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Dwight Evans

June 21, 2007
 

 
For a little while, in the mid to late 1980s, Fenway Park belonged to Dwight Evans. Carl Yastrzemski had retired, Jim Rice had morphed from the scariest hitter in baseball to the rally-killing inspiration for the mocking “6-4-3” chant, and Wade Boggs’s robotic mass production of basehits had proven capable of inspiring from the hometown crowd only admiration and respect, not love. So the biggest, deepest roars came for the tall mustachioed man who in his late-blooming prime seemed to do everything on the field with majestic, regal calm: The way he loped out to take his position in right field, the way he warmed up his famous arm by throwing laser beams out of a sleepy, feline half-windup to some bullpen lackey armed with a catcher’s mitt, the way he slowly strode to the plate in a big spot, letting the pitcher stew in the sound rising from every corner of the old ballpark, the way he then coiled himself down into his unusual disciple-of-Hriniak stance (different from the stance of the younger clean-cut version of the man shown above), the newer stance a back-slanting crouch, weight on his right foot, left foot bent and extended with toe just touching the dirt, bat back and nearly horizontal and loose-gripped and seeming to slowly pulse as if in measured counterpoint to the larger, louder thrumming of the word Dewey on 33,000 tongues.

Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey

I spent two summers working at a gas station and living with my grandfather on Cape Cod during the era when Dwight Evans was king. I made my way to Fenway more often during those years than I ever had or ever would, taking a quick busride in from Hyannis to meet up with friends or sometimes just to go to a game by myself. Even if I was on my own, maybe especially when I was on my own, I threw my voice into the chant for Dwight Evans like I was throwing a thin dry stick onto a fire.

Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey

I was 17, 18, hadn’t amounted to much, had an expulsion and a GED diploma in my recent past, had no skills, no girl and absolutely no prospects for a girl, and no vision for the future beyond vague thoughts of some sort of selective nuclear holocaust that would rid the world of everyone but me and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Most days I pumped gas and wiped windows with a squeegie and sat behind a register bored out of my skull until it was time to pedal my grandfather’s creaky bicycle home.

Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey

My grandfather kept the fridge stocked with Miller Genuine Draft. He also kept frosted mugs in the freezer. Often there was a Red Sox game on Channel 38. These things–beer in frosted mugs, ample games on TV–had eluded me in my youth in rural Vermont, and suddenly here they were, consolation prizes to numb the general sense that my life was like a game in the hands of an unraveling bullpen.

Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey

The television was in my grandfather’s bedroom, the one he’d shared with my grandmother until she’d died in her sleep five or six years earlier. We watched the games together, my grandfather in his remote-controlled La-Z-Boy and me in my grandfather’s remote-controlled bed. The two of us didn’t talk much, but sometimes I’d explain something about the game to my grandfather, who though always ready to enthusiastically support something had never been a huge sports fan. Sometimes we wouldn’t talk but would just use our respective remote control devices to raise and lower our torsos or raise and lower our legs. My grandfather had trouble breathing, especially in the second of those two years, and in the quiet moments where no body parts were being raised or lowered you could hear the sound of the oxygen machine, which had a clear rubber tube running from its place in the next room up into my grandfather’s nostrils. 

Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey

Sometimes the game would devolve into nothing, a slow dissolve into another loss, but then again sometimes, and more and more that second year, the game seemed to build to a point, a crux, a moment when someone on the Red Sox had a chance to step forward and scatter the creeping ubiquitous fog of failure. My memory is full of distortions, is actually nothing but distortions, so I have no idea how many times this actually happened, but when I think of those years I see Dwight Evans slowly striding to the plate with the game on the line, and I see myself lying on my grandfather’s orthopedic bed, and I hear myself praying silently but with all my might for Dewey to come through.

Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey . . . Dewey

And I see Dewey working the count to 3 and 1, the chant getting louder with each pitch until it blooms into a greater wordless roar. And I see Dewey uncoiling and swinging and sending the motherfucking ball onto Lansdowne Street.

36 comments

  1. 1.  Excellent piece Josh. And I have to say that was the best use of motherfucker since Die Hard.


  2. 2.  How Jim Rice got more support for a HOF career then Dewey is a mystery to me. Complete player. In the last week you’ve made two of my top 10 players that I’ve seen come back to life.


  3. 3.  2: Yeah, Dewey was egregiously underrated by the HOF voters.

    As for a comparison to Rice, I guess he was not seen as the star that Jim Rice was, Rice for a fairly long time reigning in public perception (and in the perception of rival players, too, I think) as the most dangerous slugger in the league. Dwight never got that same widespread acclaim, maybe because his batting average, home run, and RBI totals were generally not as gaudy as Rice’s had been. Dewey’s rep probably would be higher if he was playing now, when OBP and OPS are more widely spoken of and understood. Also, Dewey sort of gradually snuck up on stardom, for many years batting low in the Sox order, whereas Jim Rice was a middle of the order star from his first year. Those “first impressions” probably helped shape people’s hard-to-shake ideas of each guy.

    But if it were up to me, they’d both be in the Hall.


  4. 4.  What a finish.


  5. 5.  “consolation prizes to numb the general sense that my life was like a game in the hands of an unraveling bullpen.”

    Awesome.

    Here’s what I figured out about Josh’s writing. Normally, I sort of speed-read through blogs . But Josh demands that you slow down to savor. It’s just fantastic.


  6. 6.  Evans? His best year arguably was a strike year. He was a late bloomer and alot of his value was defensive which, even today, is hard to value; let alone when there wasn’t a whole battalion of folks recording ball in play data. I have no problem with Rice making the HOF (I usually steer clear of Cooperstown debates), but it’s a shame that Dewey and his brother from another Darrell got only cursory glances.


  7. 7.  5 per usual put it better than I could. I was just now struggling to find a way to praise Josh other than “Dude! Awesome!!” but the distraction of my ten-year old son tugging on my arm wondering why I was reading the piece so slowly was too much to overcome.

    So I’m left with… Dude! Awesome!!


  8. 8.  Remember Dewey’s last swing through the AL with the Orioles?
    Damned strange it was to see him in the orange and black.


  9. 9.  8: Jarring. I try not to think about it too much.

    What were the most jarring late career “wrong uniform” sights, in baseball or otherwise? Joe Namath in a Rams uniform and Clyde Frazier toiling for the Cleveland Cavaliers come to mind.


  10. 10.  I vote for:
    1) Franco Harris in a Seahawks uniform
    2) Yogi Berra coaching for the Houston Astros
    3) Steve Carlton in a Cleveland Indians uni


  11. 11.  Whaddya know:
    SI.com has a photo gallery of “Legends in the Wrong Uniforms” that includes two of the three I mentioned, and one of yours as well.
    (Swear I didn’t look at it before I posted.)
    It’s at:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/2005/06/03/odd.uniforms.ad/content.1.html

    I think that picture of Franco in the Seahawks uni may be the only one.


  12. 12.  ALot of guys in baseball wore weird unis at the end of their careers:

    Ruth – Boston Braves
    Eddie Matthews – Tigers
    Too many Dodgers and Giants were Mets
    Warren Spahn was a Met
    Harmon Killebrew – Royals
    The Red Sox were notorious for squeezing out the last at bats of immobile sluggers: Jack Clark, Larry Parish, Rob Deer, et al.


  13. 13.  I always thought Bob Horner as a brief member of the Go-Go Cardinals was discombobulating.


  14. 14.  Juan Marichal as a Dodger and Orel Hershiser as a Giant. Yuck.


  15. 15.  John Unitas in a Chargers powder blue uni was disquieting.


  16. 16.  Here’s one for Josh:

    The Chief as a Charlotte Hornet. And a Bull after that.


  17. 17.  Durocher as Giants manager in 1950, after being suspended as Dodgers manager for all of 1949.

    Not that I was there to see it, but I’ve read a bit.

    Mays and Hodges and Snider as Mets.

    Tom Seaver in either a Reds or White Sox uniform.


  18. 18.  16: Ouch.

    17: Don’t forger Tom Seaver as a Red Sox. As for Mays, somehow that one doesn’t seem as jarring to me. Wasn’t it sort of a return to his NY Giants roots, in a way?


  19. 19.  18 My lord, if I’d ever known that Seaver spent half a season as a Red Sox, as Baseball Reference tells me, I’d forgotten it.

    Bleah.

    Speaking of Sox, Carlton Fisk going from Red to White.


  20. 20.  When did Miller start making Genuine Draft? I’m pretty sure we’r ethe same age–I turn 39 in October–and I don’t remember MGD arriving until 1987 or 88. Maybe Cape Cod got the first few batches…

    Growing up in Philly, seeing Carlton in anything other than a Phillie uniform was particularly jarring. Then again, hearing him talk to the media once he left Philly was also jarring.


  21. 21.  20: Yes, good question. The reason I specifically remember what beer the fridge was stocked with was because my grandfather made such a big production that this new invention–draft beer in a bottle!–was “the best damn beer [he'd] ever had.” He was always very quick to embrace a new innovation and declare it the “best damn [whatever it was] ever.” To be honest, I can’t remember for sure if Genuine Draft debuted in his fridge in the summer of ’85 or in ’86.


  22. 22.  yeah dwight evans. yeah

    man.. he was no Darrell Evans.


  23. 23.  Ramblin Pete!!!!!!!!!!


  24. 24.  I WORSHIPPED Dwight Evans. Played right field, batted in a crouch, everything.

    As always, great, great, great piece of writing.


  25. 25.  In 1977, during the last stages of the dismantling of the Oakland A’s dynasty, I decided to give up watching professional baseball. It was too painful to watch the ragtag group of no-names and minor leaguers that barely tried to passed itself off as a major league team. But just before the start of the 1978 season, I realized that I missed baseball too much, that I couldn’t stand not paying attention, that I just couldn’t NOT care. So I steeled myself and prepared to root for a team that I knew would be awful, a team that was going to lose a lot of games, a team whose victories would be few and far between.

    There seemed to be a lot of A’s killers back then, players who always seemed to come up with the big hit that would put the game away for their team and cement yet another A’s loss. Foremost among them was that damn Dwight Evans from the damn Red Sox. They were a team that had more fans at the A’s home games than the A’s themselves. They were always bigger and better than the A’s, and they always seemed to get the breaks. So one sunny afternoon I was taking in an A’s-Red Sox game, and for once the A’s seemed to have the upper hand for most of the game. The A’s held a 2 run lead and had up-and-coming pitching prospect Matt Keough on the mound, one of the few promising bright spots for the A’s that year. And then the Red Sox got a couple of runners aboard, and goddamn Dwight Evans came to the plate, looking like he always did against the A’s, looking like he was going to kick some ass. But Keough didn’t give in, and they battled to a 2 strike count. Then Keough threw a pitch that was either swung on and missed, or just called a strike, and Evans started to stride toward the dugout, but then stopped as he realized the umpire hadn’t rung him up, but just called strike two!

    WHAT!?!?

    Everybody in the stadium knew it was strike three! The A’s knew it, the fans knew it, the announcers knew it, and the scoreboard operator knew it! Hell, Evans himself knew it! Everyone knew it except the umpire himself, but he also knew that this was the pathetic Oakland A’s, and that nobody was going to make too much of a stink about it in Oakland. Not like they would, he knew, in Boston. So the umpire stood his ground, and despite Keough going nearly ballistic at the blown count, the umpire didn’t ask for help or change his mind. So Keough went back to the mound to try and collect himself and try to finish off Evans and kill the threat. But you could see he was still agitated as he gathered himself, wound up, and delivered the next pitch, a fastball down the middle of the plate. Evans bat swooped down like a hawk on a wounded pidgeon and swept the ball high and deep out to right field, well over the fence and deep into the bleachers. Before the ball cleared the fence, Keough was off the mound and blasting the umpire with a barrage of profanity. This time there was no calming him down and he was quickly ejected. Gone was the lead, our pitcher, and any hope of winning the game. We were cheated outright, and the player deep in the middle of the scam, as usual, was Dewey Evans. So I hoipe you’ll forgive me if I don’t sing the praises of Mr. Evans, as I’ve always considered him a cheating rat bastard.


  26. 26.  Great story. Thanks for sharing it, CMcFood.

    I dug around in Matt Keough’s info on baseballreference.com and could not find a situation that exactly matched the details of the story, but I think this game (which was in 1979 and which was tied late, with no runners on, when Dewey struck) seems like the likeliest candidate:

    http://tinyurl.com/289lo9

    Dewey’s other three homers off Keough came considerably later, in ’82 and ’83, and don’t seem to echo the details of your story.


  27. 27.  That seems to be the case lately, where several of the actual details of stories from my youth don’t match my personal recollections, and they’re always stretched in favor of making the story more dramatic. Curious, eh? I swear I’m not doing it on purpose.


  28. Dwight Evans was my idol and remains my favorite Red Sox player ever. He did everything with class and I must say looked pretty darned good doing it too.


  29. Has to be 7/24 or 7/25 of 1976–only day games Evans played at YS with the Yawkey armband.

    Now about this story by clmccain: What the crap? Some nerve this guy has! “Oh, my poor team has only won the World Series in three of the past five years…I give up! The big, bad Red Sox get ALL the breaks!” Again, to clarify, he’s saying that being a late-70s A’s fan was “too painful” while being a late-70s Red Sox fans meant “getting all the breaks.”

    And on top of it, none of his story is remotely true. Keough was ejected once in his career, in 1982, and it wasn’t against the Red Sox. If he was thinking of the 1979 game, it wasn’t sunny (since it was a night game), it was a solo homer (not a three-run shot), the A’s led by one, not two, etc., etc. And the Red Sox’ record against the A’s, starting after we took them out in ’75, from ’76 to ’78 was about .500, so we weren’t dominating them.

    Dwight Evans was and is a well-respected guy, not a rat bastard involved in multiple “scams” that only exist in clmccain’s mind.


  30. Gedmaniac,
    I think you are referring to the comment by CMcFood.


  31. I think the game in question was 8/20/78. Scenario played out exactly as described (Gammons goes into some detail on it in Beyond the Sixth Game), but the hitter in question was not Evans. It was Jerry Remy.

    Astonishingly, at least to me, that was the 2nd homer Remy hit that month. It was also (far less astonishingly) the very last of his major league career.


  32. Exactly as described?? The linescore alone tells me it was nothing like what the guy (yes, I meant CMcFood, apologies to clmccain) said it was, other than
    “a player seemed to be struck out but wasn’t.” Red Sox got an early lead which they never relinquished. Event happened in the fifth inning. Keough stayed in the game and pitched nine innings. And of course, Dwight Evans was not involved at all. It’s bad enough to make up a scenario surrounding the play, but to accuse the wrong person–terrible job! (Also, his team whose wins were supposedly few and far between, was only six games out going into that game. After they lost that game, they lost eight more in a row, before playing the Sox again, and beating them twice in a row. 7-37 in their last 44 that year, and in that stretch, 3-3 against Boston. Evans and the Sox weren’t what that guy shoulda been worried about back then…)


  33. In the name of charity, Dewey’s answering fans questions on SoSH. Seems like he’s doing a few each day. Kind of fun, thought you might like to read it, if you haven’t seen it yet.

    http://sonsofsamhorn.net/index.php?showtopic=53527


  34. blogadoo:
    Thanks for passing that link on. That looks like some great stuff from Dewey.


  35. I have posted a story on Evans, discussing how he was touted as a prospect coming up the ranks. See it at Pastime Post, http://www.pastimepost.com.


  36. A couple more random thoughts on Evans:

    (1) He provided a harbinger of the 1986 pennant when he hit a leadoff homer off Jack Morris on opening day. Very first pitch of the season, I believe.

    (2) There’s a wonderful passage in Gammons’s (underrated) Beyond the Sixth Game on Evans. Takes place (if I remember correctly) over the All Star Break in 1980. Evans was not hitting well, had been dropped to 9th in the order occasionally, and was even platooning with Jim Dwyer. Hitting coach Walt Hriniak worked with him relentlessly, and something must have clicked. Hriniak’s comment to the press was that “today we turned Dwight Evans’s career around.” He hit very well in the 2nd half, was perhaps the best player in baseball in 1981-82, and continued to be a tremendous offensive force through most of the 80s.



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