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Mudville: October 24, 2021 3:25 am PDT
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Dewey Does It All

It may be difficult to understand what Dwight “Dewey” Evans meant to the Red Sox if you didn’t live in Boston during his playing career.

His consistency and longevity, not to mention the fact that he stood out on a star-laden team, made him as important and integral a part of the Red Sox as Hall-of-Famers Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski were. Evans was a fan favorite and the fact that the long-time right fielder inexplicably never garnered more than 10.4 percent of the Hall-of-Fame vote from the BBWAA during his three years on the ballot often lends to him being overlooked as one of the dominant players of the 1970s and 80s.

Consider that Evans, who played in Boston from 1972-1990, is second in the storied franchise’s history to Yastrzemski in games played, at-bats and appearances. He trails only Yaz and fellow Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams in runs scored, walks and times on base and is third behind that duo and Jim Rice in hits and total bases. Additionally, he is top five in home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits.

Evans was also a three-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove winner and led the American League in outfield assists three times, all of which adds to the case that he was one of the game’s most important players for two decades.

While the sport he debuted in as a 20-year-old in 1972 was much different than one from which he exited as a 39-year-old in 1991, Evans was able to adapt and thrive in what was an often volatile and ever-shifting landscape. He stayed in Boston for 19 of his 20 seasons, eschewing the lure of free agency while establishing himself as one of the game’s elite.

“The one thing I never did was play for stats,” Evans, 69, said. “When I was playing, I played to win and the stats just came along with that. I had a lot of walks [1,391]. I was at the plate almost 10,500 times [10,569 to be exact] but my official bats were only 8,900 [8,996]. With the walks and the sacrifices, I wasn’t thinking about average [.272 career] or hits [2,446] or whatever.

“I was more aware of the home runs [385] the older I got but that was mostly because of the media telling me about it. Mostly, I was aware of winning. I went to two World Series and there was no better time than that. Winning is what it is all about.”

“You tried but you didn’t do your job. That really stood out. That’s the kind of mentality and era I played in.”

GETTING STARTED

Evans certainly proved he knew what winning was about as early as his time at Chatsworth High School just north of Los Angeles. He was named the West Valley League’s Top Player of the Year in 1969 and The Van Nuys News, the local paper, dubbed him Mr. Everything.

The Red Sox certainly thought he was Mr. Everything. Boston grabbed him in the fifth round [109th overall] and signed him as a third baseman despite the fact they never really scouted him.

“I was young and in high school and back then the scouts gave you cards with the club logo like the Cardinals or the Cubs on and you had to fill out the card,” said Evans, who hit .559 and went 4-0 as a pitcher in West Valley action during his senior year. “In 1969 I filled out 13 or 14 cards and was filling them out the year before, too. The Red Sox drafted me but I never got a card or had anyone from the Red Sox talk to me. I felt pretty good about myself when I signed. When you’re that age, though, you’re not thinking about the Major Leagues, you’re just trying to survive. At 17, I was a kid who had never traveled outside the West Coast. I had been to Idaho and Washington.”

Evans, like so many of his teammates and friends, also had to worry about another draft. The Vietnam War was raging on the other side of the globe, a fact about which Evans was very much aware.

“I got a high draft number,” Evans said. “We heard they were taking up to 150 and I was 220 something so the concern was real. When I was 16 and in high school you were thinking just go over there and fight and the next year you saw guys coming back in boxes so you didn’t want to fight. No one wanted to. It was a nasty war and no one even knew why we were fighting.”

The only fighting Evans would be doing, however, was for a position within the Boston organization. He was assigned to Jamestown of the Rookie-Level New York-Penn League. Though he was now a professional, it didn’t feel that way at first. When Evans arrived in Jamestown, the club was on the road and he did not get a uniform so he would wear a jersey, jeans and cleats during workouts.

“The team came back four or five days later and I’m still in a jersey and jeans,” Evans said. “Then I had a uniform but I didn’t play for another week. The manager at the time was Jackie Moore. I was playing third base at the time and he comes up to me one day and says you’re playing tonight.

“So I took BP and went through the whole pre-game routine I had. I finished BP and went to first base and then when I was running by third base, the third baseman spit on me. He was a 24-year-old guy back from Vietnam. Here I am, a 17 ½-year-old kid and I look up and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Then during the game, I’m looking at Jackie and he’s moving me around [the infield] and he was behind Jackie giving me the finger. It’s a dog eat dog world.”

The former soldier was trying to salvage his baseball career and viewed Evans an impediment to his progress. Evans learned the ropes pretty quickly and while he may not have liked what the aforementioned third baseman did, he eventually understood his motivation.

“Getting past those things at 17, you grow up pretty quick,” Evans said. “One night I’m sitting on the bench and there’s a ball hit to right center. The number one draft choice was out there in right field and he stepped on something and got hurt. Jackie Moore looked at me and asked if I played the outfield. So I went out to right field and never came back. That was my first time in right field.”

The aforementioned third baseman bounced around the Boston system for two or three more years and was then out of baseball. Evans, however, thrived. He hit .280 with 12 RBIs in 34 games at Jamestown. He went to Greenville of the Class-A Western Carolina League in 1970 and hit .276 with seven homers and 68 RBIs.

Evans hit .286 with 12 homers and 63 RBIs for Winston-Salem of the Class-A Carolina League before reaching Louisville of the Triple-A International League in 1972. He stayed there for most of the season, hitting .300 with 17 homers and 95 RBI before a September call-up put him the lineup daily for the Red Sox.

He made his debut on Sept. 16 as a pinch-hitter against Cleveland and popped up to short. He would get his first big-league hit the next day, singling off Hall-of-Famer Gaylord Perry. Evans hit .263 in 64 at-bats that September and October, hitting his first career homer [Sept. 20 against Baltimore’s Eddie Watt] and driving in six. Evans would stay in Boston for the next 19 years.

LESSONS LEARNED

Evans used his time in the minor leagues to learn about more than just becoming a better ballplayer. He learned about becoming a better teammate. His experience about how the older player in Jamestown treated him was something he never forgot.

“It impacted me to where I didn’t want to be like that or treat anyone like that,” Evans said. “I came up in ’72 and the older [players] didn’t want you around; they would force you out of the batting cages. That part of it started to change around 1974-75.”

Evans, however, gained a great deal of respect for and insight from many of the older players. He played with Hall-of-Famer Tony Perez from 1980-82 and he learned something from the former first baseman for Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.

“I remember there was a man on second base and I hit a bullet to the second baseman,” Evans said. “It handcuffed him but he caught it and I didn’t advance the runner. I got back to the dugout and everyone is saying, ‘Nice try Dewey’ and there’s Tony just looking at me – and then he looked away. Tony had that deep voice. He looked at me and with his index finger he went no.

“Here was the guy who was the captain of the Big Red Machine, he was the silent leader and he’s waiving his index finger left and right telling me I didn’t do my job. You tried but you didn’t do your job. That really stood out. That’s the kind of mentality and era I played in.”

Evans seemed perfectly suited for the era, too. His hard-nosed, no-nonsense style was a perfect fit in New England and through the early part of the decade he slowly began improve at the plate while shining in the field. He committed only one error in 183 chances in 1973 and three errors in 305 chances in 1974. He also picked up 12 outfield assists in those two seasons and was beginning to earn the reputation as someone on whom you couldn’t run.

“I worked hard on both sides of the game but fielding came easier,” Evans said. “I played in the biggest right field in baseball. I had a good arm and I always had a quick release. I always worked on my release. I had a lot of pride in my fielding and my hitting just came to me later. The last 10 years [hitting] were better than the first 10. How many people can say that?”

He was entrenched in right field by 1975, when he was joined by Rice and Fred Lynn, both of whom burst onto the scene and fueled Boston’s run to the World Series. Lynn was a near unanimous choice for MVP and Rookie of the Year in the American League while Rice finished third and second, respectively, in the voting.

Evans had 15 assists and led the league with eight double plays while hitting a then career-high 13 homers in helping the Sox to their first World Series since 1967. He did his part in the Fall Classic, too hitting .292 with five RBI. While Game Six of the Series is best remembered for Carlton Fisk willing his game-winning homer in the 12th inning to stay fair, that moment might not have been possible had Evans not made a spectacular catch on a Joe Morgan fly on which Evans doubled Ken Griffey off first base.

Ultimately Evans would experience the heartache of a Game 7 loss but, at the time, Evans believed it was just the beginning of what would be a long run by Boston. The Sox, however, wouldn’t make it back to the series for another 11 years when they would suffer an even greater heartache.

“I was 23 in 1975 and with the team we had, I thought we will be in three or four World Series and we didn’t play in another one until ’86,” Evans said. “The Big Red Machine, we were not even picked to be able to play with them and we more than played with them. We did a great job. We played with that team and I was proud of our team going into the future.

“I like to say that 1975 was the last pure World Series, too. We had 18 or 19 homegrown guys on our club that came through our system. Free agency came in in ’76 and you could buy a team through free agency so I think this was the last pure World Series as far as the players go.”

MAKING HIS MARK AND MORE HEARTACHE

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw Evans establish himself as one of the game’s best and most consistent players. He picked up his first Gold Glove in 1976 and would add two more in 78-79. He also made his first All-Star team in ’78.

Evans hit his stride, though, in the strike-shortened season of 1981, leading the league in homers [22], walks [85], OPS [.937], total bases [215] and plate appearances [504]. He picked up another Gold Glove, made his second All-Star team and finished third in the MVP voting behind Milwaukee’s Rollie Fingers and Oakland’s Rickey Henderson.

It kicked off a decade in which he averaged 26 homers and 90 RBIs a year. Evans, who spent a dozen years working on his approach at the plate with legendary hitting coach Walt Hriniak, led the league in on-base percentage [.402] and finished seventh in the MVP voting in 1982. His 1984 season was among his best. He led the league in games played [162], plate appearances [738], runs [121] and OPS [.920]. He also cracked the century mark in RBIs [104] for the first time. He followed that by winning his final Gold Glove and leading the league in walks in 1985 with a career-high 114.

“When Dwight Evans broke into the Major Leagues, Carl Yastrzemski was already entrenched as a Boston legend,” said Ian Browne, a Massachusetts native who has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com for two decades. “Carlton Fisk was another emerging All-Star and future Hall-of-Famer. As the years went by, Evans played with other stars like Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens and perhaps that’s the reason he never got his just due. But Evans was a superior player himself.

“A cannon-armed right fielder who always positioned himself perfectly, Evans was a star on defense right from the start. But midway through his career, he suddenly transformed himself from an average hitter in the ‘70s to one of the best all-around hitters in the American League throughout the 80s. He did this through tireless work in the cage with hitting coach Walt Hriniak. Not only did Evans have power that was perfectly built for Fenway, he was also an on-base machine, something that would have made him a ton of money if he played in this era. Though Evans never got the national attention he deserved, he was beloved in Boston with chants of “Dewey” frequently reverberating at Fenway Park. In my mind, he is a Hall-of-Famer.”

Evans and the Red Sox, however, would experience Boston’s greatest heartache in 1986. The story of Boston’s collapse in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against New York has been told often and examined and analyzed in a way that no other game has ever been picked apart. While Evans hit .308 with two homers [including one in Game 7] and nine RBIs in the series, the sting of losing that series in such dramatic fashion remains with Evans.

“I still can’t watch the highlights, or I guess lowlights, of that series,” Evans said. “My biggest regret was not winning the World Series. ’86 was just a tough one. It was far worse than 1975. I was 34, 35 years old and I knew time was getting shorter. I would definitely say ’86 hurt worse, but they both hurt to go seven games and not win.

“We had beaten the Angels in the same way in the ALCS in 1986 and Bob Boone was on that team. I remember seeing him in the winter of ’86 in Hawaii and he came up to me and goes ‘How did that feel?’ very sarcastically but laughing. Now you know how we felt. He said he was watching jumping up and down yelling how does that feel, how does that feel? I didn’t even watch the other series [NLCS]. The Mets won that one like that, too. I need to go back and watch that Houston series.”

The Red Sox would get back to the ALCS in 1988 and 1990 but would lose in four games each time to Oakland. Evans, however, would continue to shine through the end of the decade. He had career highs in homers [34], RBIs [123] and batting averages [.305] in 1987 and would also lead the league for a third time in walks [106]. He hit 21 homers and drove in 111 in 1988 and added a 20-homer, 100-RBI season in 1989 before injuries slowed him in 1990 and limiting him to 123 games.

“For me, in those years, he was the best right fielder in baseball,” said Luis Tiant, who played with Evans from 1972 to 1978. “He could catch the ball, he played hard and he kept the runner honest. He could throw the ball right where he wanted to, on the money all the time. He came a long way and got better every year. I want him playing for me anytime. He saved me a lot of games and a lot of runs.

“He came ready to play every day. He’d come to beat you with his arm, his glove or his bat. You don’t mess with him, either, he was tough. He didn’t take anything from anyone.”

DWIGHT EVANS AN ORIOLE?

The Red Sox, however, decided that he would no longer be the productive player he had been and decided not to re-sign him in the fall of 1990. The 123 games in which Evans appeared that season were his lowest non-strike season total since 1977. Still, he hit 13 homers and drove in 63 runs while hitting .249. He was also only one year removed from a 20-homer, 100 RBI season but Boston remained steadfast in its decision.

“Yes it bugs me [that I didn’t play my entire career in Boston],” Evans said. “Everyone asked me why go to Baltimore? Because I got fired in Boston – and where I come from, you keep playing until you’re told to go home. I enjoyed myself in Baltimore, my wife was raised in Baltimore and I got to play with the Ripkens.

“The father [Cal, Sr.] came to me one time when I was sitting on the bench [early in the day before a game]. I was in a slump and I was 39 years old but I got to the park early. He says to me, ‘You think you’re finished, don’t you?’. I’m thinking yeah, well, it kind of entered my mind at 39. He said, ‘You’re not finished, you’re just doing a few things wrong’. He got me in the cage and threw to me for 30 minutes and it worked. He was right. I was just doing some things that needed to be straightened out.”

Evans hit .270 with six homers and 38 RBIs in 270 at-bats for the O’s. Baltimore, however, released him the following spring.

“I think I could have played another year,” Evans said. “I played at 39 and I was coming off a broken bone in my back. That winter I had worked so hard to strengthen that area and I was so healthy. But they released me in Spring Training. They thought I wanted to go elsewhere. My last at-bat was a base hit. I hit a bullet up the middle against the Cardinals. It was a tough time for me because I felt I could play another year.”

His 2,446th and final regular season Major League hit was a fifth-inning single off Detroit’s Frank Tanana, a former Boston teammate, on Oct. 6, 1991.

“Dwight was a great teammate and the consummate pro,” Tanana said. “He was a real battler at the plate; not an easy out, that’s for sure. He was a wonderful hitter and had a rifle for an arm as an outfielder.

“A total player.”

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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