According to some observers, Steve Evans never took baseball seriously enough to fulfill his great potential, though he did bat .287 over his seven full seasons in the majors (two of them in the Federal League). A light-hearted, cheerful right fielder with a reputation as one of the Deadball Era’s greatest flakes, Evans batted and threw left-handed, of course, and had an unusual talent for being hit by pitched balls. He led the National League in that category each year from 1910 to 1912, setting a single-season record in 1910 that stood for 61 years before it was finally broken by Ron Hunt.
Born in Cleveland on February 17, 1885, Louis Richard Evans (how he came to be known as “Steve” remains a mystery) spent his youth playing on the local sandlots, signing his first professional contract in 1907 with Dayton of the Class-B Central League. In midseason Dayton sold him to Fairmont, West Virginia, where he played first base for the eventual champions of the Class-D Western Pennsylvania League. It was in Fairmont that New York Giants scout Dan Brouthers, himself a former first baseman, discovered Evans.
One of the earliest examples of Steve’s humor occurred in 1908 during the Giants’ spring-training camp in Marlin, Texas. With veteran Fred Tenney and rookie Fred Merkle ahead of Evans at first base, manager John McGraw wanted to send the Cleveland native to Montreal of the Eastern League. Each time McGraw and the Montreal magnate approached him, however, Evans would run for a ball in the other corner of the field, ignoring calls to him by the Giant manager. After following him all over the field, the two officials finally gave up and Steve opened the season with the Giants, appearing in two games and picking up his first major-league hit. Despite his dodging, Evans ended up in Montreal anyway, hitting .292 and leading the Eastern League in doubles.
The St. Louis Cardinals purchased a newlywed Evans (his wife’s name was Anna Campbell) from New York before the 1909 season. Steve later claimed that the Giants dumped him after only two games because he hit into “the most damaging double play in history” during the legendary pennant chase of 1908, but it’s hard to imagine that any twin killing he hit into in April was all that harmful. Moreover, he managed to bat safely in one of his two at-bats with the Giants. In any event, Evans signed with St. Louis for $1,800 per season. With Cardinals star Ed Konetchy blocking his way at first base, the 24-year-old rookie opened the season as the regular right fielder and batted .259 in 143 games, leading the club in walks (66) and finishing second to Konetchy in doubles (17) and RBIs (56).
Evans was the NL’s first player to be hit by a pitch in 1910. It was a harbinger; when the season ended he had been beaned 31 times, still the record for left-handed batters (the record would have been 32 but an umpire took one away from Evans, claiming that he had “walked into a slow one” with the bases loaded). On one occasion Steve was hit in the jaw (“while the fans were certain his jaw had been broken, he merely laughed,” wrote a reporter), and on another he set a record by being hit three times in a single game against Brooklyn.
The next year Evans enjoyed his best NL season, leading St. Louis in hitting (.294) and triples (13), and ranking second behind Konetchy in home runs (5) and RBIs (71). Before a 1911 game against the Giants, the Cardinals honored an odd fellow named Charles Faust who claimed a fortune-teller had told him that he would lead the Giants to the pennant. As both teams gathered on the field for the ceremony, Evans made a short speech and presented Faust with a gift box containing a pocket watch. When Faust opened the watch, it exploded and the parts went everywhere.
Steve Evans was the club’s prankster and comedian, always keeping his teammates laughing. On a hot summer day at League Park in St. Louis, Evans tried to escape the oppressive sun in right field by playing his position rather deeply, allowing him to stand in the shade of the grandstand. The crowd began to ride him, however, after several Texas Leaguers dropped in front of him for base hits. When the Cardinals again took the field, Steve went to his position with a Japanese paper parasol slung over his right shoulder. (Umpire Hank O’Day forced him to put it down before allowing the game to continue.) On another occasion, after missing a ball he dove for, Evans looked up to see that centerfielder Rebel Oakes hadn’t even moved. He got up and retrieved the ball, all the while spewing his displeasure. The next fly ball that came to Oakes, Steve raced over and ran circles around the center fielder until he made the play.
Evans put together one last solid season for St. Louis in 1912, when he batted .283 and finished second to Konetchy again in doubles (23), triples (9), home runs (6), and RBIs (72), but in 1913 his batting average fell to .249 and he played in only 97 games. Discontent with his salary and the seemingly impossible chance of reaching the World Series with the Cardinals, he played out the season with hopes of securing a big contract with the new Federal League.
Despite his lackluster play, Evans received and accepted an invitation to join the Chicago White Sox on their postseason world tour with the Giants. Never one to miss a grand entrance, he walked through the train announcing to the ballplayers that there was free breakfast in the dining car. When the bill for the exorbitant breakfasts arrived, the players realized they were the victims of another Evans prank. As the tour reached Egypt he continued his antics, standing on one side of the Sphinx to receive a baseball thrown over the monument by Giants catcher Ivy Wingo. One of the best dancers on the team, Evans joined teammate Buck Weaver in demonstrating how to tango for a crowd at a fancy Egyptian hotel. He was part of a singing group and was elected president of the “Onion Club,” which established a shipboard shuffleboard league. He and teammate Dick Egan won the league.
On his return to New York on the Lusitania, Evans immediately signed with the Federal League for far more than he had ever earned with the Cardinals. That night he celebrated all over New York and was seen flashing three one-thousand-dollar bills in his wallet. With his new team, the Brooklyn Tip Tops, Evans enjoyed the greatest year of his career in 1914, leading the Feds in triples (15) and slugging (.556) while finishing third in batting (.348), doubles (41), homers (12), and RBIs (96). Splitting the 1915 season between the Tip Tops and the Baltimore Terrapins, he put together another strong year, hitting .308 and leading the league with 34 doubles. For its retroactive Federal League all-star teams, STATS Inc. selected identical outfields for both seasons: Evans, Benny Kauff, and Dutch Zwilling.
Evans remained a prankster during his Federal League years. On a postseason hunting trip with Elmer Knetzer and Jack Lewis of the Pittsburgh Stogies, the ballplayers found themselves early one morning at an all-night restaurant in Prairie Du Chein, Wisconsin. When the waitress asked him why they were out so early, Evans told her that they were there to rob the town bank, and that she must not tell anyone. Visibly frightened, the girl promised not to tell. After the players left the restaurant and made their way back to their hotel, the bell in the town hall began ringing and an armed posse, along with the sheriff and his deputies, raided the players’ hotel room. Only after a lengthy explanation did the sheriff realize that the waitress was another in a long line of victims of Steve’s pranks.
After the Federal League collapsed in 1916, Evans unaccountably failed to catch on with another major-league team. He ended up signing with Toledo of the American Association, reuniting with his old Cardinals manager Roger Bresnahan, and again put up outstanding numbers: a .298 batting average, 101 runs scored, 33 doubles, 16 triples, and 10 home runs. Retiring from baseball after that 1917 season, Evans returned to his Cleveland home and worked as a supervisor for the State of Ohio until his death on December 28, 1943.
Note: A different version of this biography appeared in Tom Simon, ed.,
Deadball Stars of the National League (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2004).
In preparing this biography, the authors relied primarily on Evans’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, MacMillan’s Baseball Encyclopedia, many editions of the New York Times (1908-1921) and St. Louis Globe Democrat (1908-1916), and James Elfers’ The Tour to End All Tours.