Friday, April 18, 2014

Card #17: Darrell Evans

Who Can It Be Now?
Darrell Wayne Evans was born on May 26, 1947, in Pasadena, California.  According to Baseball Reference, he had the nickname Howdy Doody -- even wearing "Howdy" on his uniform when Ted Turner changed the players' names to their nicknames in 1976 in one of his many publicity stunts. 

Evans graduated from John Muir HS in Pasadena in 1965 and, according to his LinkedIn page, received his associate degree in History, Astronomy, and Accounting in 1967 from Pasadena City College.  That would be one hell of a curriculum to complete in two years.

Thanks to the multiple player drafts baseball used to hold before consolidating everything into the June Draft and thanks to his attending a junior college, Evans was drafted five times -- by the Cubs in the 13th round of the regular June draft in 1965, by the Yankees in round 2 of the 1966 January Secondary draft, by the Tigers in round 5 of the 1966 June Secondary draft, by the Phillies in the 3rd round of the 1967 January Secondary draft, and finally by the Kansas City Athletics in Round 7 of the 1967 June Secondary draft. 

After all that, Evans's stay in the A's organization lasted only one year -- the Braves selected him in the Rule 5 draft in 1968.  According to his biography as part of the SABR Biography Project, he was available because he had torn ligaments in his shoulder and also because the A's had their third baseman of the future selected already -- Sal Bando.

Evans was only slightly past halfway through his career in 1982 despite being 34 years old. He continued playing in the majors through 1989, retiring then at the age of 42 after a season with the Atlanta Braves.  Evans lasted for as long as he did in large part due to his abilities at the plate,though early in his career he was also a pretty good fielding third baseman.  He was selected to two all-star teams 10 years apart as a reserve -- in 1973 and in 1983, which, judging by OPS+ were his two best seasons in the major leagues. 

Still, he did not receive great acclaim as an offensive player other than for the seasons that he hit a bunch of home runs.  In many respects, Darrell Evans could be seen as the original "Moneyball" player.  Evans did not blow you away with great batting averages -- I mean, he was a lifetime .248 hitter.  But, if you look at his OBP -- .361 lifetime -- and his isolated power (basically, SLG minus BA) of .183 -- you can see how his skills would be valued much more highly today than they were in the "give me batting average and runs batted in" 1980s.  

In recent years, Evans has gotten his due from a number of bloggers and other authors.  One ranking placed him as the 54th Greatest Detroit Tigers player of all-time for his five seasons in Motown -- from the ages of 37 through 41, he his 141 HR, drove in 405, walked 437 times against 433 strikeouts, and had an OPS+ of 121.  

One frequently quoted line from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is that James called Evans, "the most underrated player in baseball history, absolutely number one on the list."  That was in the context of calling Evans one of the ten best third basemen ever in the Abstract written over ten years ago now.  The top 10:  

  1. Mike Schmidt
  2. George Brett
  3. Eddie Mathews
  4. Wade Boggs
  5. Frank "Home Run" Baker
  6. Ron Santo
  7. Brooks Robinson
  8. Paul Molitor
  9. Stan Hack
  10. Darrell Evans
Thinking about this ranking since over 10 years has passed, would it change at all?

After his career, Evans became a minor league hitting instructor and manager, including a year managing the Huntsville Stars in the AA Southern League for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1998.  In 2005, he returned home to Southern California and served as manager or hitting instructor various teams in the independent Golden Baseball League 

Trivial Pursuit
Darrell Evans has some great trivia that surrounds his career.  

For example, he was on first base when Hank Aaron hit home run #715 -- not that this video shows Evans other than, perhaps, in the mob greeting Hank at home plate, but try not to get a chill up your spine when you watch the home run and listen to the radio call:

A second point of trivia: in the year prior to that historic home run -- 1973 -- Evans, Davey Johnson, and Hank Aaron were the first teammates to each hit 40 home runs in the same season.

Despite growing up in Pasadena, California, Evans was a Milwaukee Braves fan because his idol was Eddie Mathews.  Mathews was Evans's manager in 1873 and part of 1974 with the Atlanta Braves.  Evans gives Mathews an assist for helping Evans develop as a fielder at third base as well.  

In 1985, Evans hit 40 home runs for the Detroit Tigers at the age of 38.  This allowed him to set two records:  he was the first player to hit 40 home runs in both the American and the National Leagues, and he became the oldest player in American League history at that time to hit 40 home runs.  

Totally Gnarly
In 1982, Evans got a new nickname: UFO.  He received it because he spoke often about his wife and him seeing a an unidentified flying object.  The book Detroit Tigers 1984: What a Start! What a Finish! quotes Evans telling USA Today, "I believe there is something out there.  If there are aliens, they've been out there longer than we have.  They've evolved beyond war.  They've got through it and they want to come and show us how.  I hope it happens."

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
In 1982, Evans was still a National Leaguer.  So, he was not high on my radar.  When he came to Detroit, he was not a guy that I feared my Brewers facing -- that fear was reserved for guys like Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell, and Kirk Gibson from that 1984 Tigers team.  A quick check of his splits from his career supports this -- even though he got on base frequently against Milwaukee with a .392 OBP -- his second highest as against any club -- he did not hit for a ton of power -- 10 HR in 222 plate appearances, but 50 walks.

Nonetheless, as shown by the respect given to Evans by guys like Bill James, many bloggers have asked the question as to whether Darrell Evans belongs in the Hall of Fame.  It's a tough question in many respects.

Evans appeared on the ballot only one time -- in 1995 -- and received a meager 8 votes out of a possible 460.  Why is that?  How could Bill James's statistical analysis put Evans as the #10 third baseman of all-time, yet baseball writers pretty much ignored him?

Obviously, the first issue is that 1995's BBWAA is much different than even today's group. In 1995, a ton of those writers voting would have begun caterwauling about declining standards for Hall of Famers had they inducted a guy into the Hall who had a career batting average of .248.  

Second, the one guy who was inducted happened to play the exact same position and was a nearly exact contemporary for Evans's entire career -- and, let's be clear, Mike Schmidt is the best third baseman ever.  As a voter, it is easy to compare and contrast guys like that, and Evans would always pale in comparison.  

Even assuming that the writers in 1995 could get past that issue, look at the rest of the third-base competition -- Dick Allen, Ron Santo, Greg Nettles, and Buddy Bell.  Comparing using advanced metrics is enlightening in some respects.  

  • While Evans was 10th for the entire group up for election in 1995 in WAR, for example, every single one of the third basemen listed was ahead of him.  Schmidt was 1st, Santo 3rd, Nettles 4th, Bell 7th, and Allen 9th.  
  • The same is true using Jay Jaffe's JAWS system -- Schmidt 1st, Santo 3rd, Nettles 5th, Bell 6th, Allen 7th, and Evans 11th this time.  
  • Like OPS+? That measure puts Allen 1st, Schmidt 2nd, Santo 9th, Evans 12th, Nettles 17th, and Bell 18th.
  • Straight OBP? Schmidt 2nd, Allen 3rd, Santo 6th, Evans 8th, Bell 16th, Nettles 19th.
  • Only in HRs does Evans get to the top of the chart -- 2nd behind Schmidt's 548.
I am not going to say that Evans was not a very good player.  His case, though, is the opposite side of the Ron Guidry coin.  Guidry couldn't stay healthy, came up later, and retired earlier, so he did not have large enough counting stats to the voters to get in.  On the other hand, Evans came up at age 22 and 23 for cups of coffee and played till age 42.  Despite this, Evans did not reach any major milestone other than 400 HRs.  

That's nothing to sneeze at, certainly.  Yet, it will never be enough on its own or even in conjunction with the other advanced metrics to get Darrell Evans into the Hall of Fame.  The steroid era has warped our expectations for the elite power hitters -- even though the BBWAA is keeping guys like McGwire and Bonds out of the Hall currently, the statistics from the steroid set are still factoring in to how guys from previous eras are being evaluated.  400 HRs just is not good enough -- especially without more elite numbers at the end of a long career.  

I just don't see a way in for Evans.

No comments:

Post a Comment