An off-the-wall Hall of Fame pick? Everybody has them. Or so you’d think, based on who’s picking whom as a Hall of Famer and who’s arguing against those choices. Lots of people pick Minnie Minoso (I’m one of them, by the way), and lots of other people think that’s a pick somewhere between the surreal and the snickerable. Lots of people put up with a lot of abuse for years over picking Ron Santo, but it turned out he was a bona-fide Hall of Famer and, at long enough last, a Veterans Committee group agreed well enough that Santo’s going in, albeit posthumously, this year. The previous sentence could be applied to Bert Blyleven, too, with the codicil that Blyleven didn’t have to wait until he had gone to his reward to accept his plaque, though he’s well on record as regretting only that his father didn’t live to see it happen. And how about all of us still pressing Tim Raines’s Hall of Fame case?
When Bill James wrote his splendid study of the Hall of Fame in the early 1990s (original title: The Politics of Glory; paperback re-title: Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?), he wrote this passage: “[X] is also one of the most underrated players in baseball history, because a) he did many things well, rather than having one central skill people could use to explain his excellence, and b) hitting for average wasn’t one of the things he did well. He’s not eligible yet, and I would rank him behind Tony Oliva but ahead of Dave Parker.”
[X] was Dwight Evans.
That was then; this is now. James has uncorked a splendid, full, elaborate written argument (at Grantland.com) on behalf of Dwight Evans as a Hall of Famer. Give it one read, and you’d be hard pressed to argue against him. If you ever saw Evans play, you’d be harder pressed to argue against James.
Evans did do several things well; Evans was an outstanding on-base man and a well-above-average defender in right field (he has a nice string of Gold Gloves to prove it), he’s among the top two hundred players in wins above replacement (Evans has a remarkable 61.8 WAR), he was one of the very few players who, legitimately, was better in his 30s than he was in his 20s. (Would you believe in his final major league season, at age 39, Evans posted a .398 on-base percentage? And it wasn’t exactly as a part-time player; he played 101 games that season.)
Evans played in a time when baseball mavens still considered batting average the be-all/end-all of offencive value and didn’t pay all that much attention to on-base percentage as a better or more accurate measure of run productivity, so Evans—whose on-base percentage fell below .370 only twice in his entire age decade of 30-39—was quite assuredly underrated.
I don’t know if I’d give up the ghost and proclaim Evans a bona-fide Hall of Famer just yet, but I don’t know that I’d argue too strenuously against him, either. Especially after reading James’s epistle.
FORGOTTEN FOIBLE: According to Dan Shaughnessy in 1990’s The Curse of the Bambino, Red Sox bat boy Jack Burke was among those who hammered the ill-fated 1986 Red Sox over downright greed when it came to dividing their 1986 World Series shares:
Dwight Evans is a very moody person, as well as a cheap one at that. He along with (first baseman Bill) Buckner, (designated hitter Don) Baylor, and (catcher Rich) Gedman were the biggest opposers of voting out World Series shares to the little people . . . (relief pitcher Steve Crawford) was famous for saying during the voting of shares, “F–k the clubhouse kids, I want to go on a fishing trip” . . . To this day I still have trouble comprehending the greed that these guys were filled with. It sickened me . . . (second baseman) Marty Barrett was almost embarrassed for his teammates’ greed, and during the off-season came back to give us more money. He and (relief pitcher Steve) Crawford almost had a fist fight in one of the meetings, because of (Crawford’s) comments about his fishing trip.
Take it as you will. In hand with Evans and his wife having long since established a fine and valuable charity, NF Inc., battling neurofibromatosis, with which their two sons were diagnosed in the 1990s.