Despite a brief major league career of just 17 games and 52.2 innings pitched, Chick Evans left a distinct mark on the annals of baseball history--a perfect game in which not a single batter hit a ball out of the infield. Only eight years after achieving the height of perfection, however, Evans died of gonorrhea a few weeks short of his 27th birthday, giving him one the shortest life spans of any major league player from the great state of Vermont.
Charles Franklin Evans was born in Arlington on October 15, 1889. Somehow he acquired the nickname "Chick"; it may have been short for "Chickory," as he was called by at least one sportswriter, but more likely it was just a common nickname for people named Charles. Evans grew up in North Bennington and attended Burr & Burton Seminary in Manchester, where he was the captain and star pitcher of the baseball team. The 1906 edition of the school's yearbook, The Burtonian, gives an indication of Evans' ability: "The battery work this year is such as has never before been exhibited on these grounds. Captain Evans has been a power in the box that all opposing teams found was not to be trifled with."
Chick Evans' high school career included at least two matchups against a pitcher named "Fisher" of Middlebury High School. Later a teammate of Chick's at Hartford in 1908, "Fisher" of course was the great Ray Fisher, who won 100 big league games and outlived Evans by 66 years. In their first duel, which occurred at the fairgrounds in Manchester Center on May 6, 1905, Evans pitched a three-hitter and struck out 14 en route to a 7-1 victory. One month later, Fisher was the winner in a 10-inning, 4-3 contest at Middlebury College that the Rutland Herald described as "one of the fastest played on the college diamond for a long time."
After graduating from Burr & Burton in 1907, Evans joined a semi-pro team in Hoosick Falls, New York, where he was spotted by "Buttermilk" Tommy Dowd. A Brown alumnus who also studied law at Georgetown, Dowd was a ten-year big league veteran who last appeared in the majors with the Boston Americans in 1901. Following his big league days, he played and managed in several minor and independent leagues (including a stint in Vermont's Northern League with Burlington in 1904) and coached the college teams at Amherst and Williams.
Dowd was managing Hartford of the Connecticut League at the time, and he signed Evans to a contract for the 1908 season. The Vermonter won 13 games as an 18-year-old rookie, but his outing against Bridgeport on July 21, 1908, is what really made major league teams take notice. The following account appeared in the Hartford Times:
There was not a fly or a ground ball handled by the Hartford outfielders during the entire game. Only twenty-seven men faced Evans in the nine innings. Ten of these struck out. He fanned at least one man in eight of the nine innings, and in the sixth and ninth had two in each to his credit. Nearly all of the crowd of 1,500 stayed until the end, hoping that Chick would turn the trick. He fanned the last two in the ninth inning. After the game the crowd gathered around Evans and congratulated him on his great pitching feat.
After Evans won ten games by the halfway point of the 1909 season, Hartford sold him to the Boston Nationals on July 21. The Doves, as they were then known, stood at the bottom of the National League standings, but manager Harry Smith nonetheless kept Evans on the bench until September 19. He pitched in a total of only four games for Boston that season, finishing with a record of 0-3.
The 1910 season started on a much better note for Chick Evans. On opening day, April 14, Boston beat the New York Giants 3-2 in 11 innings, and Evans pitched one-hit ball over the last three innings to pick up the win. It was his only major league victory, even though Sporting Life credited Evans with additional wins on July 7 and July 20. For a while, in fact, Evans, with a record of 3-0, appeared in some newspapers at the top of the list of the leading pitchers in the National League (it was customary at the time to rank pitchers in order of winning percentage). Both The Baseball Encyclopedia and Total Baseball, however, list Evans' record in 1910 as 1-1 (he lost his only start of the year on August 27). What happened to his two additional wins?
For that answer, we must turn to SABR member Frank Williams, the acknowledged expert on won-lost decisions prior to 1920. Williams writes:
Evans' official record in 1910 is 1-1. The listing in Sporting Life, the New York Times, etc., for the most part gave the win to the pitcher who was pitching when his team took the lead in the game. The official scorers in the A.L. and the N.L. followed the practices set forth by Ban Johnson and Irwin M. Howe in the A.L., and John Heydler in the N.L.
These practices were basically the same for both leagues and were different than the ones used by Sporting Life, the New York Times, etc. They were official, however, and that is why all the record books show Evans at 1-1 in 1910.
Following the 1910 season, the Hoosick Falls council of the Knights of Columbus engaged Evans to pitch for an all-star aggregation of minor leaguers in a game on October 12 against the Bennington council. With Evans on the mound, Hoosick Falls must have felt confident that it would win the $100 prize wagered on the annual Columbus Day game.
Little did the New Yorkers know that the Bennington council had hired the Boston Red Sox, who had played an exhibition game in Burlington just two days earlier. With Smokey Joe Wood and Ray Collins splitting the mound duties, the "Bensox" won 11-1 in a game described by the Bennington Free Press as a "runaway for the Speed Boys." The minor league all-stars "by comparison looked like a lot of children." Evans was the losing pitcher, giving up nine runs in just four innings.
That game was an omen of things to come, for Evans' baseball career and life were all downhill after 1910. He pitched briefly with Montreal of the Eastern League in 1911 (where he teamed with fellow Vermonters Jean Dubuc and George Leclair), then with Syracuse of the New York State League in 1912. Newspaper reports indicate that he developed arm trouble. By 1916 he was living in Schenectady, New York, where he worked in the munitions department of the General Electric Company. He also played the outfield for the company baseball team.
Evans became ill later that year. He was hospitalized in Schenectady's Ellis Hospital from the end of July until his death on September 2, 1916. The Schenectady Gazette reported that Evans "at times had given promise of recovery. For the next week and a half his condition had been very poor and his death was expected momentarily. During the last week he was unconscious most of the time."
Death notices appeared in the Gazette, the Bennington Free Press and The Sporting News, all three giving slightly differing accounts of his life and career. Evans' death certificate listed the cause of death as "general septicemia and acute gonorrheal endocarditis," with a "cerebral embolism" listed as contributory. His funeral was held at his brother's home in North Bennington, where he was laid to rest on September 4, 1916.
A version of this biography originally appeared in Green Mountain Boys of Summer: Vermonters in the Major Leagues 1882-1993, edited by Tom Simon (New England Press, 2000).
In researching this article, the author made use of the subject's file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, the Tom Shea Collection, the archives at the University of Vermont, and several local newspapers.