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Darrell Evans

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Darrell Wayne Evans

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[edit] Biographical Information

Darrell Evans was a low-average slugger who hit 414 home runs in a 21-year major league career. He played in the 1984 World Series and was a member of the great 1984 Detroit Tigers who won 104 games in the regular season. Primarily a third baseman (although he also played much at first base), his defense was respectable although he never won a Gold Glove. The most similar player (based on similarity scores through 2010) is, unsurprisingly, another low-average slugger, Graig Nettles, who was an almost exact contemporary of Evans - Darrell's major league career was 1969-89 while Graig's was 1967-88.

[edit] Childhood and high school

Darrell Evans grew up in a family where his father, two uncles and grandfather played baseball and mother and two aunts had played professional softball. His grandfather, Dale Salazar, played minor league ball. After school, he would play catch with his mother, who was known for her strong arm and speed during her playing days. Instead of hearing kids' stories in bed, his father read to him from So You Think You Know Baseball?.

Evans had poor vision as a kid but still could hit. As a junior in high school, the young third baseman called for a pop-up during an American Legion game - and the ball landed in right field. The next day, he got his first glasses, then switched to contact lenses. He said he couldn't even see the pitcher without them and his uncorrected vision was 20/600 in one eye and 20/800 in the other.

[edit] Drafted, drafted, drafted, drafted, drafted

Evans was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round of the 1965 amateur draft but did not sign. In the 1966 amateur draft, the New York Yankees took him in the second round of the secondary phase in January and the Detroit Tigers in the fifth round in June but he didn't sign either time. In 1967, he was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 3rd round of the January 1967 amateur draft (Secondary Phase) but did not sign. He finally was picked by the Kansas City Athletics in the June 1967 amateur draft and did a great job that year.

[edit] His first pro year: starting with a splash

He hit .489/~.582/.882 in 14 games for the GCL Athletics, .393/~.469/.500 in 8 games for the Peninsula Grays and .261/~.331/.317 in 39 games with the Leesburg A's. Charles Finley promised him a major-league call-up in 1968.

[edit] 1968: Ouch!

Darrell spent the winter in the Marine Reserves basic training and the season was already two months over when he played baseball. After six months of having not played, he pushed himself and injured his arm the first day back, tearing all the tendons in part of his shoulder. He couldn't even throw from third to the mound but he told the A's he was OK. He struggled, hitting .241/~.300/.353 with the Birmingham Barons and fielding .927. The A's gave up on him. Evans says he was so mad at pushing himself so hard he got injured that "I would've hit myself in the head if it didn't hurt so much to lift my arm."

[edit] The Atlanta-Richmond shuffle

Eddie Robinson, the Atlanta Braves farm director, had been with the A's system, and believed in Evans. Darrell was nabbed by the Braves in the 1968 Rule V Draft. Evans began the year with the 1969 Braves but was demoted aftr 12 games (he had gone 6 for 26 in the majors). He hit .278/~.387/.519 in 24 games for the Shreveport Braves (4 triples, 2 homers!) and .360/~.442/.555 in 59 contests for the Richmond Braves.

Darrell split 1970 and 1971 between Richmond and Atlanta. A poor fielder at that point, he surprisingly led the 1970 International League in fielding at third (.951), while hitting .300/~.407/.510 with 20 homers, 92 runs and 78 walks. Mike Ferraro beat him out for league All-Star honors at third base. He hit a solid .318/.423/.386 in a brief trial with Atlanta. In '71, Evans hit .307/~.440/.545 in 31 Richmond games (23 BB) and replaced the aging Clete Boyer on Atlanta. He hit .242/.338/.431 (a 112 OPS+) that year for the Braves.

[edit] A Brave hitter

Evans had fine run with Atlanta, finishing seventh in both the 1972 NL and 1973 NL in OBP and third in slugging in '73 and making his first All-Star team that year. He led the '73 NL with 124 walks and was third in homers and RBI. Along with Hank Aaron and Davey Johnson, he became part of the first trio of 40-homer men in baseball history. He led the league in walks again in '74 and was third in '75. In 1976, Evans imploded, only hitting .222/.329/.381. The season began horribly - he made four errors on Opening Day. During the year, he was traded with Marty Perez to the San Francisco Giants for Willie Montanez, Craig Robinson, Mike Eden and Jake Brown.

[edit] San Fran seasons

Evans was amazingly consistent in San Francisco, where he loved playing. He had a 106 OPS+ his first full year there, then was between 111 and 121 each of the next five years, with three seasons of 118. He was not as dominant as he had been in some of his Atlanta years, but he still hit 20 homers a few times and always was in the top 10 in the NL in walks, finishing second in the 1978 NL with 105 walks. He briefly lost his job for the 1982 Giants to Tom O'Malley and began to move to first base that year. He had his best season there with the 1983 Giants, hitting .277/.378/.516 for a 150 OPS+ with 94 runs, 82 walks and 30 homers. He made only his second (and last) All-Star team, was 8th in the 1983 NL in OBP, 5th in slugging, 4th in OPS, 14th in MVP voting, 5th in runs, 8th in total bases, 5th in homers, 4th in OPS+ and eighth in walks. He asked the team to trade him to a contender but they said no one was interested.

[edit] Not fading quietly away

Becoming a free agent, 18 teams bid for his services. He signed with the 1984 Tigers but was benched after his typical slow start. He became a regular again but only hit .232/.353/.384, a 106 OPS+ not being enough for a DH/1B. He did get to play in his only World Series, though he was just 1 for 15 (with 4 walks) in the Series; Detroit won and he got his lone ring.

In '85, the 38-year-old became the oldest player to win a home run crown and also became the first player to hit 40 homers in a year in both the NL and American League. Barry Bonds would later lead his league in homers at an older age, but the circumstances were questioned by some in the media. The 138 OPS+ Darrell put up that year was the third-best of his career. Evans beat out 37-year-old Carlton Fisk for the home run title in a duel of veterans. He was 5th in the AL in slugging, 8th in OBP and seventh in walks.

Evans remained productive for several more years. At age 40, he scored 90, drove in 99, walked 100 times, hit 34 times and had a 135 OPS+. He was 3rd in the AL in homers and 4th in walks and finished 12th in MVP voting, his highest placement. He hit 100+ home runs for the Braves, Tigers and Giants; only Reggie Jackson reached that mark for three different teams in the 20th Century other than Evans; Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome and Adrián Beltre would do so overlapping the 20th and 21st Centuries.

He only hit .208 at 41, but still had a 105 OPS+ and was sixth in walks. He finally fell below 100 again in OPS+ with the 1989 Braves, going back to where he had begun his major-league career.

[edit] Career Analysis

Evans' career .248 BA might be one the most deceiving statistics in baseball history. Bill James wrote that Evans was "probably the most underrated player in baseball history." While not all agree with the argument forwarded by James, the opinion is shared by many with a statistical inclination, as Evans' low average and high walk combination is one underappreciated by many. With a sharp eye at the plate, Evans walked over 100 times in five seasons and retired with a career .361 OBP. It is common to point out that Darrell and contemporary Dwight Evans (no relation) were both overlooked throughout their careers. Additionally, Darrell spent most of his career in the same league and at the same position as Mike Schmidt or Ron Santo, which led to his being overshadowed. James ranks him as the #10 third baseman of all-time and points out that he clearly was superior to another contemporary and Hall of Famer, Tony Perez. He only got 1.7% of the vote in the one time he was on the Hall of Fame ballot, clearly far less than he deserved. Evans was the second player with 400 career homers to miss out on the Hall during the first 15-year selection perid (the prior one was a far more one-dimensional threat, Dave Kingman). As of 2006, he ranked 39th all-time in MLB in homers (414), 10th in walks (1,605) and 44th in times on base.

[edit] Record

On his 41st birthday, Evans hit a home run off Chris Bosio: this is the oldest birthday home run ever. (Bob Thurman, Joe Morgan, Wade Boggs and Tony Phillips each homered on their 40th birthdays.)

[edit] Anecdote

When Eddie Mathews became an Atlanta coach, he told Evans, "I was just like you when I first came up...I couldn't catch the ball and I couldn't throw either." Mathews spent untold hours helping Evans improve his fielding skills. Evans recently commented, "Eddie would hit hard liners and grounders to me at third then, as I got better, he would gradually move up the line and hit them even harder." Even today, Evans credits Mathews with making him into a solid third sacker.

[edit] Post-playing career

Evans was a member of the New York Yankees coaching staff in 1990. He was a coach for the 1995 Michigan Battle Cats and managed the independent Tyler WildCatters in 1997, the Wilmington Blue Rocks for the first half of the 1998 season, the Huntsville Stars in 1999 and the Aberdeen Arsenal in 2000. After a few years when he mainly coached in fantasy camps, he returned as manager of the Long Beach Armada in the Golden Baseball League from 2005 to 2007 and is currently the hitting coach of the Orange County Flyers.

Sources include 1968, 1970 and 1971 Baseball Guides, The Fall of the Roman Umpire by Ron Luciano and the new Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 2-time NL All-Star (1973 & 1983)
  • AL Home Runs Leader (1985)
  • 2-time NL Bases on Balls Leader (1973 & 1974)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 10 (1973-1975, 1978, 1980, 1983 & 1985-1988)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 4 (1973, 1983, 1985 & 1987)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 2 (1973 & 1985)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (1973)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1973)
  • Won a World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 1984

[edit] Year-By-Year Minor League Managerial Record

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1997 Tyler WildCatters Texas-Louisiana League 48-40 Independent Leagues
1998 Wilmington Blue Rocks Carolina League 53-38 -- Kansas City Royals replaced by Kevin Long on July 17
1999 Huntsville Stars Southern League 64-77 8th Milwaukee Brewers
2000 Aberdeen Arsenal Atlantic League 56-83 7th Independent Leagues
2005 Long Beach Armada Golden Baseball League 49-41 3rd (t) Independent Leagues Lost in playoffs
2006 Long Beach Armada Golden Baseball League 37-43 4th Independent Leagues
2007 Long Beach Armada Golden Baseball League 48-28 1st Independent Leagues Lost League Finals
2009 Victoria Seals Golden Baseball League 32-50 8th Independent Leagues
2010 St. George Roadrunners Golden Baseball League 23-58 9th Independent Leagues

[edit] Further Reading

  • Darrell Evans: "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, August 1987, pp. 79-80. [1]
  • David L. Fleitz: "Darrell Evans", in Mark Pattison and David Raglin, ed.: Detroit Tigers 1984: What A Start! What A Finish!, SABR Publications, Phoenix, AZ, 2012, pp. 65-68. ISBN 1933599448

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