This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Right-handed pitcher Bill Evans had a very brief major-league career, with a total of one decision (sadly, for him, a loss) in the 13 games he pitched over two seasons of big-league baseball. He worked in four games in 1949 for the White Sox, and in nine games in 1951 for the Red Sox. He enjoyed a full 12 seasons of minor-league ball. All told, he put together a record of 128-128 in professional baseball.
United States census information about the naming of Evans is a bit inconclusive. He is listed in most databases today as William Lawrence Evans. All agree he was born on March 25, 1919, in Quanah, Texas. Quanah is the county seat of Hardeman County, located in north central Texas just south of the border with Oklahoma. The city, with a population of just over 3,000 people in the year 2000, was first established as a stop on the Fort Worth and Denver Railway. Will L. Evans – Bill’s father – was employed as a fireman on the railroad in 1920, the year after Bill’s birth. In 1910 he had been a laborer on a ranch in Quanah, and in 1930 he was unemployed.
Will’s wife, Ethel (Stovall), was a homemaker, but in 1930 she had been able to secure a position as a maid in a local hotel. Both parents were Texas natives. The couple had six children: Ettie, Earnest, William Rex, Liborn, J. W., and Will L. Evans Jr. It is the youngest of the family – Will Jr. – who became the major-league ball player. In 1930,the two older boys in the family – Earnest (or Ernest) and William — are both listed in the census as working odd jobs, no doubt helping the family get by in the first year of the Depression.
When Bill was 18, the family moved to Fruita, Colorado. Bill graduated from Fruita High School.
In September 1940, Evans married Melba A. Lee in Moab, Utah. The following spring he began playing professional baseball.
His first season with the 1941 Cheyenne Indians (Class-D Western League) saw him 10-13 (with a 4.71 earned run average) for the second-place team, which had picked him up after his outright release by Wichita Falls. In 1942 he played for four different teams – in this sequence according to his Heilbroner card: the Class-D Wichita Spudders and the Big Spring Pirates (both in the West Texas-New Mexico League, Wichita moving to Big Spring on May 22, finishing in last place). The team withdrew from the league on June 20, and the league disbanded on July 5. Evans then played for the Class-D Burlington (North Carolina) Bees, and the Class-B Piedmont League Charlotte Hornets (for three innings). His lengthiest, and best, stretch was with Burlington (8-6, 3.65).
Evans had a Chattanooga contract when he entered military service on September 28, 1942. The excellent Baseball in Wartime website provides the following outline of his service in the United States Army:
“In 1944, Evans was with the 76th Infantry Division’s combat training facility at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, where he played baseball with the 76th Infantry Division Onaways. Teammates included Bama Rowell and Cecil Travis. The 76th Infantry Division captured the Wisconsin State semi-pro championship in 1944.
“He was sent overseas at the end of 1944, arriving in Southampton, England, and saw combat in France and Germany in 1945. Evans was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star. After the war’s end he had time to play baseball. ‘Bill played lots of baseball in Germany,’ Evans’ widow, Melba, explains. ‘He was based in Hof, Germany but played in Nuremberg for the 3rd Army. His team also played in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Czechoslovakia.’”1
Evans served in the Military Police.2 He was discharged in February 1946.
Evans had been property of the Washington Senators organization before the war, but for reasons unknown he was released from his Chattanooga/Washington contract after returning from the Army. He worked out briefly in Little Rock in March 1946, and was signed by Suitcase Bob Seeds, owner of the Amarillo Gold Sox in the Class-C West Texas-New Mexico League. Evans had a very impressive 26-7 season with a 3.30 ERA.
Perhaps his most remarkable game was his first; in the season opener against the Borger Gassers, he struck out 18 batters but lost the game, 4-3, thanks to a “young, jittery team” behind him which committed eight errors.3 He struck out 16 batters in his second start. Indeed, in his first 28 innings, he struck out 58 batters.4
He was one of two pitchers named to the league All-Star team, and led the league with a record 297 strikeouts (in 267 innings) as well as in wins. In August, his contract was purchased by the Little Rock Travelers, a Chicago White Sox affiliate, to report in the spring of 1947.
White Sox manager Ted Lyons was hopeful. Irving Vaughan of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “He hasn’t had much baseball experience except in obscure leagues, but he’s no hay shaker. The ear marks of a green pea were shed while he was shooting his way into Germany with the late Gen. Patton’s 3rd Army.”5
As had been anticipated, he spent the 1947 season with the Double-A Southern Association’s Little Rock and it was a challenging year: he was 4-17 with a 6.31 ERA. The Bill Dickey-managed Travelers were a last-place team that year, losing more than two-thirds of their games.
Evans turned things around completely in 1948, at Muskegon in the Single A Central League, with a 2.55 ERA and a 17-12 record. He was still a master of the strikeout, with a league-leading 187.
He trained with the Chicago White Sox in the spring of 1949 and made the team. Jack Onslow was in his first year as manager. His first major-league experience came at Briggs Stadium in Detroit on April 21, the third game of the White Sox season. Howie Judson started and went 6 2/3 innings, holding a 5-2 lead at the time. Evans was asked to get the third out in the bottom of the seventh. He walked the first batter he faced – Hoot Evers – but then retired catcher Aaron Robinson. He opened the bottom of the eighth but walked the first two batters and Onslow handed the ball to Max Surkont, who got out of the inning (and the ninth) without another run being scored.
Working at home against the visiting Tigers, Evans worked in both halves of the April 26 doubleheader. He threw one full inning in the first game, facing three batters in the top of the seventh and getting them all. He entered the second game with the Tigers up, 5-4, and worked three full scoreless innings before the White Sox tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. Taking the mound in the top of the 10th, Evans walked the first two batters. They both scored. The Tigers won. Evans took the loss.
He pitched one more time, on May 7 against the visiting New York Yankees. The score was New York 4, Chicago 0 after seven full. Evans pitched the eighth and ninth, facing 12 batters. He gave up four hits, walked three, threw one wild pitch in each inning, and was tagged for three earned runs in the two innings.6 This left him with a 7.11 ERA in his four appearances and 6 1/3 innings.
On June 1 he was released outright to the Memphis Chickasaws, and spent the rest of the 1949 season with them. His record was only 8-10 but he held opponents to a 2.96 ERA.
He followed with another good season, with the Sacramento Solons in the Pacific Coast League in 1950. He was the first player to report to camp. Walks still plagued him; he beat the Los Angeles Angels on March 31, 2-1, allowing only four hits but balking twice and walking eight. On April 18 he beat the San Francisco Seals on three hits, but allowed four runs in part due to the five walks he doled out. In Seattle on May 7, he walked in the winning run with the bases loaded. He improved his control more as the season wore on, to good result. By the end of August, he was being looked over by big-league scouts. “The scouts,” reported the Sacramento Bee, “pooh-pooh Evans’ 11-18 record. His losses have been with a last-place ballclub and many of them were of the so-called heartbreak type.”7 He had often suffered from a lack of run support, at one point working a stretch of 70 innings in which his offense scored only seven runs. Nine of the games he lost were by one-run margins.8 He started 40 games, working a league-high 317 innings, winning 15 games and losing 22 for the last-place Solons, but with a decent 3.44 ERA. On October 9 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Mike Palm and some cash.
Evans pitched in nine games for the Red Sox in May and June, all in relief and for a total of 15 1/3 innings, almost half of them (7 1/3) in one long relief effort on May 16, allowing just one hit in the game. “The game was gone before Bill had a real chance,” said Boston manager Steve O’Neill. “Those five runs in the first inning killed us.”9
His last appearance was on June 21, a three-inning stint with three hits and two runs, one unearned. His ERA was 4.11 at this point. He was not used in the week that followed, and was released outright to Louisville on June 29. He was 8-4 for the Louisville Colonels for the rest of 1951, with a 3.67 ERA.
Evans started the 1952 season with Louisville, but (1-3, 4.63) on May 22 his contract was sold to the Seattle Rainiers. He was traded to the Oakland Oaks “before he ever put on a Seattle uniform – for Paul Lehner.”10 With Oakland he was 5-4. On December 20, Evans was sold back to Seattle.
The Rainiers were Evans’s team for both 1953 and 1954; he was primarily a starter for manager Bill Sweeney in 1953 and primarily a reliever for new manager Jerry Priddy in 1954. Evans actually started 1953 as a reliever and won each of the first two games in which he appeared. His first start was on April 7, and he struck out 14 San Diego batters. By season’s end, with 35 starts in 41 appearances, Evans was 16-13 (3.23). He started 14 of 36 games in 1954, working fewer than half as many total innings. His ERA was 4.66 and he won five and lost seven.
His last season in professional ball was 1955 and, as in 1942, he played for three different teams. He didn’t pitch much, though. At the end of the ’54 season, Evans’s contract was purchased by the San Francisco Seals. He only appeared in three games for the Seals (running up an ERA of 12.71). Clearly, they didn’t see much potential for him; on April 25 he was given his unconditional release. He played for Charleston, West Virginia, where he threw 17 innings in 12 games with a 9.00 ERA. He wound up the season on a nicer note, working for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and helping them clinch a tie for the Western League pennant. It wasn’t as though he pitched an exceptional number of games; he was 1-1 in six appearances. But in the September 3 home game, the Sky Sox scored five times in the bottom of the ninth to battle visiting Wichita to a 7-7 tie. Evans worked in the top of the 10th and Wichita failed to score. In the bottom of the inning, Lowe Wren singled, went to second on a Bobby Winkles single, and Evans singled home the winning run. Colorado Springs won the pennant the next day, beating Wichita, 4-1.
In the years after baseball, Evans was the owner/operator of Bill Evans Tenneco Service of Grand Junction, Colorado. He sold Goodyear tires, batteries, and other automobile accessories, and offered gasoline, lubes, and other car care including minor repairs. He added a second service station and also had a limousine, working as a chauffeur for Yellow Cab.
He and his wife Melba lived in the city. Bill Evans died of lung cancer on November 30, 1983, at St. Mary Hospital in Grand Junction, where he is buried. He was survived by Melba and their daughter, Barbara.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Evans’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
2 Unidentified local Colorado newspaper obituary for William L. Evans, located in Evans’ player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
3 Harry Gilstrap, “Amarillo Aces in Easy Breeze on Whiff Route,” The Sporting News, May 23, 1946: 11.
4 Orville Henry, “Gazette Star Gazing,” Arkansas Gazette, May 17, 1946: 13.
5 Irving Vaughan, “Bill Evans, Sox Rookie, Shows Pitching Savvy,” Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1947: 19.
6 The wild pitches were detailed by the May 8 Chicago Tribune but the statistical record only shows one.
7 “Bill Evans Drops Blazer to Gain Control, Confidence,” Sacramento Bee, September 2, 1950: 10.
8 Tom Kane, “Bill Evans Is Sold to Red Sox for Cash, Righthanded Hurler,” Sacramento Bee, October 9, 1950: 24.
9 Will Cloney, “Dobson Gains Verdict Over Ex-Red Sox Pals, 9-5,” Boston Herald, May 17, 1951: 31.
10 Lenny Anderson, “Rainiers Release Schanz, E. Johnson; Buy Pitcher Evans,” Seattle Daily Times, December 21, 1952: 41.