Dwight Evans went down as perhaps the most underrated Boston Red Sox keystone throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Evans guarded the outfield alongside former American League MVP winners Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. And despite having started his big league career two seasons before both Lynn and Rice, Evans outlasted each and spent 19 of his 20 seasons with the Red Sox — which spoke volumes to the durability and reliability Evans took the field with.
Many of the post-2001 Red Sox fans likely view Manny Ramirez as their true No. 24, and for good reason. Ramirez won two World Series titles in Boston, including an 86-year curse breaker in 2004 in which he was named MVP of the series. Ramirez hit the 500th home run of his career in a Red Sox uniform back in 2008. Not to mention “Manny being Manny” became an iconic staple among Red Sox Nation, for better or worse. Yet, before Ramirez helped the Red Sox transcend their franchise from daunting to joyous, Evans stood tall in Boston’s outfield as a well-above-average contributor.
During an era where the Red Sox struggled to get over the hump in the American League Championship Series, much less the World Series, Evans served as one of Boston’s beaming lights of hope. Overshadowed by the current state of being a Red Sox fan, where the team has four Fall Classic victories within the last two decades, Evans’ impact on a night-to-night basis can’t be undersold.
Unlike Ramirez, and many Red Sox outfielders before and beyond his time, Evans was an all-time elite defender — which his eight Gold Glove Awards don’t do justice by. In 2,146 career games in the outfield, Evans notched a .987 fielding percentage through 4,587 total defensive chances. And that’s aside from the fact that he had a cannon of an arm, evident in six 10-plus assist campaigns.
During the 1975 World Series against “The Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds, most baseball fans recall Carlton Fisk’s iconic walk-off home run as the stand-alone moment of Game 6. Yet, that wasn’t the case. While Fisk’s powerful hack certainly was the most important of the 12-inning battle, Evans tracked down a deep fly ball in Fenway’s tricky right field ground. This would’ve easily plated a go-ahead run for the Reds. Instead, Evans doubled off Joe Morgan and Ken Griffey Sr. to end the inning. That sought-after web gem positioned Fisk’s heroism in the batter’s box which forever lives amongst the all-time greatest World Series moments.
Controversially, Evans wasn’t named league MVP after he received votes in five different seasons, only to finish as high as third place in 1981. During that campaign, Evans slashed .296/.415/.522 with 22 homers and 71 RBIs. He also led the league in WAR (6.7), total bases (215) and walks (85).
“Dwight Evans was the best Red Sox right fielder I ever saw,” fellow Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Pesky said, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.
While the Red Sox ultimately fell short of glory in both of Evans’ World Series appearances (1975, 1986) with the team, he certainly pulled his weight to guide Boston on both occasions. Evans batted .300 with three home runs and 14 RBIs. He also reached base in all but one of 14 games between both series.
And that’s just what Evans delivered in October.
As he was adept and versatile as a defender, Evans had both traits with the bat in his hands. He’d lead off or anywhere from third to seventh in Boston’s lineup. Consistently, Evans displayed an ability to an All-Star level of offensive contribution. He finished with 20-plus homers in 11 seasons which included nine consecutive from 1981 to 1989 — a stretch where Evans notched a plus-.370 OBP eight times. In 1991, when Evans hung up the spikes, he finished a lifetime .272/.370/.470 hitter with 385 home runs — which ranks fourth in the franchise leaderboard behind David Ortiz (541), Ted Williams (521) and Carl Yastrzemski (452).
After he failed to receive the minimum five percent of votes in his third year of eligibility, Evans was dropped from the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 1999. And regardless of how the voters viewed him, Boston will always hold Evans’ time in a Red Sox uniform in high regard.