This is game 52 of the 2010 baseball season.
In the first inning let’s take a look at This Week in Baseball History for the 3 week of December.
1990 The National League announces the six finalist cities for the two 1993 expansion teams. The locations include Buffalo, Denver, Miami, Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Washington, DC.
And now, continuing on with the following unrelated biography:
Walter Arthur Evers, nicknamed “Hoot”, was born February 8, 1921 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Evers’ career is a tale of what might have been. His contemporaries saw him as a potential superstar. After WWII delayed his career four years, he returned in 1946 as the Tigers’ starting centerfielder. He played the game hard and with reckless abandon; in the end that style took its toll on his body and shortened his playing career as injuries robbed him of his speed and power.
When Evers was a child, he loved to cheer for Hoot Gibson, the cowboy movie hero. On Saturday afternoons, he and his buddies would play Wild West games. He insisted on impersonating Hoot because he liked to win. Soon his buddies began calling him Hoot and the name stuck for the rest of his life.
Evers came up to the major leagues through the Detroit Tigers’ system. When he reached Detroit, he was a tremendously popular player during his six seasons with the Tigers. If you came to games in the early 1950s in Detroit you would hear what sounded like boos, but if you listened closely you would hear the crowd saying “Hooooot.”
Evers attended the University of Illinois where he was a star baseball player. He was signed by the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1941 and was considered one of the brightest prospects in baseball.
After playing one major league game on September 16, 1941, Evers’ baseball career was put on hold while he served four years in the military. After the 1942 season, with World War II raging, Evers enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the Waco Army Air Field in Texas for training. He spent the next three years in the Army Air Force but never saw combat, instead playing baseball for a service team. Evers turned down a chance to attend officer candidate school, even though he had all the qualifications. He simply wanted to play baseball for a living.
The war over, Evers was discharged in time for the 1946 season. He reported to the Tigers for spring training but soon the injury bug began to hit Evers and it would continue to do so for the rest of his career. He led the team in hitting, fielding, and baserunning in the first half of the Tigers’ exhibition schedule and had the center-field job all but sewn up. But on March 17, as Evers began a slide into second base, a relay throw by the Cleveland Indians shortstop hit him in the hand and fractured his thumb. In throwing up his hand, he failed to pull in his foot when he started his slide and his ankle snapped. With his thumb and ankle fractures, the doctors told him it would be two or three months before he could be back playing.
Evers came back on May 25 when he started in center field against the White Sox. He went 2-for-4, including his first major-league hit, a Run Batted In single in the third inning; he drove in another run in the fifth as the Tigers won, 4-1.
Then, on June 3, in a night game in Washington, a low fly ball was hit to short center field. Evers and second baseman Eddie Mayo went after the ball, both at full speed. Evers yelled for the catch, but the roar of the crowd muffled his voice and he collided with Mayo. The two players were carried off the field on stretchers and taken to the hospital. Evers suffered a compound fracture of the jaw, along with some internal injuries. Doctors doubted whether he would ever play again. Surgeons wired his jaw and three weeks later, on June 21 against the Yankees, he fooled everybody by again returning to the lineup. He finished his rookie year hitting .266 with four home runs and 33 Runs Batted In.
The injuries had taken their toll, though. He had been one of the fastest outfielders in the game, but the fractured ankle had robbed him of some of his speed and the fractured right thumb had hurt his throwing ability.
Evers hoped for better luck in 1947, but the injury jinx was still with him. On June 29, in a game at Detroit, Evers was hit in the left temple by a pitched ball and was taken to a hospital. There, he finally got some good news: no fracture. He returned in 12 days and celebrated by driving in two runs in the sixth to help the Tigers beat the Red Sox, 3-0.
Evers went on to hit .296 with 67 Runs Batted In in 126 games. He also displayed some power with 24 doubles, 5 triples, and 10 homers. He began to draw good reviews for his all-around game. He was an expert at tracking balls in center field; he played groundballs like an infielder and roamed over a large area of the outfield; his right-handed batting stance suited him well against curveball pitchers; he was an exceptional base runner; and he was known for his competitive nature.
Healthy for the 1948 season, Evers hit .314 with 10 home runs and drove in 103 runs in 139 games. In 538 at-bats, he struck out only 31 times, a career low.
In July of the 1949 season Evers crashed into the left-field fence at Fenway Park. He scraped an elbow and cut his left hand, but refused to be benched. Evers was moved to left field and said the move helped his hitting. He declared, “A center fielder runs a few hundred more miles during his career than a left fielder. True, a left fielder must beware of crashing into the fences or stands, but he soon learns how to gauge his speed as he approaches an obstacle. He learns how to play angles, so he has more energy for his batting.” It was another fine year for Evers, with 7 home runs, 72 Runs Batted In, and a batting average of .303.
Evers had his greatest season in 1950. His 143 games were a career high, and he never came close to approaching that total again. He had 21 home runs, and 103 Runs Batted In. He ascribed his extra-base hitting to the livelier ball of 1950. He told a sportswriter, “Unquestionably the ball travels farther and faster this year”.
Evers led American League outfielders in fielding, making only one error in 341 chances, and playing 115 consecutive games without an error. The Tigers won 95 games but came up just short of the pennant-winning Yankees.
In 1951 the injuries returned and Evers played in only 116 games. His batting average fell almost 100 points, to .224, and his extra-base hits were down from 67 to 28. He was determined to bounce back the following year.
He reported to spring training for the Tigers in 1952 feeling good and looking forward to getting back to his 1950 stats. But in an exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds four days before the start of the season, he was hit by a pitch and his thumb was broken in two places. He was out until June. When he came back, after just one plate appearance with the Tigers, Evers was traded to the Boston Red Sox on June 3. With Ted Williams serving with the Marines in the Korean War, the Red Sox needed an outfielder and acquired Evers as part of a nine-player deal.
Evers hit .262 for Boston with 14 home runs and 59 Runs Batted In. He could still play a good outfield, and at 30 was young enough that Boston hoped he could regain his form.
But in 1953, Evers played in just 99 games, hitting .240 with 11 home runs and 31 Runs Batted In. He was no longer the same player. The injuries had finally caught up with him.
He had just eight at-bats in 1954 when the Red Sox put him on waivers.
The New York Giants claimed Evers off waivers. Manager Leo Durocher said, “We were looking for a right-handed outfielder. We wanted an established veteran who would give us more right-handed pinch-hitting strength when he wasn’t playing the outfield.” But after just 11 at-bats with only one hit, Evers was waived by the Giants, only to be picked back up by his old team the Tigers. He hit just .183 in 60 at-bats over the rest of the year.
In January, Evers was sold to the Baltimore Orioles. He was 34 now but still wasn’t ready to retire. Through the first half of the 1955 season, he was hitting .238 with 6 home runs and 30 Runs Batted In when he was traded to Cleveland. Evers batted .288 over the rest of the season for the Indians.
The next season was his last, but he must have felt as if he were was inside a pinball machine. In May 1956, Evers was traded from Cleveland back to Baltimore. Then in August, he was released by the Orioles, who signed him again as a free agent on September 1. He drew his final release on October 18 and decided it was now time to stop playing the game he loved.
After 12 seasons, he ended his career with a .278 batting average, 98 home runs, and 565 Runs Batted In.
The unemployment line never saw Evers; the Indians quickly hired him as a scout. General manager Hank Greenberg assigned him to Florida. Evers displayed the same aggressiveness in scouting that he displayed as a player. In 1959 he was named assistant farm director. He served in that capacity for five years. Over the next three seasons, Evers was vice president, assistant to the president, acting general manager of the Indians at various times, before returning to scouting in 1967.
In 1970, he returned to the diamond for one season as a coach. Then, in 1971, after 14 seasons with the Indians, he went back to his old team, the Tigers, as the director of player development. He held his front-office position with the Tigers until 1978, when he became a special-assignment scout.
There were no regrets on Evers’ part over his many injuries during his playing days. He felt honored to have played the game he loved for 12 years.
Hoot Evers died on January 25, 1991, in Houston TX.
A large part of this biography comes from the SABR Baseball Biography Project written by Adam Ulrey. It can be found online at http://bioproj.sabr.org
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Well, that’s it for today’s Baseball History Podcast. I’ll see you later at the ballpark.