SABR

Nat Evans

This article was written by Bruce Allardice.

Nat Evans: from his 1920 passport applicationNat Evans: from his 1920 passport applicationIn the course of researching Sport Sullivan’s life, I became curious about the Arnold Rothstein associate “Nat Evans,” who allegedly was sent by Rothstein to monitor Sullivan and monitor how the 1919 World Series fix was going.

Who was this Nat Evans? Why did Arnold Rothstein — not known to be trusting — trust him to monitor the Fix?

The writer Damon Runyon often wrote of his friend Nat Evans as a genteel, “high-class sporting man … one of the nicest chaps I ever met.”1 But this genteel façade concealed a checkered, often violent, past. The bottom line is that Nat Evans was a large-scale operator in his own right, someone who moved in the highest social circles, and had plenty of experience in betting, plenty of experience in illegal activities, and plenty of success dodging the law. In short, Evans was someone Arnold Rothstein could trust to look after (Rothstein’s) interests in the World Series fix.

Nathaniel Isaac Evensky was born on April 11, 1876,2 in Russia, the son of Julius (aka Jacob) and Libby (Margolin) Evensky. The family emigrated to the U.S. in 1883, settling in St. Louis, where the elder Evensky and Nat’s brother Morris set up a tinware shop.

Interestingly, the Evensky home was only a block away from the birthplace of Nat’s contemporary, future 1919 World Series fixer Carl Zork. This brings up a tantalizing possibility: Evans’ St. Louis background and connections might explain why St. Louis gamblers such as Zork (1878-1947) were in on the Fix so early. Evans, rather than Abe Attell, may have passed the word to Zork to let his hometown buddy in on a sure thing.3

City directories list young Nat as a clerk at the family shop in 1894 and 1895. Around 1896 he married Fanny Grossberg, and had a son Julius (Jules). His brother moved to Memphis in that year. Soon afterward, Nat — who had Americanized his Jewish name to Evans or, alternatively, Evens — abandoned his St. Louis wife and his family, and struck out on his own.4

The first sure newspaper notice we have of Evans is his coming to Tampa, Florida, around 1902. He and his partner, Jake Goldstein, are reported as well-known Tampa gamblers. Some newspaper articles assert that Evens/Evans (the newspapers generally use the latter, more familiar spelling) is well-known in Southern “sporting” circles even at this early date.

By 1903 Evans had relocated to Savannah, Georgia, and worked for a gambling house there. That summer marks his first known arrest. Evans was involved in a drunken “shooting affray” in Savannah at the saloon of Gad D. Bryan, “the well-known chief sport of Savannah.” It appears Evans was drinking with some fellow gamblers when one made a remark against Evans’s boss, gambler “Big Jim” Doss, which offended Evans, who began shooting. When the smoke cleared, four men were wounded, including Evans, shot through the lungs.5 Originally thought to be mortally wounded, Evans recovered. He was found guilty of shooting and given a light $500 fine by the judge, who thought Evans “had been led into the affray” by Doss.6

The next month Evans was charged with shooting and wounding Julius “Doc” Rosenthal. Rosenthal and another gambler, Tom Reynolds, had a drunken dispute with Doss and Evans over a faro game. A blow was struck, and then the parties commenced shooting. Evans was acquitted of the charge the next year.7

From Savannah, Evans and his old Tampa gambling buddy Jake Goldstein relocated to Augusta, Georgia, where in 1904 they were arrested for fixing up a gambling house. The police raid (which Goldstein blamed on a jealous rival gambler) revealed a room in which “all sorts of games were in progress. … The poker tables and dice tables predominated.” Among those arrested were many young men prominent in the city’s business circles.8

By 1906 Evans and Goldstein had set up yet another gambling den in Atlanta. The trade proved so brisk that they relocated to a larger mansion on the outskirts of Atlanta. “The Merchants Recreation Club” proved so popular that in several months, the partners allegedly cleared “a cool $100,000.” The club was “one of the most sumptuously furnished ever seen in the South. Every known paraphernalia for gambling was there, and fine drinks were served to the patrons.” According to the police, the paraphernalia included marked cards and loaded dice. Evans and Goldstein were arrested, released on bond, and later indicted, but by that time the partners had moved on and they were never brought to trial.9 As can be seen, Evans had a track record of evading jail time.

It appears Evans used his Southern gambling winnings to enter New York City, and city gambling, society. About 1910, Arnold Rothstein, the Considine brothers, and “fellow gambler Nat Evans” bought into the Holly Arms, a well-known hotel in Hewlett, Long Island, to run as a gambling resort. A 1911 article in the New York Sun details a raid on a gambling ring operating out of one of the Holly Arms’ guest cottages. While more than 300 formally attired guests attended a dance at the Holly Arms, county detectives carted away gambling paraphernalia, including two roulette tables and apparatus for playing craps and faro. The hotel burned down in 1926.10

Nat Evans and Mercedes Esqueu: 1919 World Series fixer with his second wife, circa 1925Nat Evans and Mercedes Esqueu: 1919 World Series fixer with his second wife, circa 1925Evans quickly established himself in New York society – or, at least, the raffish, new money part of society. Just before Christmas 1912, Evans, millionaire George Young Bauchle, playwright Wilson Mizner,11 and well-known bridge player John Shaughnessy (written up as four prominent “society” sports) were drinking at Rector’s Hotel in New York City when the conversation turned to the upcoming holidays. The group agreed they’d rather be somewhere else for Christmas, whereupon Bauchle, known for his madcap wagers, bet the group $1,000 each that they wouldn’t go right from the hotel, with just the clothes they had on, and take the Mauretania to Europe.

Mizner, Shaughnessy, and Evans accepted the challenge, hopped into a car, raced to the pier and purchased a stateroom. A few days later the chastened trio wired Bauchle, “We counted on getting clothes from the purser and the barber but we couldn’t get things to fit us.”12 One newspaper account of the escapade says that Evans is “famous for his collection of rare diamonds and women’s hearts.”13

Throughout the 1910s Evans kept his main address in Manhattan, living at the Biltmore or Commodore Hotel, managing his gambling interests and betting heavily on New York baseball.14 As a later newspaper put it, “Evans is known throughout the world as a gambler on a princely scale.”15 The one legal case he was involved in is the infamous 1918 cards scandal at Bauchle’s Partridge Club. Evans and Rothstein were two of the gamblers implicated in crooked card games.16

In early 1919, the George Saportas estate, Bonnybrook, in Saratoga Springs was put on the market. Arnold Rothstein, a frequent visitor to the Saratoga racetracks, put up $60,000 to purchase the estate, and considerably more to convert it into a posh gambling casino. The purchase was made by Evans’ chauffeur, who promptly resold the property to his boss for $100! Evans acted in partnership with Rothstein, who trusted Evans to run the casino in their mutual interest. As one author writes, “A.R. did not operate ‘The Brook’ by himself. At his side was New York gambler Nat Evans. … Evans and Rothstein controlled 56 percent of the place.” Reportedly, Rothstein bribed the local district attorney $50,000 to allow the Brook to operate.17

In the midst of starting up this quickly popular casino, Rothstein summoned Evans to New York to discuss the World Series fix. Rothstein dispatched Sport Sullivan to Chicago, with “Nat Evans along to supervise him. He told Evans to travel under the name of 'Brown' and gave him $80,000 cash for the fix. The whole idea bothered Evans. Too many people knew too much about it. Don’t worry, said A.R.: ‘If nine guys go to bed with a girl she’ll have a tough time proving the tenth is the father. …’”18

Sullivan and Evans went to Chicago, where Evans, posing as “Rachie Brown” (a small-time New York City gambler) to the players, handled much of the wagering end of the Fix. Reports on Evans/Brown’s involvement vary. Black Sox Lefty Williams testified that Sullivan and “Brown” met the players at Chicago’s Warner Hotel before the Series, to hammer out the details of the Fix. Late in life, World Series fixer Abe Attell asserted that Rothstein entrusted Evans with $100,000 to pay off the players, with instructions to withhold payment until the players threw the Series. Evans laid down large sums of cash — presumably Rothstein’s, plus anything else he could rustle up — on Cincinnati. According to Attell (admittedly not the most truth-telling of witnesses), Rothstein double-crossed Evans on some Series bets and the two had a falling-out. In the end, Evans gave Black Sox ringleader Chick Gandil the promised money, but it appears Gandil kept most of it.19

In October 1920 “Brown” and three other gamblers were indicted by the Cook County grand jury for their part in the Fix. Significantly, Nat Evans was not indicted, at least not under his own name. Cook County officials seem to have been unsure of “Brown’s” true identity, and if anything presumed the fixer “Brown” to be the aforementioned “Rachie” Brown. (Editor's note: There was a small-time New York criminal named Abram Braunstein, commonly known as Rachie Brown. See Bill Lamb's article "Who Was 'Rachael' Brown?" for more details.)

On April 1, 1921, St. Louis policeman Elias Hoagland detained four suspected gamblers at the Jefferson Hotel in St. Louis. They turned out to be Evans, Hyman Cohen, Elias Fink, and Rothstein bodyguard Sid Stajer. Found in their hotel room was evidence regarding the 1919 World Series, including one telegram warning “to beware Dickie Kerr (a “clean” Sox pitcher) – poison.” A brief news account of the matter described Evans as “the missing link” of the baseball scandal but Evans denied any connection to the affair, interposing the stock gripe that he had lost money betting on the White Sox.20 Despite being in custody, Evans was never brought to Chicago to testify. Black Sox author Bill Lamb points out that, at the time, “there was little to connect the suave Evans to the World Series Fix.”21

The April 8, 1921, Saratoga Springs Saratogian reported this arrest, and said that he arrived in Albany that afternoon. The article mentioned that he was under indictment for gambling by the local grand jury, along with gambler Abram (Rachie) Brown, and that both were under indictment by the Chicago “Black Sox” Grand Jury. The next day Evans was released under $3,000 bail.22 On May 2 Evans pled guilty to “keeping a gambling house” and was fined $500 — a slap on the wrist. The plea avoided a conviction on a more serious, nonmisdemeanor charge. Another newspaper report said that in exchange for a lighter sentence, Evans would testify against local public officials.23

Sometime around 1925, Rothstein sold his share of the Bonnybrook to Nat Evans.24 Evans kept busy elsewhere as well. At one time or another, he managed the Oriental Park racetrack casino in Havana, Cuba; the Deauville in Miami; Richard Canfield’s old casino in Newport, Rhode Island; and the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico. He was seen with the social elite. Among the owners who hired him at Agua Caliente were actor Wallace Beery and movie mogul Joe Schenck. One California newspaper asserted that Evans “enjoys a worldwide reputation in his line” as a casino boss.25

In the years following the acquittal of the Black Sox defendants, Evans was held in high regard, particularly by racetrack and boxing journalists. His presence at important horse races and championship fights was routinely noted, his name appearing in print alongside those of such notables as New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker, Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Babe Ruth, and songwriter Irving Berlin. There was even a racehorse named for him. The generosity of Nat Evans and “other wealthy sportsmen” in hosting disabled war veterans at a boxing show drew the praise of sports scribe James P. Dawson in the New York Times.26

Around 1933 Evans’ health started to fail. He sold his interest in the Brook and retired to a cottage in Saratoga Springs. There he lived peacefully, enjoying games of backgammon with his many old friends. Evans died on February 6, 1935, in a Manhattan hospital. He left an estate valued at a half-million dollars to his son.27

 

Notes

1 Damon Runyon, “The Brighter Side,” Chester (Pennsylvania) Times, July 26, 1937; David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003), 95. Runyon usually referred to him by his adopted name of Evens. It is said that Evens was the model for characters later made famous in the musical Guys and Dolls.

2 He gave his birthdate uniformly as April 11, but the year varied from 1876 to 1880. On his World War I draft registration he gave 1877, on his 1920 passport application 1879, and on his 1927 passenger list, 1880. On these documents he claimed to have been born in St. Louis and/or Missouri. The middle name is from the New York Sun, February 21, 1918. This biography is adapted from my article “Nat Evans: More Than a Rothstein Associate,” Black Sox Scandal Research Committee Newsletter, June 2014, 14-17.

3 Evans may also have tried to disguise the New York origins of the Fix by having the heavy betting coming from St. Louis gamblers with no known connection to Rothstein.

4 Per his death certificate. In 1924 Evans married again, to Cuban-born Mercedes Esqueu. The couple divorced by 1930. His early years have heretofore been shrouded in mystery, so much so that even his descendants are unsure what he did. Great-nephew Devin Evensky said brother Morris disapproved of Nat’s gambling, and the two drifted apart.

5 “Pistols in Play,” Tampa Tribune, June 30, 1903.

6 “Nat Evans Heavily Fined,” Macon Telegraph, November 7, 1903.

7 “Doss is Robbed While He Is Dying,” Macon Telegraph, December 25, 1903; “Nat Evans Acquitted,” Macon Telegraph March 20, 1904; “Evans’ Trial Begins Today,” Atlanta Constitution, February 9, 1904; “Nat Evans Acquitted in Savannah Yesterday,” Augusta Chronicle, July 15, 1904.

8 “A Gambling House Raided last Night,” Augusta Chronicle, January 31, 1904; “Gamblers in Hard Luck,” Tampa Tribune, February 2, 1904.

9 “Gambling Dens for Atlanta?,” Atlanta Constitution, October 21, 1906; ”Many Indicted in Gaming Case,” Atlanta Georgian and News, March 9, 1907; “Goldstein and Evans Indicted,” Augusta Chronicle, March 10, 1907. Evans is not on the 1910 census, at least under his own name. Being under indictment, he had reason to lay low. With his extensive Southern gambling connections Evans is clearly the “old friend” for whom Abe Attell kept silent about the Fix for as long as Evans was alive. See Damon Runyon, “Attell Keeps Secret of Black Sox Scandal,” Washington Post, October 4, 1939. Attell said as much in his statement to writer Eliot Asinof in 1959. See Asinof papers, Chicago History Museum.

10 Pietrusza, Rothstein, 93. “Raid Hewletts Casino Again,” New York Sun, August 28, 1911; For another raid, see “Prosecutor Weeks Raids Holly Arms,” New York Sun, August 12, 1919.

11 The Sondheim musical Road Show is based on Wilson Mizner.

12 Pietruszca, Rothstein, 96. See “Legend of a Sport,” New Yorker October 24, 1942, 25; “Take Trip to Europe After $1,000 Wagers,” New York Evening Telegram, December 20, 1912.

13 “Sailed With Only Clothes They Wore,” Salt Lake City Telegram, December 20, 1912. Evans, Mizner and Shaughnessey returned to New York on the Kaiserin August Victoria, which sailed from Cherbourg on January 19, 1913. The passenger list shows “N.I. Evans” 36, born St. Louis, residence 156 W. 44th St., NYC.

14 “Heavy Gambling on Baseball Race With Giants Favorites,” Greensboro (North Carolina) Daily News, June 8, 1913.

15 “Reform in Saratoga,” Ballston Spa (New York) Daily Journal, May 6, 1921.

16 “Kitty Paid for $30 a Plate Dinner at Partridge Club,” New York Tribune, February 21, 1918. “More Big Hotels Harbor Gambling, Swann Charges,” New York Tribune, February 23, 1918.

17 Pietruszca, Rothstein, 124-125. See also Jon Bartels, Saratoga Stories: Gangsters, Gamblers & Racing Legends (Lexington: Eclipse Press, 2007).

18 Pietrusza, Rothstein, 154-155.

19 Abe Attell statement, September 29, 1960, Asinof papers, Chicago History Museum. Abe Attell, “The True Story of the World Series Fix,” Cavalier magazine, October 1961. See also William F. Lamb, Black Sox in the Courtroom (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Co., 2013). William F. Lamb, “A Black Sox Mystery: The Identity of Defendant Rachael Brown,” Base Ball, A Journal of the Early Game, vol. 4, no. 2, Fall 2010, 5-11.

20 Ray Gillespie, “St. Louis Policeman Recalls Details of Black Sox Case,” The Sporting News, October 9, 1957. "Four New Yorkers Held / Arrested in St Louis on Suspicion – Evans Denies Baseball Bribery,” New York Times, April 2, 1921.

21 Lamb, Black Sox in the Courtroom, 99.

22 “Nat Evans Brought East by Saratoga County Deputy,” Saratoga Springs Saratogian, April 8, 1921; “Evans Gives $3,000 Bail,” Saratoga Springs Saratogian, April 9, 1921;

23 “Andrus Trial Next Monday,” Ballston Spa Daily Journal, May 2, 1921; “Reform in Saratoga,” Ballston Spa Daily Journal, May 6, 1921; “Andrus Case Will Go On Tomorrow,” Saratoga Springs Saratogian, May 10, 1921.

24 Pietrusza, Rothstein, 134.

25 “Cuban Track Heavy,” Daily Racing Form, December 4, 1924; Damon Runyon Columns: “Runyon,” Chester Times December 29, 1932; “Runyon,” Chester Times August 4, 1934; “The Brighter Side,” Lowell Sun, September 18, 1944; “The Brighter Side,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Evening Gazette, April 8, 1946; Tom Akers, “Agua Caliente Jockey Club Head Makes 2 Important Announcements,” San Diego Evening Tribune, December 16, 1932.

26 Lamb, “A Black Sox Mystery”; “Boxers Are Ready for Garden Bouts,” New York Times, October 20, 1929; “Notables to Attend Milk Fund Bouts,” New York Times, June 26, 1929; “Fight Broadcast Heard by Millions,” New York Times, June 22, 1932.

27 “Evens, Brook Club Proprietor, Dies in New York City,” Saratoga Springs Saratogian, February 6, 1935; “Nate Evens Left Half Million and No Will; Son Heir,” Saratoga Springs Saratogian, February 10, 1935.

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.