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Friday, May 25, 2012

Fan seeks to get Dewey his due

The way right field has become somewhat of a revolving door for the Red Sox in recent years, it should be remembered that for nearly two decades and many heartbreaks, one man ruled the position with grace and class. 
Dewey takes a curtain call.

When the Sox announced that Dwight "Dewey" Evans would be one of two team representatives at Boston's table responsible for calling in the team's picks at next month's amateur draft, the memories came flooding back for those of us old enough to distinguish Bob Montgomery from Bob Bailey.

Each year from 1973-89, Evans reached double figures in home runs while guarding what most considered the toughest patch of right-field real estate in the American League at Fenway Park. (His last year in Boston, 1990, he was strictly a DH.)

And while even casual Boston fans know that Manny Ramirez wore number 24 while with the Red Sox from 2001-2008, one fan is focused on getting another #24 -- Evans -- the recognition he deserves.

Dewey was a much more low-key but far better all-around ballplayer than Ramirez. He didn’t quite have Manny’s power, but Evans was an outstanding defensive player who developed into an excellent hitter – so good, in fact, that fan-turned-lobbyist Patrick Languzzi believes he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
By 1982 Evans was a complete ballplayer.

Languzzi has amassed plenty of stats to back up his Cooperstown claim. During the 1980s, for instance, Evans led the majors in extra-base hits and collected more home runs (256) than any other American Leaguer. 

Evans was also the premier right fielder in baseball for most of two decades, and is the only player in history to accomplish both the aforementioned slugging feats and also win eight Gold Gloves.

When it comes to combining offensive and defensive prowess in the Gold Glove era (post-1955), Languzzi attests, nobody is close to Evans. Henry Aaron is the only other player to both lead the ML in extra-base hits over the course of a decade (the ‘60s) and win multiple Gold Gloves in his career, and he “only” won three of them.

Take Evans’ spectacular defense out of the equation, and he’s still a viable Cooperstown candidate with higher lifetime numbers than the average Hall of Famer in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, walks, slugging, and OPS. He was good in the clutch too; playing in two of the all-time classic World Series (1975 and ’86), Evans hit .300 with 3 homers and 14 RBI in 14 games. 

During the 11th inning of the infamous  Game Six of '75 Fall Classic vs the Reds, he nearly made my 8-year-old eyes pop out by making one of the greatest catches in postseason history just a few feet in front of me. 

His half-leap, half-lunge against the short right-field fence robbed Joe Morgan of a home run, but knowing it was only the second out of the inning, Evans had the presence of mind to whip the ball in to first base to complete the double play. (See the play and Dewey's recollection of it here:
Dewey robs Morgan.

It’s all right there on Languzzi’s website (www.call2thehall), which the rookie webmaster has created to honor Evans and garner support for his Cooperstown candidacy. Dewey faces an uphill battle for sure, since he never collected more than 10.4 percent of the votes when initially appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot from 1997-1999. 

A player needs votes from 75 percent of the electorate (primarily sportswriters) to make it via this route; if he can’t crack that mark after 15 years, he is removed from the ballot and can only make it if nominated and then selected by the Veteran’s Committee.

More than mere idol worship compelled a self-proclaimed “average Joe” to create the website and an online petition (at that is quickly picking up steam. 

Growing up just outside Boston in Waltham, Mass, Languzzi was a huge Red Sox fan who like myself “came of age” with the 1975 pennant-winners and loved watching the quiet, classy, and clutch way Evans played the game. Jim Rice was another of his favorite players, and he felt that both belonged in the Hall of Fame – Rice for his prodigious power hitting, Evans for his all-around play.

After Rice was elected to Cooperstown in 2009, Languzzi told his wife Ezzy that he felt Evans deserved the same honor. “She put her finger on my chest, and said, ‘If you feel that way, then do the research and prove it.” Languzzi recalls with a laugh. “I’m always up for a good challenge, so I started researching. And the more I uncovered, the more convinced I became that Evans belonged in the Hall of Fame.”
This "Super Outfield" hit 885 homers for Boston.

Figuring that the Veteran’s Committee (made up of senior media members, baseball executives, and Hall of Fame players) would agree if given the facts, Languzzi contacted Red Sox Vice President and Team Historian Dick Bresciani and shared his findings. Since it was “Bresch” who had compiled the rich statistical analysis that helped make the case for Rice’s election, his getting behind the project would be a huge endorsement.

Bresciani was so impressed that he put Languzzi in touch with Tom Catlin, who had been creating a documentary about Evans for the New England Sports Network (NESN), and Languzzi’s stats were worked into the program. Viewers saw just how valid an argument could be made for Dewey, especially when his numbers were put beside those of his longtime teammate Rice.

Although Rice had more “big” years, their core lifetime stats are very similar:  382 home runs, 1451 RBI, and a .854 OPS for Jim Ed; and 385 homers, 1384 RBI, and an .840 OPS for Evans. Rice had 2,452 hits; Evans 2,446. 

Yes, Rice had the higher lifetime batting and slugging averages, but Evans walked more and hit into far fewer double plays. And while Rice was a better defensive left fielder than he usually got credit for, Evans was among the best right fielders to ever play the position.

No less an authority than sabermetrics pioneer Bill James, a longtime senior advisor for the Red Sox, is also in agreement with Languzzi. According to James, the biggest problem voters have with Evans and his offense is that they recall his first several seasons as a good 20-homer, 70-RBI ballplayer, and not the second half of his career when he was a great 30-homer, 100-RBI one. Nobody denies his defense is of Cooperstown caliber.
Looking determined on his '75 Topps card

“Dwight Evans is the very unusual baseball player who had all of his best years in his thirties,” James wrote in an essay entitled “An Open Letter to the Hall of Fame About Dwight Evans.” “Less than 5 percent [of players] have all of their best [offensive] years in their thirties. Dwight Evans is that unusual case.”

It was another challenge from his wife – “Why don’t you come up with a website?” – that prompted Languzzi to gather together all his statistical analysis and stories in cyberspace. Although he had never designed a website before, he came up with a very attractive, readable and easy-to-navigate portal into all things Dewey.

Through the process of his appeals for hardball justice, Languzzi has gotten friendly with Evans. He’s found his boyhood hero to be a quiet, classy guy, and learning that the three-time All-Star accomplished all he did on the field while caring for two seriously ill young sons has only further hardened Languzzi’s resolve.

“Not many knew about his sons being so sick when he played,” says Languzzi. “One of the things that drives me is that he’s so humble. You want to see somebody like that get into the Hall of Fame.”
From left: Tiant, Evans, Rice, and Yaz take a stroll at Fenway's 100th birthday.

Each three years, the Veteran’s Committee of the Hall of Fame meets to consider the credentials of players from the Expansion Era (1973 to present). To be elected, a candidate must receive votes from at least 75 percent or 12 of 16 votes cast. Evans was not on the ballot during the last such vote in 2010, because a player must be retired at least 21 years to be eligible. He last played in 1991 (with Baltimore), so Dewey will be up for discussion in fall 2013.

That gives Languzzi more than a year to keep building his case. Like a long Evans-to-Fisk peg trying to nab a runner at the plate, don’t bet against him.

1 comment:

  1. My wife is a Redsox I know, start the burning fire now. However, she has never been to Redsox stadium and neither have I. I really want it to be special so we bought for tickets in section 203 "bleacher creature". For a Red Sox fan, this can be VERY intimidating arriving to a ballpark with drunk fans saying inappropriate things.