Dwight Evans was the best Red Sox right fielder I ever saw.
A member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame, Dwight Evans was voted Red Sox MVP four times by the Boston Baseball Writers. It might not be a stretch at all to agree with Herb Crehan, who writes, "Dewey might be the most underrated player in the history of the Red Sox."
A three-time All-Star, Evans won eight Gold Gloves in the stretch running from 1976 through 1985. At one time or another, he led the American League in on-base percentage, OPS, runs, runs created, total bases, home runs, extra base hits, bases on balls, and times on base. He had a rifle of an arm, patrolling Fenway's capacious right field for 19 years from 1972 through 1990, and three times led the league in assists - but runners quickly learned not to try to score on Dwight Evans.
Born Dwight Michael Evans on November 3, 1951, in Santa Monica, California, his family moved to Hawaii when he was still an infant and spent his early years living in Hawaii, mostly before Hawaii was granted statehood on August 21, 1959. Hawaii was built on beach culture, and Dwight did not get involved with baseball until the family moved to the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge at the age of nine. He attributes his passion for the game to a Dodgers game his father took him to soon after they arrived in the area. Dwight joined Little League and both pitched and played third base, an all-star both at Little League and Colt League. At Chatsworth High School, though, "I tried out for the junior varsity baseball team and I didn't even get a uniform." He was determined, though, and not only made the team his junior year but made All-Valley in the San Fernando Valley League. He won the league MVP award his senior year and found himself being scouted.
Boston Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson recommended Evans highly, and on June 5, 1969, the Red Sox selected Evans in the fifth round of the 1969 amateur draft. The 17-year-old Evans was assigned to the Jamestown, NY farm club. The Sox had so many people coming into Jamestown at one time that he had to wait a week to get a uniform and worked out in his sweatshirt and jeans. He got in 100 at-bats, though, and a .280 average, enough to be promoted to Greenville, South Carolina for the 1970 season. He kept advancing, spending 1971 with Winston-Salem, and made it to Triple-A Louisville for 1972. It was the classic trip up the ladder, one year at a time.
Evans told Herb Crehan that it was Louisville manager Darrell Johnson who made the difference when Dwight found himself outmatched at the Triple-A level. "You are my right fielder whether you hit .100 or .300," Johnson told him, imbuing the 20-year-old with enough confidence to turn his season around. He hit .300 - on the nose - with 17 HR and 95 RBIs. Evans was named International League MVP for his 1972 season - and got a ticket to Boston, to join the big league club in the middle of a classic pennant race.
Dwight Evans played his first game for the Boston Red Sox on September 16, 1972, entering the game as a pinch runner for Reggie Smith in the bottom of the sixth in a game against the Indians at Fenway Park. He stayed in the game, playing right field. In his one at-bat, he made an out to the shortstop. It's an interesting tidbit that he batted out of order his first time up, but since he had made an out, the other team chose not to make a point of it. He got his first major league hit the very next day, pinch-hitting with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, in a game the Indians were winning with ease, 9-2. Evans singled to left. He added another hit the following day, starting in left field and going 1-for-3 with a single.
On September 20, Evans had himself a breakthrough day, playing left in both games of a doubleheader against the visiting Orioles. Dwight was 2-for-4 in the first game, with a couple of singles. He was 2-for-4 in the second game as well, but the two hits were a seventh-inning triple off Mike Cuellar and an eighth-inning home run off Eddie Watt. In 57 September at-bats, Evans batted .263. He helped keep the Red Sox in the pennant race; this was the year they fell just a half-game short to the Tigers.
The following year, Dwight Evans was the regular right fielder most of the season, playing 113 games, 94 of them in right field. He was still finding himself in his first full season of major league ball, batting just .223 and with only 32 RBIs, but he showed some power with 10 home runs, and made only one error all year long. 1974 featured another 10 homers, but a .281 average and Evans drove in 70 runs. His defense, and especially his throwing arm, was what kept him in the lineup.
In 1975, he had another good year playing a solid right field while Fred Lynn and Jim Rice joined him to form one of the all-time great outfields. Evans was involved in a league-leading eight double plays. Though he was sub-par in the League Championship Series, Evans batted a strong .292 in the World Series and drove in five runs. His dramatic ninth-inning two-run home run tied up Game Three, a contest the Red Sox lost in the tenth. As always, it was on defense where Evans excelled, and his catch of Joe Morgan's long fly ball in Game Six was one of the most spectacular in World Series play. After tracking down what looked like an extra-base hit, and snaring the ball, he fired to first base and doubled off Ken Griffey to retire the side.
The next season, Dewey hit .242 with 17 home runs in 146 games, and won his first Gold Glove award for his defensive play. In 1977 he battled a knee injury all year, spending much of the year on the disabled list. It was a shame, since he hit better than he ever had, finishing with 14 home runs and a .287 average in just 73 games.
The 1978 season saw the Red Sox leap out to a commanding lead, then give it all away in September. They fought back to tie the Yankees and force a single-game playoff for the pennant. Boston might have done better, but Dewey was a little woozy for the final month of the season, following an August 28 beaning. Even in the playoff game, he rode the bench, only coming in for a last-ditch ninth-inning pinch-hit role, in which he flied out to left field. It was his first appearance in a week. One wonders if a playoff game would have been needed, had Evans been better able to contribute that final month. He hit .247 with a career-high 24 home runs on the season, but hit just .164 with one a home run in September.
After two more fairly typical seasons (21 HR, 58 RBIs, .274 in 1979, and 18 HR, 60 RBIs, .266 in 1980), Dwight Evans reached his 29th birthday with seven solid seasons under his belt. He was part of a great outfield, but clearly the third wheel amongst two of the better players in the game. His reputation was as a good hitter and a great right fielder. Beginning with the 1981 season, Evans underwent a remarkable offensive transformation, and was one of the best all-around players in the league for the next several years.
His first great season was 1981, unfortunately marred by a seven-week player strike. Besides his fourth Gold Glove award, Dewey hit a career high .296, and paced the league in home runs (22), walks, total bases, runs created, and OPS. Whereas he had always hit seventh or eighth under Don Zimmer, new manager Ralph Houk recognized Evans' great on-base skills and hit him second in the order for all four years he managed him. He finished third in the balloting for Most Valuable Player. After playing in the shadow of his more famous teammates for several years, Evans was now the team's best player. Lynn and Carlton Fisk were gone, Carl Yastrzemski was nearing the end of the line, and Jim Rice would never again be the hitter he was in the late 1970s.
In 1982, Evans proved his resurgence was no fluke, hitting .292 with 32 home runs and 98 RBIs, leading the league with a .402 on-base-percentage. After an off year in 1983 (22, 58, .238), he had another big year in 1984, slugging 32 home runs, driving in a career-high 104 runs (remarkable for someone hitting second in the batting order), leading the league in runs, runs created, and extra base hits. On June 28, 1984, Evans doubled, tripled, made three outs, then singled in the tenth, and lastly completed the cycle in style with a three-run walkoff homer in the bottom of the 11th off Edwin Nunez, for a 9-6 win over the Mariners.
The next two seasons were more of the same for Evans, hitting 29 and 26 home runs, and generally being among the league leaders in walks, on-base-percentage, and extra base hits. New manager John McNamara moved Evans to leadoff in 1985, though he eventually started hitting him sixth in 1986. Leading off the game for the Red Sox on Opening Day 1986, on April 7 at Tiger Stadium, Evans hit a home run on the first pitch of the entire major league season. The Red Sox made it again to the World Series in '86. Again, Evans' bat was quiet in the Division Series (.214), but just as in 1975, he ratcheted it up in the World Series, batting .308 with two homers and a team-best nine RBIs. In Game Seven, Evans led off the top of the second with a solo home run, for the first run of the game.
Although the team struggled in 1987, it was another great season personally for Evans, with a .305 average (and a league-leading 106 walks), 34 HR, and 123 RBIs. Despite a big drop-off from the team, Evans finished fourth in the MVP voting. Turning 36 after the season, Evans had two more fine seasons in 1988 and 1989. In 1987, he began playing first base quite a bit as the team had come up with a few young outfielders, and by 1989 he was often the designated hitter.
After the 1990 season, the Red Sox declined to re-sign Evans and granted him his release on October 24. The Baltimore Orioles snapped him up on December 6 and he played in 101 games for Baltimore, batting .270 and acquitting himself well. Dewey received a tremendous ovation the first time the O's visited Fenway.
Evans would win the Gold Glove award in 1976, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1985. Steady in the field, steady at the plate, Evans played 20 seasons in all, ending with a .272 average, with 385 home runs, and 1,384 runs batted in. Evans was, interestingly, a better hitter in the second half of his career than in the first half. A commonly-asked trivia question poses the query: Who hit more home runs in the American League than any other player during the 1980s? From 1980 through 1989, the answer was: Dwight Evans, with 256 homers in the decade-long stretch. He also led the A.L. in extra base hits over the same period of time.
Playing 19 years with the Red Sox (only Yaz played in more games) enabled Dwight Evans to rank among team leaders in a number of batting categories. No Red Sox fielder approaches Evans in the number of Gold Gloves. The only major league outfielders with more are Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, and Ken Griffey, Jr. - pretty good company.
After baseball, Evans worked for the White Sox in their minor league system for a few years, then hooked on with Colorado as major league hitting instructor in 1994. He was welcomed back to Boston in 2001, serving first as a roving instructor and then, in 2002, as hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox. Dewey is a frequent visitor to Red Sox functions and currently serves as a player development consultant for the team.
A version of this biography was originally published in '75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball, edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, and published by Rounder Books in 2005.
Crehan, Herb, Red Sox Heroes of Yesteryear. Cambridge MA: Rounder Books, 2005.
Stout, Glenn and Richard Johnson, Red Sox Century. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.