The Hall of Fame Case for Dwight Evans
On Sunday, December 8, the Modern Baseball Era committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which includes candidates whose primary contributions to baseball came between 1970-87, will vote on candidates for the 2020 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.
Next up: Dwight Evans
The case for his induction:
The last guy we did in this series was Dave Parker. I said I would not vote for him if I had a vote, but we can all agree that he was an excellent player, yes? And that, even if we wouldn’t vote for him, it wouldn’t be crazy for someone to, right? Which is to say that Parker, while not a huge Hall of Fame oversight, has a case and is closer to the line than a lot of guys. On that, I think, we can agree.
So, then you look at Dwight Evans and you see that he hit 46 more home runs than Parker, scored 198 more runs than Parker, had three different seasons with a .400+ OBP while Parker never reached that mark and while Evans reached base almost 500 more times than Parker did in his career. You see that while Parker, known for great defense, won three Gold Gloves, Evans won eight of them. In total, you see that because of his more well-rounded game -- and because he didn’t wander in the injury/conditioning/drug problem wilderness in the middle of his career -- Evans had a 66.7 career WAR and Dave Parker had a 40 career WAR.
His stat line: .272/.370./470 with 385 homers, 1,384 RBI and 2,446 Hits. He led the American League in OPS twice, total bases once, OBP once, runs, once, walks three times, homers once -- in the strike-shortened 1981 season -- and he was in the lineup all the dang time. His career OPS+ was 127, which is on par with Bill Dickey, Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly, Roger Maris, Jim Rice and Sammy Sosa. In WAR he matches or outshines Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Joe Cronin, Duke Snider, Chase Utley, Andre Dawson, Willie McCovey, Dave Winfield and Billy Williams, among others.
Evans, to put it simply, had a Hall of Fame career. He would not be a borderline pick compared the Hall’s historical standards. He’d fit right in with a great many outfielders who have been inducted.
The case against his induction:
First, let’s talk about why Evans got no love from the BBWAA when he was on the ballot between 1997-99. And I mean no love: Evans received just 5.9% of the vote in his first year, 10.4% in his second, and then dropped off with only 3.6% of the vote in his third.
There were a few reasons for this.
The first was the arc of his career. He was, not unreasonably, considered a defense-first outfielder early in his career, not breaking out with the bat until he was almost 30. He was extraordinarily productive in his 30s, but the perception of him being a glove man who, sure, could help you with the bat, as opposed to a great all-around ballplayer, stuck despite the fact that he broke out so thoroughly on offense later. Almost every Hall of Famer went from phenom in his early 20s to great in his mid-to-late 20s, to excellent and then solid veteran into his late 30s. Evans didn’t look like that and Hall of Fame voters have always had a hard time assessing guys who don’t look like that.
The second reason is one that we discussed when we talked about Evans’ contemporary, Lou Whitaker: even with the late offensive surge, so much of his value was tied up in defense and on-base ability, and those are parts of the game that were either ignored or greatly discounted by the ball writers who covered him in the 70s and 80s and who made up the BBWAA electorate when Evans hit the ballot.
Another reason -- and now we’re getting into more legitimate arguments against him, depending on how you roll with your Hall of Fame vote -- is that he did not have an identifiable Hall of Fame peak and was never considered the best player in the game. He got MVP votes -- he finished as high as third in one year and fourth in another -- but no one talked about him the way they talked about Parker. Or Rod Carew. Or Dale Murphy. Or George Brett. Or, for that matter, his fellow Red Sox Jim Rice and Fred Lynn.
You can look at that a couple of different ways. One way you could look at it is to say “peak schmeak, he had the overall career value of lots of Hall of Famers and if we rearranged his seasons a bit we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.” But another way -- a not-illegitimate way -- is to say “there should be some ‘fame’ in ‘Hall of Fame’ and, career value aside, shouldn’t we be honoring the guys who, now and at the time, were the best of the best? Someone who, at one time or another, everyone looked at and said ‘WOW!”
As you know if you’ve read my stuff for more than five minutes, I don’t ascribe to that later view -- he wasn’t viewed as one of the best because the people doing the viewing had a less-than-ideal view of what made players valuable -- but that’s what the main argument against Evans looks like. Well, that and “WAR sucks and defensive metrics suck so we could be misled about Evans’ value.” I’d harshly discount that view, though, seeing as even Evans’ contemporaries considered him to be, basically, the best right fielder in all of baseball. It’s not just a matter of retroactively applied analytics.
Would I vote for him?
Yes, I would.
Will the Committee vote for him?
My sense is no, but I’d like to be pleasantly surprised.
Mostly this is just me remembering how hard it’s been for anyone who is not a former executive to get through the past iterations of the Veterans Committee and thinking that, absent some hook, Evans won’t either. Whitaker has a hook -- that whole Alan Trammell/JAck Morris thing from two years ago which makes him look like the final piece of a narrative puzzle -- and I think that’d be enough for Lou. I’m not sure what Evans’ hook is other than “he’s been underrated for so long.” Well, so have a lot of guys and the VC never seems to care all that much.
I’m just hoping that someone has leaned on the Modern Baseball Era Committee over the past couple of years, inspiring them to be more generous with their votes and that Dewey Evans benefits from it. It’s an honor that is long overdue.