Dwight Evans: Hall of Fame Individual

Dwight Evans is one of the most beloved players in Red Sox history. Known for his class and dignity almost as much as for what he did on the field, the man affectionately known as “Dewey” played more games in a Red Sox uniform than anyone except Carl Yastrzemski. A member of the star-crossed 1975 and 1986 teams, he also played in some of Boston’s most-memorable games.

An underrated hitter throughout much of his career, Evans hit .272/.370/.470, with 385 home runs, and no player in baseball had more extra-base hits during the decade of the 1980s. Widely regarded as he best defensive right fielder of his era, he won eight Gold Gloves. Bill James has called him “one of the most-underrated players in baseball history.”

As good as he was between the lines — his numbers compare favorably to several players enshrined in Cooperstown — Dwight Evans has been an even better husband and father.

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Evans, on The Catch [1975]

“It was the eleventh inning, and Ken Griffey was on first base. At the time, he was probably the fastest guy in the game. Joe Morgan is batting, and I’m thinking all kinds of scenarios: `What if he hits it over my head? What if he hits it in the gap?’ I’m thinking that I have to go into the stands to catch it if I have to, because if we lose, there’s no tomorrow. All of these scenarios are going through my head.

“All great plays are actually made in your mind before they’re made in real time. You have to anticipate. A player like Ozzie Smith, with all the great plays that he made, was thinking about making them before they even happened. That’s what I would do in right field.

“When Morgan hit the ball, it came right at me, but over my head. Normally a ball like that will start curving toward the right-field line, going from my right to my left, so I would always go toward the line a little bit when I was running back. This ball did not curve.

“When I watch replays, I see that the ball was kind of out over the plate. Had it been more middle-in, he would have hooked it; but he didn’t hook it. He hit down on it and it stayed straight. I’m turned and faced the right-field line, running straight back, and the ball isn‘t curving, it‘s actually getting behind me. I’ve gone too far.

“If I had 10,000 balls hit at me in right field, 9,997 of them curved toward the line. This one stayed straight. There were only two other guys where that ever happened to me in the outfield. One was Tony Oliva, and his [ball] actually went the other way — toward center field. The other was Cecil Cooper. Those were the only balls that were ever hit to me like that

“I‘m going back — the ball is behind me — and I actually lose sight of it. I lost the ball. I jumped up and threw my glove behind my head. That’s why I looked so awkward. I lost it for a split second. That’s a scary moment in any player’s mind. Somehow, the ball landed in my glove. I was surprised.
[Reds backup catcher] Bill Plummer was in the visiting bullpen, and he said the ball would have landed two or three rows back. The fence back there is low, about three feet high, and he said it would have cleared it had I not caught the ball.

“After I caught it, I turned around to throw the ball. I remember that Fisk was interviewed after he hit his home run in the 12th inning. They said, ‘How about that catch by Evans?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, it was a great catch, but the throw was lousy.’

“As I spun back around, the first thing I looked into was the lights. It was just like looking into the sun for a split second, like a sudden flash in your eyes. I threw it in the direction of first base and it was off by about 20 feet. Yaz caught the ball and flipped it over to Rick Burleson, who came over to cover first. It was a double play. It was a big play. It wasn’t the best catch I ever made, but it was the most important catch I ever made.”

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On Bill Buckner and Hendu’s Homer [1986]

“We were very confident going into Game Seven. Game Six was behind us. There wasn’t even a thought beyond the fact that we were going into a new game, a game that we wanted to win very badly.

“I homered in the second inning, off of Ron Darling, to put us up 1-0. It was a bomb that went over everything in left-center. Later, I hit a big double with none out in the eighth inning that scored two runs. We were still behind [6-5] but it made me the tying run and I was in scoring position. Rich Gedman then hit a line-drive to the second baseman. He hit the ball hard, but it didn’t move me over; I was still stuck at second base. Don Baylor was up next and hit a fly ball that would have scored me easily, for the tying run, had I been on third. I ended up stranded, and they hung on to win the game and the series.

“Afterwards, when I would travel, people would come up to me and say what a great World Series it was. At first, I would think, ‘What, are you nuts?’ But once time went by and I was able to look at it from a different perspective, I was able to appreciate what it was like for baseball fans — fans of teams other than the Red Sox or Mets — to watch that comeback in the sixth game, and then an exciting seventh game. It was a phenomenal series.

“Game Six was like Game Five of the [American League] playoffs, when we beat the Angels. That was when Dave Henderson hit a game-saving home run with two out in the ninth inning. I remember seeing [former Angels catcher] Bob Boone that winter. Bob said that he was watching on TV when the ball went through Bill Bucker‘s legs, and he jumped up and yelled, ‘How does that feel? how does that feel?’ What happened to us is what had happened to them. They had been one out away. As much as it killed us to lose to the Mets, it killed them just as much to lose to us, especially the way that it happened.

“To me, Dave Henderson’s home run was bigger than Carlton Fisk’s home run. Much bigger. We were going to be out of the series. Bernie Carbo’s home run was bigger than Fisk’s. I’m not taking anything away from Pudge. His home run was great — it was a game-winner — but the game was tied. Carbo’s home run came in the eighth inning with us down by three runs. It was huge. It was the second biggest home run I ever saw, right ahead of Fisk’s.

“When Henderson hit his home run, we had been pushed down, out of the dugout, by the stadium police. They had pushed us down into the runway. We were looking at Dave Henderson hitting through the legs of the stadium cops. He was fouling off pitch after pitch against Donnie Moore, who a few years later committed suicide. He was fouling off nasty forkballs, nasty pitches, and then connected with one to [save] the game. There were 65,000 people in the stadium and they were loud and ready to pour onto the field. To them it was like, game over. It was two outs, two strikes, and their top reliever was on the mound. Then, bam! Henderson hits one and we’re right back in it. We won in extra innings, then came back to Boston and won the next two easily. That, to me, is the biggest home run I ever saw.”

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On The Spiritual Home Run [1982]

“My son, Tim, has a disease called neurofibromatosis. He has had 40 major surgeries and one of them happened in 1982 when he was 12 years old. We were at the hospital, where he had just undergone a six- or seven-hour surgery, and after going through recovery he finally was brought up to the room. He was groggy, kind of out of it, but aware of things and able to communicate. I said, ‘Tim, I have to go to the ballpark. I love you and I’ll talk to you later; I’ll see you after the game.’ Then I kissed him on the forehead.

“When I got to the door, he said, ‘Dad, can you do me a favor?’ I said, ‘Sure, Tim, what’s that?’ He said, ‘Can you hit me a home run tonight?’ I hated to say yes, because it obviously isn’t that easy, but I came back to his bed and said, ‘Tim, I’ll hit you a home run tonight.’ I said goodbye and walked back over to the door, and he said, ‘Dad, can you do me another favor?’ I said, ‘Sure, Tim, what’s that?’ He said, ‘Can you hit me two home runs tonight?’ Now I don’t what to say. I hadn’t been sure that I should have promised one, and now he was asking for two. I had to get to the ballpark, so I said to him, ‘Tim, I’ll hit you two home runs tonight.’

“That night, he and Susan, my wife, watched the game at the hospital. He’s in and out, so Susan told him, ‘Tim, your dad just hit you a home run.’ Twice. It didn’t dawn on me until after the game what I had done. When you’re in the moment, and have your game face on, you’re not thinking, ‘Wow, I just hit a home run, and it was for Tim.’ But after the game, I realized what had happened. If there was ever a spiritual moment in my life, that was it. I knew that someone had been looking over me.

“When I got back to the hospital, he was still in and out, but very happy that I had hit two home runs. I was probably even happier. Sometimes I wish he had maybe asked me to hit a home run for him a thousand times.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Chris
Guest
Chris

Thanks for this article – it reminded me of one of my fondest baseball memories. I went to Fenway on June 23, 1990 with my sister. In the bottom of the 8th, Evans hit a home run to tie the game, a bright spot on a dreary cloudy day in a game that had to that point been pretty uneventful. Evans came up again in the 10th with a runner on, with the Sox now down a run. For the first time all day, the clouds parted and the sun lit up the park beautifully. My sister turned to me and made a comment about how the sun being out was a sign that Evans would do something great, and he hit the very next pitch for a walk off home run. I had never really looked back at just how impressive a day Evans had had that day until now. It turns out that in this game Evans had one of the highest single-game WPAs ever, and the highest of the 1990s.

Eric M. Van
Guest

The walk-off was against Gregg Olson, who had given up only 2 HR in his career — the last one being April 15th of the previous season. By Evans.

The walk-off, his career #373, was Evans most valuable career HR by WPA. The runner-up came less than two weeks later, when he hit #376, a 2-out 3-run bomb off of Rick Aguilera in the top of the 9th with the Sox down 2-1. His next was five weeks later, when he broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the 14th in Seattle with a 2-run shot off of Mike Schooler. That was the 15th most valuable HR of his career. Talk about swan songs: he would only hit 2 more in a Sox uni.

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