New England baby boomer sports fans are a romantic lot. In this spirit there are local athletes from the 1960s and 70s who enjoy a lifetime of love owed to accomplishments from 30 or 40 years ago. Not necessarily Hall of Famers, the local legends are routinely showered with affection if they appear at a card show or merely stroll around the corridors of Fenway, Gillette, or the Boston Garden.
These are guys like Luis Tiant, Terry O’Reilly, Bill Lee, Steve Grogan, Freddie Lynn . . .
And Dwight Evans.
Dewey. Best right fielder we ever saw. The man who made The Catch of Joe Morgan’s long drive in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The man who got the big hits and provided the big moments in those years when the Red Sox annually almost won it all.
Tiant and Evans get Hall of Fame support from Boston fans, but have gone unappreciated by those with the keys to Cooperstown. Here in Red Sox Nation, we know that Luis was every bit as good, or better than contemporaries Don Drysdale and Catfish Hunter. Those two sailed into Cooperstown, but Luis never got the gold-plated pass needed for induction. El Tiante was bounced from the writer’s ballot, moved to the Veteran’s Committee and subsequently came up short again and again. Crazy. Who else would you want in a “must-win” game?
And now it is Dewey’s turn to wait and wonder. It was announced last week that Evans is one of 10 candidates who will be considered when the Modern Baseball Era Committee convenes in San Diego in December at baseball’s annual Winter Meetings. Evans is on a ballot alongside estimable candidates Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Lou Whitaker, and former labor boss Marvin Miller.
“I’m not sure what to think right now, but it’s nice,’’ Evans said when I reached him via phone over the weekend.
Evans played 20 big league seasons, 19 for the Red Sox, hitting 385 homers and winning eight Gold Gloves. During the 1980s, Evans led the majors in extra-base hits and ranked second to Rickey Henderson in getting on base. He hit more homers than any American League players in the 1980s. He has more career hits than Joe DiMaggio and more homers than Jim Rice. Despite all that, he lasted only three years on the BBWAA ballot, failing to get the required five percent of votes cast when he fell off in 1999.
“It was disappointing,’’ he acknowledged. “I wondered why. There were a lot of things going on at that time. There were guys hitting 60, 70 home runs. So 400 home runs was not the criteria anymore. It was 550. But I always thought you should be judged in your era, your generation.’’
No player improves in retirement, but some get surges of consideration after they drop from the writer’s ballot. This happened to Evans last winter when outfielder/designated hitter Harold Baines was voted into the Hall by the Today’s Game Era Committee.
Wait, what? Harold Baines? Nice hitter. Good guy. But a one-dimensional player who was clearly not as good as Dwight Evans. It turned out to be a Richard Daley-esque, back-channel, Cook County bag job orchestrated by Baines’s former White Sox bosses, Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony LaRussa, who were part of the 16-voter committee.
The fallout was swift. Baines was a good player and a swell guy, but not considered Hall-worthy outside of the 312 area code.
Dwight Evans’s phone started ringing. Everybody knows he was better than Baines.
“I was happy for Harold,’’ Evans remembered. “But I had a lot of questions from other people asking, ‘What about you?’ It was nice to hear that after being out of the game for 27, 28 years. It was nice that people were talking about me in that manner.’’
A year later, Evans gets his shot with a new 16-man committee, which will meet and vote on the 10 candidates Dec. 8. Committee members have not been identified and this is intentional. The Hall discourages outside lobbying on this issue.
In most years, a veteran’s committee panel will include a combination of eight or nine Hall of Fame members, four or five baseball executives, and two or three media representatives. Voters can vote for no more than four candidates. A candidate must appear on at least 12 ballots to earn induction.
In order to be elected, Evans will need someone in the room to champion his cause. He would be best served if someone from Boston (John Harrington, Peter Gammons, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice) is a member of the new 16-person committee.
The wait can be stressful. Lovable Luis Tiant’s had his heart broken a couple of times by this process.
“I wasn’t thinking about it until you called me,’’ Evans said. “It would be great. If certain guys get in, I think I’m right there. There’s a lot of new stats that we didn’t have. Now they have stats on how many runs did you stop from scoring. I wish they had that when I played. I look at my numbers and extra-base hits and home runs and I always thought they were right on the edge and I always thought that my defensive ability would put me through. I really don’t like talking like this to be honest with you. It’s something that speaks for itself. I don’t really think I have to speak to it or speak about it.’’
Dwight Evans gave us his game at Fenway in right field for 19 summers. We know what we saw.