For Evans, Hall of Fame may be just around Oriole corner

SARASOTA, FLA. — SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jim Palmer is already in the Hall of Fame. Cal Ripken is so accomplished, he's virtually guaranteed entry on the first ballot.

Dwight Evans isn't in the same class as his two new teammates. He's a borderline candidate right now, but his chances could improve dramatically if he gives the Orioles a good year, and preferably two.


No doubt, this last-minute push by Evans will be an intriguing subplot to the final season at Memorial Stadium, and possibly the first season in the new downtown ballpark at Camden Yards as well.

Evans, 39, might be elected if he retired this moment rather than begin anew with the Orioles after playing 19 years in Boston. But he's 21 home runs shy of 400, a magic number that could seal his election.


That wasn't his motivation for signing a one-year contract with the Orioles -- "It's the furthest thing from my mind," he says. But surely he knows the longer he plays, the better his chances will be.

At the moment, you can make a strong case for his election -- and one equally strong for his rejection.

On one hand, he was the best rightfielder of his era. He built his offensive numbers to Hall of Fame level, and he carried himself with dignity and grace.

On the other hand, he has never been an MVP, never been the dominant player of his league -- or even his team. In fact, he has made the All-Star team only three times.


"There's no reason in the world I can think of that he wouldn't qualify," says Orioles scout Birdie Tebbetts, a member of the Hall's Veterans Committee.

"He has the longevity, he has the character. I don't think he'll ever get to the Veterans Committee. I think he'll be voted in by the [baseball] writers."



"What I got in touch with when Joe Morgan went in was the importance of the MVP and being on a winning ballclub," Palmer says. "He played on some good clubs, but never a world championship club.

"His numbers are Hall of Fame numbers, the Gold Gloves and all that. But the things that seem to get you over the top are the collective goals you're able to accomplish. That's what I wonder about with him."

Evans could solve his problem by leading the Orioles to the World Series, but no one is certain he'll be healthy enough to play coming off a bone spur in his lower back that limited him to designated hitter duty last season.

But back to his candidacy:

* Four hundred homers. Evans isn't there yet; he's tied with Eddie Murray among active players at 379. But only 22 players have reached the 400 plateau, and all but two are in the Hall: Dave Kingman and Darrell Evans.

Neither has been retired the necessary five years for eligibility. Kingman has virtually no chance anyway, and Darrell Evans is a decided long shot. Those precedents could work against Dwight Evans.


* Eight Gold Gloves: Since the award began in 1957, only three outfielders have won more -- Roberto Clemente (12), Willie Mays (12) and Al Kaline (10).

Defense is clearly one of Evans' strengths. "I've been watching him a long time, and I've never seen him miss a cutoff man," Tebbetts says. "He has one of the great arms in baseball."

* Consistency and character: Evans was a late bloomer who developed into one of the game's steadiest performers. He led the majors with 605 extra-base hits in the '80s. His streak of nine straight 20-homer seasons ended last year.

And, as Tebbetts says, he's a throwback to the days when the game was played right, the consummate team man who appeared in 92 percent of the Red Sox's games over a 13-year stretch starting in 1978.

The arguments against? They boil down to one statement:

Evans is not a great player, simply a very good one.


True, Evans has become as much a part of Red Sox lore as Carl Yastrzemski, but he was overshadowed by Fred Lynn and Jim Rice in his early years with the club, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens more recently.

His lifetime average is a relatively low .272. He has produced only four 100-RBI seasons, all after he turned 32 (among his contemporaries, Rice put together eight, while Dave Winfield has seven and Murray five).

Finally, there's the Fenway factor. "People are going to say I was in a ballpark conducive to hitting home runs," Evans says. "Actually the park hurt me. It knocked down twice the home runs it gave me, maybe three times."

Orioles farm director Doug Melvin compares Evans to Hall of Famer Billy Williams -- "steady, consistent, sort of taken for granted." The question is whether that type of player deserves to be in the Hall. Evans will be putting the final touches on his answer, right before our very eyes.