Man of grace, Evans deserved more than door from Red Sox


THERE WILL be no final chance to cup your hands over your mouth and shout, "Dewwwwww-eeeeee," as Sherm Feller announces, "Now batting, No. 24, Dwight Evans. Designated hitter. Evans."

We'll never again see him charge a two-hop single from rightfield. We'll never see him gracefully bend down, glove the ball, then come straight up and fire overhand to the infield. It was always textbook stuff, right from the hardball handbook.

We'll never again see him flip his bat in disdain after drawing a stylish walk. No more icy, eye-black glares at the pitcher after striking out. No more monstrous homers leaving Fenway on the rise, headed for Citgo or beyond; not for the hometown team.

Dwight Evans is through with the Boston Red Sox. Boston management made the announcement yesterday, electing not to pick up the option year on Evans' contract. They have not invited him to spring training. It's a big ten-four for No. 24.

We reach for perspective. We find perspective.

Evans was the last link to the Thomas Yawkey Era. The Red Sox signed him in the '60s. Boston's 1990 designated hitter was playing in the majors before there was a designated hitter. Evans played with Luis Aparicio and Luis Rivera. He played with Reggie Smith and Lee Smith. He outlasted Orlando Cepeda and Vinnie Orlando.

Dwight Evans is history. He played with long sideburns and long hair; he played with no sideburns and short hair. He wore the Red Sox cap when it was red and blue and needed a propeller on top; he wore the Red Sox cap when it went back to a dignified blue with a red "B." He played when few players wore ear flaps; now it's OK to wear an earring. His career started with Sonny Bono and ended with Bono.

The Red Sox are still here, but it's a new generation. Wade Boggs and Marty Barrett are the new ranking senior partners, and neither was around for the strike of 1981. Evans went back to the strike of '72. Evans was a member of the Red Sox organization for parts of four decades.

His departure means there is nobody left to ask about Don Zimmer or Bucky Dent, or Aparicio falling down rounding third. No active Red Sox player can tell us of the wonders of Luis Tiant or the wacky ways of Bill Lee. The rest of today's Sox players think of aged currency when they hear of the Buffalo Heads. Dwight Evans knows the Buffalo Heads. He was there.

Until yesterday, Evans had more continuous service with his present club than any other player in the majors. But now it's over. And like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice, Evans failed to bring a World Series championship to Boston. The closing remark on yesterday's cold-type statement was, "My only regret is that I was not able to help bring a world championship to the Red Sox and their fans."

Raised in Hawaii and California, Evans was never totally comfortable in an environment where ballplayers are more important than congressmen. He never quite understood why it mattered so much here.

But he was ever a fan favorite. His career inspired little of the emotion that traced the travails of Williams, Yaz, Rice and now Roger Clemens, but Evans was hailed for his dedication and distance from disgrace. Admiral Dewey never warred with the media. There were no Margos, no spitting episodes, no public pleas for valets. He could be taken as aloof or insincere, but that was in the eye of the beholder. Fans loved the guy, and he gave them no reason not to love him. He always played the game and he was good at it.

He won eight Gold Gloves. He survived a couple of serious beanings. He never hit a cheap home run. He was clutch. He hit .300 in two World Series, knocking home a whopping nine runs in the '86 Fall Classic/Torture Chamber. He made The Catch in Game 6, 1975, before Carlton Fisk hit The Homer. When Clemens fanned 20 batters in one game, he was spared the indignity of losing because Evans hit a three-run homer.

He did it all with a heavy heart. Dwight and Susan Evans know the pain that is known only by parents of seriously ill children, and Evans played in a lot of games when his mind had to be elsewhere.

Evans was a better player in his 30s than he was in his 20s. He was in better shape than almost any of his teammates, and female fans noticed that he seemed to get better looking every year. How many of us can successfully invert the aging process? Evans did.

This is a professional passing not to be taken lightly in these parts. Evans played in more games than any Red Sox player other than Yastrzemski. His last Boston at-bat was in the seventh inning of Game 4 at Oakland Coliseum 15 days ago. He grounded to Carney Lansford.

His last Fenway at-bat as a Red Sox player came on Sunday night, Oct. 7, when he faced Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Red Sox had men on first and third and trailed, 2-1. Eckersley fanned Evans on three pitches, all swinging.

That was it. The next time you see Dwight Evans in Fenway, he'll be in some other uniform, or he'll be in a business suit, accepting a gift and making a short speech. His 19-year Red Sox career is over. Yesterday he met the fate that awaits the Phil Plantiers and Mo Vaughns of this world: He was told his services were no longer needed.

It was hollow. There should have been more.

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