Dwight Evans Belongs in Hall of Fame Alongside Roberto Clemente

Baseball’s greatest right fielders have the most powerful and accurate arms.  They play shallow and charge the ball with aggression, preventing runners from taking an extra base.  A great right fielder is an intimidator, able to change the complexion of a game with aggressive play.  Offensively, the great ones typically anchor a lineup with power and production.  The all-time greatest was Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.  The unquestionable best Red Sox right fielder is Dwight Evans, who should have a plaque in Cooperstown.

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In addition to winning four batting titles, an MVP award and two World Series championships with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente established the modern day standard for right fielders, earning Gold Glove awards every year from 1961-1971 while patrolling Pittsburgh’s spacious Forbes Field.  His 12 career Gold Glove awards ties Willie Mays for the most in baseball history.  

Clemente led outfielders in assists five times thanks to one of the best arms baseball has ever seen. Just months before perishing in a plane crash while leading humanitarian efforts for earthquake ravage Nicaragua, Clemente became the 11th player to record 3,000 career hits. If not for his tragic death at the young age of 38, the Clemente name would figure even more prominently in the baseball record book.

You can make a strong case for Evans being considered the best outfielder in Red Sox history. He was the top right fielder of his era, earning eight Gold Gloves.  He played with outstanding instincts, carefully navigating the spacious, tight-cornered, wide-angled Fenway right field while displaying a canon of an arm.  

Evans made one of the greatest catches in World Series history in Game Six of the 1975 World Series.  In the 11th inning of a 6-6 ball game with one out and fleet-footed Ken Griffey Sr. on first, Cincinnati All-Star second baseman Joe Morgan slashed a sinking liner toward the right  field field pole. The  ball seemed destined to drop into the corner for an extra base hit that would have scored Griffey.  With an instinctive over-the-head stab of the  glove, Evans plucked the ball out of the Boston night.  He stumbled backward, regained his balance and threw to the infield to double up Griffey at first base.  Carlton Fisk secured arguably the most memorable game in Red Sox and World Series history with a dramatic 12th inning home run.

Somehow, Evans lasted only three years on the Hall of Fame ballot, never getting more than 10.4 percent of the vote.  Perhaps Evans was overshadowed by Hall of Fame teammates Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice.  Evans may have been prematurely labeled “a good hitter,” but not a “great hitter ”because his offensive prowess occurred in the latter half of his career,   Perhaps his steady production and contributions were just overlooked.  There was little fanfare to his game — he consistently produced offensively and defensively, but often in the shadows of more popular teammates.

Defensively, Evans compared favorably to Clemente, winning eight gold gloves while leading the league in assists three times.  The assist totals were kept down over the years as few runners dared to test the Evans’s powerful and accurate arm.  The only outfielders to earn more Gold Gloves are Clemente, Willie Mays, Al Kaline, and Ken Griffey Jr. — all Hall of Famers.

Offensively, Evans is not as far from elite as non-believers might think.  In fact, looking at his numbers over an extended period of time, Evans is indeed elite.  He was one of the best offensive players of his era.  During the decade of the ‘80s (1980-1989), Evans had more home runs and extra base hits than any other player in the American League.  At one time or another, he led the league in on-base percentage, OPS, runs, runs created, total bases, home runs, extra base hits, base on balls, and times reaching base.  

Ironically, his best season may be what’s keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.  During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Evans slashed .296/.415.522 while playing every game and leading the league in homers, total bases, walks, and OPS.  This was also one of his Gold Glove seasons.  The Dwight Evans legacy may have been different had Major League Baseball completed the season and Evans continued his MVP ways.  If Evans had hit 15 more homers in the 54 games missed, he would have finished his career with 400 home runs — and unofficial benchmark for HOF enshrinement.

By definition — at least my definition — the best players of any era are considered baseball’s elite and therefore belong in the Hall of Fame.  Evans was inexplicably kept off the HOF’s Modern Era final list earlier this month.  The committee will convene again over the next few years, hopefully with an open-minded look at forgotten players from the ‘70s and ‘80s such as Evans.

The Evans rookie card, also featuring Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians fan-favorites Al Bumbry and Charlie Spikes, can be found in the 1973 Topps set.  In 1955, Topps issued the first Clemente baseball card, which features spectacular portrait and action photos across a horizontal design.

 

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