He had a throwing arm like a howitzer, as accurate as it was powerful, and there is no way to measure the number of runners who thought twice about taking an extra base on a hit to right field because of his presence out there. Third base coaches got used to putting up stop signs rather than risk having runners cut down at the plate.
In 1975, he made one the greatest defensive plays on world series history when, in the 11th inning of the sixth game, he saved the Red Sox from elimination by making an over-the-shoulder grab to rob Cincinnati's Joe Morgan of a home run, then somehow managed to spin and get the ball back to the infield in time to double off a runner at first base. In the following inning Pudge Fisk hit his famous home run off the leftfield foul pole, and the Evans play, as important as it was, became an after-thought in the next day's media coverage.
He appeared in more games for the Red Sox (2505) than any player in history with the sole exception of Yastrzemski and the only reason he didn't finish his career as a Red Sox was because the team unceremoniously dropped him following the 1990 season and he was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles for his final year.
Evans acquired his nickname, Dewey, while playing for Winston-Salem in the Carolina League in 1971. His manager, Don Lock, had a pitcher on the team, Don Newhauser, whom he called "Newie." There was another player named "Louie," so Dwight became "Dewey." The three names didn't exactly match up with those of Donald Duck's nephews, but it was close enough.
It's been 29 years since he played his last game, so there is still time to get Dwight Evans enshrined in Cooperstown. Time is running out for Luis Tiant, though. He's 79 years old now and will be 82 the next time he is eligible to be considered. He did not even make the ballot of 10 finalists this year. His numbers compare favorably to several who are already in the Hall of Fame, notably Catfish Hunter (Tiant: 229 wins, 172 losses, 3.30 ERA, 2416 strike outs; Hunter: 224 wins, 166 losses, 3.26 ERA, 2012 strike outs). But Luis has never been able to quite get to Cooperstown. If intangibles counted for anything, he'd easily be over the top. He was for years unable to return to his homeland of Cuba and was thus forcibly estranged from his family; he was one of the most colorful and beloved pitchers of his or any other time; and he remains a great ambassador of the game. He should be in the Hall, but his window of opportunity is closing.
That window already has closed for Dom DiMaggio. He played the same position as his brother Joe and played right next to Ted Williams, two of baseball greatest stars ever. He was forever in their shadow, but as often as not he was the third starting outfielder for the American League in the all-star game. He set defensive records that still stand today, two-thirds of a century after his retirement. He is the only American League outfielder to record more than 500 putouts in a single season (1948) before the schedule was expanded from 154 to 162 games. During the years he played, he had more base hits than anyone else in baseball. Don't get me started on Dom's Hall of Fame credentials. He got within one vote of election by the veterans committee in the '90s, but it is now more than 66 years since he last played and memory of him has faded. Let's hope that never happens to Dwight Evans.
Next week: the man who, more than any other, should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
*NOTE -- Last week some confusion arose when I mentioned that the St. Louis Cardinals had been called the Browns in the late 19th century. That team is not to be confused with a completely different one, the other St. Louis Browns, who came into the American League in 1902 and played there through 1953 before relocating to Baltimore and becoming the Orioles in 1954.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.