Flashback Friday: Darrell Evansby John Lepore May 27, 2022 0 comments
Darrell Evans celebrated his 75th birthday yesterday. So, I thought it was a good time to flashback to his 21-year career. Modern analytics would love Evans; however, he didn’t get much traction on the Hall of Fame ballot when he appeared for the first and only time in 1995. In fact, the left-handed hitter got just eight votes and fell off. We will look at his case for Cooperstown later, but for now, let’s take a look at the long career of an underrated player.
Darrell Wayne Evans was born on May 26, 1947, in California. Growing up a huge Dodger fan, Evans went to games regularly once the Dodgers were in Los Angeles. He came from a baseball family where his father, Richard, played semipro ball and his mother was a star softball player. Evans was a two-sport star, leading Pasadena Junior College to baseball and basketball championships during his time there. After being drafted five times, he was finally left unprotected by the Oakland Athletics and the Atlanta Braves snatched him up in the Rule 5 Draft in 1968.
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In limited time over his first three seasons from 1969-1971, Evans showed the plate discipline that would be a theme for him throughout his career. In just 385 plate appearances in that time, the youngster walked at a solid 12.2 percent rate. Evans would be a starter in 1972 and show what he was capable of hitting 19 home runs and walking 90 times against just 58 strikeouts. The best was yet to come for the 25-year-old.
Evans had his best season in 1973. He set career highs in home runs (41) and would surpass 100 runs and 100 RBIs for the only time in his career. Although he finished 18th in MVP voting, he had a great argument to be in the top 3 with a 9.0 WAR. That year he was part of the trio that was the first to hit 40 homers on the same team along with Davey Johnson and Hank Aaron. The following season was a good one as well, and Evans was on base for Aaron’s record-breaking blast on April 8, 1974, against Al Downing. Evans walked 126 times, leading the NL for the second year in a row while hitting 25 bombs and scoring 99 runs.
The SF Years and a World Series Ring
The struggles in the beginning of the 1976 season prompted the Braves to trade Evans to the San Francisco Giants in June. He managed to get above .200 for the season, but it was a surprising downturn for the 29-year-old. The Giants moved him between left field, third base, and first base for the next seven seasons. Evans did his thing. On the verge of free agency in 1983, he put excellent numbers for San Francisco. He slashed .277/.378/.516 and hit 30 homers with 82 RBIs which were the most in those categories since his big year in 1973.
Now, at 36 years old, the Giants decided to let Evans walk, and the Detroit Tigers on the cusp of a great season, needed a big left-handed bat. Sparky Anderson contacted Evans personally and played a big part in convincing him to come to the Motor City. In 1984, the Tigers were unstoppable. Although Evans had an off-year and hit an awful 1-for-15 in the World Series, he finally got his ring.
In 1985 Evans turned back the clock and led the AL in homers with 40. At 38 years old, he was the oldest player to hit 40 and lead the league. The slugger went on to hit 29 and 34 in 1986 and 1987 respectively, and at the age of 41, played his final year with Detroit in 1988. He signed on for one more season, going back to Atlanta in 1989.
After The Game
Evans went straight into coaching, working in different capacities from coach, hitting coach, and manager for 21 years from 1990-2010. He has worked in the minor leagues, independent leagues, and with the New York Yankees. He lives with his wife, LaDonna, in California. They have four children.
Hall of Fame Case
Evans is one of the few players that has achieved 400 homers, 1,300 runs, 1,300 RBIs, and a .350 OBP. The only other eligible player with those numbers not in the Hall without steroid allegations is Fred McGriff. For a 16-year stretch, Evans had a .359 wOBA and a 123 wRC+. That is borderline great production for a long time. He was an excellent defensive third baseman, especially early in his career.
What hurts Evans is a lifetime .248 batting average and no accolades to speak of without a Gold Glove or a top 10 finish in MVP voting. He also had 16.2 of his 58.8 total WAR in just two seasons and didn’t hit 5.0 in any season for the rest of his career. If anyone has a borderline case, it is Evans.
Darrell Evans was an excellent player. He had his ups and downs during his long career with a couple of dominant seasons early on. Bill James said that he was the most underrated player ever and also was seventh among his top 25 who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Modern metrics tell us that Evans was a great player. He does have over 2,000 hits, 1,300 runs, 1,300 RBIs, and 400 homers. Those counting stats are good enough to be considered by the Veteran’s committee.
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