Orioles, Evans form intriguing partnership

December 09, 1990|By Bill Glauber

Before the designated hitter came to the American League, before George Steinbrenner owned the New York Yankees, before Ben McDonald entered kindergarten, Dwight Evans played for the Boston Red Sox.

When he arrived in Boston in the late summer of 1972, Eddie Kasko was the Red Sox manager, Luis Aparicio was the team's starting shortstop and Roger Clemens was just another pudgy 10-year-old kid with a fastball and a major-league dream.

Evans became part of the Fenway Park landscape, an athlete whose broad shoulders, chiseled face and graceful stride defined the word "ballplayer." There was The Green Monster in left and Evans in right. One was immovable, the other was indomitable.

But after 18 summers -- the longest current streak of continuous service with one major-league team -- Evans was cut loose last month when the Red Sox refused to renew his option. His age (39) and his back (a chronic problem for two seasons) were judged liabilities by a team yearning to bring up younger players. Yet Evans became a member of the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night, agreeing to terms on a non-guaranteed one-year contract that could pay him $1.3 million.

"All I want to do is win, play baseball and hold a world championship trophy that doesn't belong to someone else," Evans said.

The partnership between the Orioles and Evans is intriguing. The Orioles, a rebuilding team still presumably on the rise, have been searching two seasons to add a quality hitter to a batting order anchored by shortstop Cal Ripken and first baseman Randy Milligan. In Evans, the team has acquired a right-handed hitter whose credentials appear to be on the borderline of Hall of Fame consideration.

"For a long time, I've been saying that he is a future Hall of Famer, without any questions," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "Dwight always reminded me of Al Kaline. He was a tremendous right fielder with an accurate, strong-throwing arm. He played the game so fundamentally sound."

Among active players, Evans leads in games (2,505) and runs scored (1,435), is tied for the home-run lead with the Los Angeles Dodgers' Eddie Murray (379), and is fifth in base hits (2,327) and RBI (1,346). Although it took Evans 16 years to achieve a .300 season, he has a career batting average of .272. In 123 games in 1990, he hit .249 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI.

Because of a bone spur in his lower back, Evans hasn't played in the field since August 1989. But he is an eight-time Gold Glove winner, a right fielder whose range and arm still draws the respect of opponents.

"He was a great hero here for a long time," Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman said. "I got a tremendous amount of mail getting on me for letting him go. He was very popular, a good-looking man and a good family man. He has been a Mr. Clean-type guy through his career, a class-act guy off the field and on the field."

In a city that often cannibalizes its sports stars, Evans somehow emerged above the fry, becoming a part of the storied and often anguished history of the Red Sox. Carl Yastrzemski was more beloved, Carlton Fisk more revered, and Jim Rice and Fred Lynn more publicized, but the man called Dewey outlasted them all.

During his Red Sox career, Evans shared outfield space with Tommy Harper and Rick Miller, Rice and Lynn, Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell.

He made "The Catch" in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, leaping to grab Joe Morgan's home-run bid and doubling Ken Griffey off second base to set up Fisk's game-winning home run in the 12th.

In the 1986 World Series, he hit two home runs, drove in nine runs and batted .308, but his accomplishments were forgotten in the wake of Bill Buckner's error that ended Game 6 and gave the New York Mets a second chance to win the championship.

In his final Fenway Park appearance with the Red Sox, in the 1990 American League playoffs, Evans struck out on three pitches against a former teammate, Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics.

"Naturally, I wanted to stay in Boston," Evans said. "But it's nice to be wanted. People around here [in Boston] say you're changing uniforms, but I wasn't. I didn't have one."

Evans' career defied baseball convention. He was a good player in his 20s, but became even fitter and better in his 30s.

"That's an amazing development in his case," Hemond said. "That's an indication of the type of player he is. He has made the necessary adjustments. He has continued to work at his craft, to get better and better. It is an example to our young players on how this game is conquered."

Evans is 6 feet 2 and weighs 180 pounds. He follows a strict diet, limiting himself to 22 grams of fat a day. He also trains five days a week on a Versa-Climber, an exercise machine that simulates a climbing motion.

"The muscle most important to me is my heart," Evans said.

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