SABR

Roy Evans

This article was written by Brian McKenna.

Roy Evans was an impressive prospect; he had a devastating curveball and worked his control and change of pace with authority. For a big guy, he wasn’t noted for his fastball. Regardless, Evans was routinely striking out 15, 20 or more hitters a game as a teenager playing semipro ball in his hometown of Emporia, Kansas. Unfortunately, few teams in pro ball found out just how good he was; he never stayed in one place long enough, often for reasons other than his pitching effectiveness. Evans was a crook; he was always scamming someone out of their cash.

Perhaps no player during the twentieth century burned more clubs in and out of organized baseball than Roy Evans. He tore up the telegraph lines and mail system agreeing to pitch with one club after another, always asking for cash in advance. More often than not he took the money and was never heard from again. Evans’ methods educated a generation of club executives and managers on the folly of doling out money over the winter. One burned executive after another placed Evans on the ineligible list. He was a charmer, usually squirming his way back into organized baseball. Rarely if ever did he give back the money.

Baseball executives weren’t the only ones taken in by Evans’ cons. He was indicted in at least three states for passing bad checks and even for “borrowing” a woman’s jewelry. He left a trail of worthless IOUs as he traveled the country. Yet he was continually broke. Police, Pinkerton detectives and bail bondsmen were often on his trail. Occasionally they would catch him and Evans would spend a few months in jail. He died as he lived, within the danger zone. Evans was one of approximately four hundred killed by the hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, in 1915. Or so the story goes; other evidence suggests that his death may have been one more con.

Roy Evans was born on March 19, 1874 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was the oldest of six children born to Edward N. Evans, an Ohio native, and Mary M. Newsom from Owensboro, Kentucky. The Evanses were married in December 1871 and lived in Owensboro after Edward graduated from Miami University of Ohio. Mary was eleven years younger than Edward; she gave birth to Roy at age seventeen. The family moved to Tennessee, where their first two children, Roy and Frances, were born. They then returned to Kentucky, living in Knottsville, about thirteen miles from Owensboro. In 1882 they relocated to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, before settling in nearby Emporia in November 1883. Edward later became a lawyer and judge.

Roy spent a great deal of his youth hunting and playing baseball. At times he was able to mix his passions, as the local Emporia Daily Gazette reported: “When Roy hunts prairie chickens he takes a buggy load of baseballs and a bird dog and whenever he finds a bird he gives it a high in-shoot on the back of the head. Roy says he never misses a bird.”

Evans, a six-foot, 180-pound righthander, joined the semipro Emporia team in the summer of 1891, pitching and playing the field regularly for the club through 1895. He was also a hired gun for other local clubs, brought in for a game or two as a mound ace for such teams as Newton, Osage City, Hartford, Wichita and Winfield. In 1892 he received $5 a game plus expenses, with a $10 bonus if he pulled out a victory. After high school, he entered Kansas State Normal College, a higher education institution for teachers. (Today it is Emporia State University.) He pitched for the college nine in 1895. On April 25 he struck out twenty batters from the Topeka YMCA on his way to a 5-3 victory. The Emporia Daily Gazette noted, “Roy Evans, pitcher, carries with him wherever he goes a large assortment of well-selected curves, and he handed them out in great profusion Tuesday (June 4) afternoon…striking out twelve men during the game.” The newspaper went on, “Roy Evans is the making of a good pitcher. There are plenty of twirlers in the Western Association not so good. If Kansas City wants a man to take the place of one of their alleged pitchers, they can find him in Evans. With proper training he could hold his own with the best in that association.” Back with the Maroons, Evans whiffed twelve men on June 29, 1895, shutting out a Topeka squad 6-0. The Emporia Daily Gazette commented, “Roy Evans’ exhibition of pitching has probably never been equaled in the state.”

In January 1896 Evans signed with Lynchburg of the Virginia League, his first club in organized baseball. The Sporting Life eagerly awaited his arrival, noting “Roy Evans…is said to be a wonder. He has a record of striking out 23 men in one game, and no hits, winning his game 6-0.” Unfortunately, Evans was incapacitated most of April and May with a “severe attack of typhoid fever.” In mid-June he shifted to Portsmouth in the same league. On June 17 he shut out Richmond 4-0, allowing only two hits. He fell ill again and left Portsmouth for home near the end of July. In 16 games in the Virginia League that summer, Evans won five games and lost 10. In early August he recovered enough to rejoin his old Emporia club, a custom he would continue throughout his career. Although he stayed with the professional clubs for less than a half season, he made an impression; on October 25 the National League St. Louis Browns signed the pitcher.

Over the winter, Evans acted as an agent for young Emporia first baseman and catcher Van Patterson. Evans negotiated a deal with Paterson, New Jersey, of the Atlantic League to pay the player $125 a month. Van Patterson agreed but later reneged, accepting a $135 offer from Buffalo that also included $100 advance money. Evans was left to deal with the resentment of the Paterson management. Patterson’s contract jumping was duly noted by Evans; he would pull the trick countless times over the next decade and a half.

Evans made his major league debut May 15, 1897, in a 20-3 loss to Baltimore. After three games in relief, he was released on June 3. Five days later, he signed with George Tebeau of Columbus in the Western League. Evans took a tough negotiating stance, demanding that the reserve clause be removed from his contract. Columbus president Tom Loftus acquiesced. A couple weeks later, Evans negotiated a return to the National League with Louisville. He received the same reserve-free contract from business manager Harry Pulliam. The righthander made eight starts for Louisville, amassing a 5-4 record between June 28 and August 10. He was with Louisville when rookie Honus Wagner joined the club for major league debut on July 19. Evans was released twice by Louisville, once on July 21 and again in mid-August. He returned to Columbus in late August and sat on the bench in uniform for a week while Louisville and Columbus worked out the specifics of the transfer. Pulliam and Loftus settled and Evans was back in Columbus’s lineup on September 2. In total he posted a 6-0 record in nine games for the club in 1897. Evans spent the winter in Columbus, hunting and working for a local company. Part of Evans’ scam was to cozy up to local benefactors and receive a nice job for the winters, promising all the time that he would toe the rubber for the local club come spring. Invariable, he would coax a few loans from the locals over the winter and take off long before spring training.

Evans held out from Columbus to kick off the season, as he wasn’t bound by a reserve clause. He had made $250 a month the previous year because of his ties to major league clubs. Columbus was offering only $125 for 1898. The sides finally came to agreement in late April. But Evans was released after three games, with a 0-2 record. On May 20 he signed with Washington in the National League, making his first start for the club on the 24th. He was a little wild, losing 4-0 to Cleveland. However, he impressed Cleveland manager Patsy Tebeau: “Evans is a swell looker and his pitching matched his looks today.” The Washington Post went a little further, “Evans is a tall, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, cool-handed, cold-blooded brunette.” He started five more games for the Senators through July 13, finishing with a 3-3 record. Four days later he was released for the fourth time by a National League club in fifteen months. Washington manager Deacon McGuire, a seasoned catcher, believed he needed to control his fastball better to become an effective major league pitcher. On the 23rd Evans joined Providence in the Eastern League. He pitched in fifteen games for that club, amassing a 4-11 record.

Evans returned to Providence in the spring of 1899, and stayed for the entire season, appearing in 43 games. On June 18 he struck out 11 Montreal batters in a 4-0 shutout, allowing only two singles. In another game he struck out 14 men, a league high for the season. He won 18 games with Providence, losing 23, and registered 219 strikeouts. On July 26 Washington owner Earl Wagner picked Evans as the player-to-be-named from a deal that previously sent Pete Cassidy to Providence. Evans made his first appearance with the D.C. club on September 12, after the end of the Eastern League season. Over the next month, he made seven starts with a 3-4 record.

Again, Evans began the season with Providence in 1900. He appeared in 39 games, with a 19-15 record. Evans took advance money from Providence for 1901. Instead, he joined San Francisco in the independent, four-team California League in the spring. Providence blacklisted Evans, placing him on the Eastern League ineligible list. In 38 games with San Francisco, 24 as a pitcher, he posted a 12-11 record with a 2.23 ERA. He jumped the club in mid-August after being fined $5 for not dressing for a game in which he wasn’t the designated pitcher.

Within days he was taking the mound for Ogden, Utah, in the Inter-Mountain League. He was brought in to help during a 25-game barnstorming series with Salt Lake. A $1,000 bet was riding on the outcome. He also appeared in two league games for Ogden, with a split record. At the end of the 1901 season he joined Colorado Springs for five appearances, losing them all. Evans and the Ogden community got along well; they wanted him to return for 1902. He was given a cushy clerk’s job in the local railroad office. The Ogden fans also treated him well; he hit more than few of them up for loans. On the side he was exchanging letters with eastern clubs promising to join whichever ones would send him cash to get him through the winter. The Anaconda Standard reported, “Evans was given a position in Ogden with the understanding that he would remain and play with the team again the following year. Evans did not remain long, however, until it was rumored that he was not very well posted on the coin of the realm and that it was hard work for him to distinguish his money from other peoples.”

On Christmas Eve Evans and his wife told their landlady at the Beal lodging house that they were taking their two-year-old son into town to view the holiday displays. They never returned, skipping out on an $85 bill. Evans also owed well over $100 in other debts to local benefactors. The landlady found a pack of papers Evans had left behind. Enclosed were numerous pawn tickets and a baseball contract. Apparently that very day Evans had received $100 from the New York Giants, advance money for the 1902 season. It was later discovered that the family had purchased railway tickets with the money and headed for Denver then on to Emporia.

Evans reported to the Giants on March 28, 1902. In May it came to light that he had also taken money from St. Paul, promising to join that club. Team president George Lennon was irate; he had given the Evans family more than $200. Furthermore, he had complied with an extensive list of requests by the pitcher. Evans asked Lennon to send his wife money because she was in the hospital and needed to pay the bill. She also needed transportation and hotel money. Evans, in another city, requested funds for transportation and lodging. The pitcher actually reported to St. Paul, but left after a week to join the Giants. It was further discovered that Evans had conned Minneapolis and Colorado Springs out of advance money during the winter. All three teams placed him on the ineligible list. Minneapolis filed for a warrant for his arrest.

In June, while with the Giants, Evans contacted Charles Comiskey about joining the American League’s Chicago club. The Chicago Journal commented, “Roy Evans, who is a bird as a jumper and clinger to advance money, wired Comiskey offering to jump New York for $400. Commy told him to go fall down. Roy must be an ignorant cuss if he figures that the White Sox could use him even were he contract free.” Evans appeared in 23 games for the Giants through July 16, posting an 8-13 record. John McGraw became the Giants manager the next day and immediately released Evans. Sporting Life noted that Evans was “simply paralyzed” when he received the news. On July 21 Brooklyn signed the pitcher. He tossed a shutout the following day, defeating Philadelphia 3-0. He appeared in 13 games for the Superbas through the end of the season, winning five and losing six. In total for 1902 he notched a 13-19 record in 36 games with a 3.00 ERA. He also completed every one of his 28 starts, making him one of the 20 men with twenty-plus starts to finish them all since the mound was pushed back to its current distance in 1893. In early September he signed a two-year contract with Brooklyn.

Over the winter, Evans worked as a traveling salesman for a tobacco house. He also claimed the Dodgers had him traveling throughout the western United States scouting talent and signing them for the club; however, none of his so-called finds ever appeared in a Brooklyn uniform. During his travels, he used his status as a major league player to con people out of cash. He wrote fraudulent checks and borrowed extensively—loans he never intended to repay, as later reported by the Missouri police. He passed three bad checks in Kansas City totaling $90, written on an empty account at the International Bank of Hannibal, Missouri. Kansas City officials enlisted Pinkerton detectives to track down the culprit. Meanwhile Evans was staying in Butte, Montana, where he wrote three more checks for a total of $40 at the Tickell & Spargo’s Saloon. The bartender became suspicious and the owners contacted Hannibal officials. The Pinkertons telegraphed the police in Butte. On February 11, 1903, the police found Evans and placed him under arrest on three charges, stemming from Kansas City, of obtaining money under false pretenses.

Evans claimed that it was all a misunderstanding; he was a reputable man traveling as an emissary for Ned Hanlon and the Brooklyn Dodgers. He claimed to have signed Joe Corbett, Pete Dowling, a player named Gabriel and several others. Dowling denied Evans’ claim. Evans telegraphed Hanlon, “Please send me $500 at once, as I am arrested here for passing checks that were no good.” If Hanlon sent the money, it didn’t arrive in time. A Hannibal sheriff swooped in on February 17 and transported Evans back to Missouri. The sheriff alleged that Evans had swindled about twenty people out of money in Kansas City, ranging from $15 to $53 each.

Evans contacted a bondsman in Hannibal and obtained his release while awaiting trial. He then joined Brooklyn for spring training in 1903. He made 12 starts through June 22, amassing a 5-9 record, but Hanlon released him on June 24. The pitcher worked out for Jimmy Collins in Boston, but was turned away. At the beginning of July the St. Louis Browns signed Evans and used him in seven games. He was released a month later after losing four games. At the end of August he signed with Sedalia of the Missouri Valley League, appearing in a few games.

In January 1904 news broke that Evans was again conning clubs out of bonus money. Haverhill manager Billy Hamilton was particularly steamed after being swindled out of $50 and then finding out that Evans had already been declared ineligible by Colorado Springs, once again, and by Providence. Sporting Life magazine flatly declared that the clubs were fed up with Evans’ tactics. Despite the to-do, Williamsport signed him in April. Evans was found in September pitching for the Wilmington club of the Tri-State League. At the end of the year he was listed on the reserve list for St. Paul, the same club he had swindled in 1902. Apparently he was repentant and apologetic to club owner George Lennon and manager Mike Kelley. On January 16, 1905, Evans’ bondsman surrendered him to Hannibal police on charges of passing 16 bogus checks. Unable to meet his bail, he remained in jail awaiting his May trial. Sporting Life took the opportunity to comment, “Evans has double-crossed more clubs than any player in the business.”

Evans was up to his old tricks in the spring of 1905. He was listed with Guthrie of the Western Association in April; instead, he honored one commitment and actually joined St. Paul. For him to do so, Haverhill had to release its claim on his services after he had taken money from that club before the 1904 season. Evans joined St. Paul in May, but manager Mike Kelley suspended him on the 25th for “dereliction of duty” and “not taking care of himself,” baseball euphemisms for excessive drinking. He dried out and rejoined the club a week or so later. In June Evans posted a four-hit, 4-0 shutout over Columbus. He put up an 8-9 record with St. Paul in 1905.

Evans began 1906 with Charleston in the South Atlantic League. In June he was sent to Augusta of the same league. In 16 games for the two teams, he went 5-9. He finished the season with Danville in the Virginia League, notching a 7-8 record.

Evans ran into more legal trouble at the end of the year. He had married Ohio native Mattie B. Dexheimer on May 26, 1897. They had two children, Terry G., born in May 1899 and another child born in early 1902. Evans claimed his wife died in 1905. In Danville he became acquainted with a woman named Maude Young. In November Young had him arrested for stealing $200 worth of watches and jewelry. But she withdrew her charge, stating that she had lent him the pieces, and asked that he not be prosecuted. Evans had charmed her again; he had pawned the items and insisted that he would redeem the tickets as soon as he could. Since Young withdrew her charges, he was acquitted.

In May 1907 he re-signed with Charleston. New Castle, Pennsylvania of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League brought Evans in for the 1908 season. A strange story unfolded at the end of May. On the 27th Evans left New Castle for Pittsburgh, claiming he was signed by the Boston Doves of the National League. He registered at the Doves’ hotel, spent the night and headed to the park the following day. He dressed and joined the team on the field for pregame drills. Team owner George Dovey asked about the new guy tossing the ball around. He was told that manager Joe Kelley had brought in a new pitcher. Dovey, unaware of any expenditure, went to the clubhouse to speak with Kelley. Kelley didn’t know what Dovey was talking about; he hadn’t hired anyone. Kelley ran onto the field and confronted Evans. The two nearly came to blows after the pitcher sassed the future Hall of Famer. For his part, Evans claimed that he was asked to join the club by someone, but he couldn’t identify the individual. Dovey became irate after learning that Evans had charged his hotel room to the team. Later in the year he appeared in two games for Lynchburg, winning one and losing the other.

In February 1909 Evans was listed with Grand Rapids, but he didn’t play in organized baseball that season. He joined Arkansas City in the Kansas State League to kick off 1910. He posted a 5-7 record in 14 games and managed the club briefly. By July he was back in Emporia playing for the local semipro team. On July 12 and 16 he pitched and lost two games for Terra Haute. In November he signed with Galveston and spent the winter there. Evans never did play with Galveston; he was soon placed on the club’s suspended list after his arrest and conviction of “forgery and passing forged instruments,” another bad-check charge. He was sentenced to two years and a day, but the judge granted him a suspended sentence on July 7. The Galveston County Daily News stated that it was the first known suspended sentence ever issued in the state on a felony charge, as the state legislature had only recently provided for such. The judge advised Evans to take the “opportunity offered by the law to make a new start in life and to become a good citizen, able to look any man in the face with a clean record.” Evans never appeared in organized baseball again; his career was over at age 37. Incomplete statistics show that he amassed a 92-115 record during his minor league career. He also posted a 29-43 record in the majors in parts of five seasons and pitched numerous games for semipro and independent clubs.

Evans remained in Galveston after his conviction in 1911. On August 16, 1915, a category 4 hurricane hit the Gulf Coast with winds topping 135 mile per hour. Even though Galveston had built a massive sea wall after a previous hurricane in 1900, the entire 300-foot beach was washed out to sea and more than 200 residents in and around the city were identified as either dead or missing. In the baseball encyclopedias Evans is listed as one of them. However, a discrepancy arises in Evans’ date of death; the encyclopedias say it was August 15, the day before the hurricane hit. Recently discovered evidence reveals that Evans’ life—and escapades—continued long after the hurricane.

The list of dead and missing in the hurricane does not include the name Roy Evans, nor does the Texas death index. When one of Evans’ sisters passed away in September 1915, her obituary counted Roy among the living siblings. Likewise, he is acknowledged as a survivor in his mother’s obituary in May 1917, though his residence is listed as unknown. Evans may have been estranged from his family.

Five years after Evans’ supposed death, the Dallas News reported that a Robert Roy Evans was sentenced on November 18, 1920, to two years in prison by a federal judge in Fort Worth for bigamy. Prosecutors said he had married at least three women in the previous year. Evans pleaded guilty to a violation of the Mann Act.

Robert Roy Evans told a reporter he was a 48-year-old former major leaguer from Emporia, Kansas. He said he had played for Washington, Detroit and Brooklyn. Through the archives of the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, SABR researcher Bob Hoie confirmed that the inmate Evans was the ballplayer Evans. Evans served about nineteen months at Leavenworth before he was released on June 26, 1922. After that his trail disappears.

Unfortunately for research purposes, Roy is not acknowledged in his father’s obituary in February 1930. All his other siblings are listed by name, including the sister who had passed away. The father, a respected lawyer and judge, may have disowned his prodigal son. Roy Evans remains missing and presumed dead.

Sources

A good deal of gratitude is extended to Ray Nemec for his insight into Evans’ minor league career.

Anaconda Standard, Montana

Ancestry.com

Atchison Daily Globe, Kansas

Boston Globe

Carle, Bill, “SABR Biographical Research Committee January/February 2009 Report.”

Charleston Daily Mail

Chicago Journal

Chicago Tribune

Concord Monitor

Daily Iowa Capital

Daily Kennebec Journal

Emporia Daily Gazette

Emporia Weekly Gazette

Evening Herald, Syracuse

Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette

Galveston County Daily News

Galveston Daily News

Indiana Democrat, Pennsylvania

Los Angeles Times

Logansport Pharos, Indiana

Lowell Sun

Milwaukee Journal

Milwaukee Sentinel

New Castle News, Pennsylvania

The News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina

New York Times

Ogden Standard, Utah

Ogden Standard-Examiner, Utah

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern

Sabrwebs.com

Salt Lake Tribune

Spalding, John E. Always on Sunday: The California Baseball League, 1886 to 1915. Manhattan, KS: Ag Press, 1992.

Sporting Life

Washington Post

Wright, Marshall D. The International League: Year-by-Year Statistics, 1884-1953. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 1998.

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