Here lies Steve Evans, a solid player in the National and Federal leagues, and one of the early 20th Century’s unrivaled flakes. Evans was an outfielder and first baseman for the New York Giants (1908) and St. Louis Cardinals (1909-1913), and then the Brooklyn Tip-Tops (1914-15) and Baltimore Terrapins (1915) of the Federal League.
Louis Richard Evans was born in Cleveland on February 17, 1885. Maybe. All the baseball stat sites list his birth year as 1885, and that’s the year he used while he was playing. However, the official documents that I could find (registration cards for both World Wars) list his birth year as 1883. Furthermore, when he died in 1943, the Associated Press obit that circulated around the country listed his age as 60 and not 58. Certainly, it wasn’t common for ballplayers of the era to fudge their true age by a year or two. Unless a birth certificate or christening record turns up that says otherwise, I would guess that the 1883 date is accurate. I also couldn’t find how a guy with the given name of Louis Richard ends up being called “Steve.”
UPDATE: The good folks who run the Cleveland SABR Twitter feed (@cleveland_sabr) were able to locate Steve Evans’ birth certificate from 1883, putting to rest the question of his birth year. Thanks for putting in the work to solve the mystery!
Take old baseball stories with a grain of salt, and there are a lot of stories about Evans. Like the time he saw a crowd starting to leave a game and called out, “One moment, ladies and gentlemen. Steve Evans is the next batter,” and then hit a triple. Or the time he slept through an honest-to-God train wreck, woke up in his upside-down sleeping berth, where his teammates were risking life and limb to save other passengers and said, “I say, if this train stops here for any length of time, won’t one of you fellows bring me a sandwich, so I won’t have to get up to get it?”
As noted in the introduction, Evans was considered a flake in his career. Or as a 1908 article in The Evening Telegram of Elyria, Ohio, put it: “Local fans remember him for his ‘ginger,’ which often went so far as to cast suspicions on his sanity.”
A roller coaster, of all things, had a lot to do with Evans’ start in baseball. He worked as brakeman on the Ingersoll coasters at Idora park in Youngstown in 1904 and in Luna park in Cleveland in 1906. He played semipro ball when it didn’t interfere with his job. While he was at Youngstown, the park was frequently visited by Reddy Mack, a major-league second baseman from the 1880s and then-captain of the Youngstown baseball team. Mack loved roller coasters and often rode the Ingersoll coaster using a pass that Evans gave him. The two men became friends, and Evans shared his dreams of playing baseball with the veteran. Mack said that when he got a managing job, he’d give Evans a tryout.
Evans started his pro career in 1907 with the Dayton Veterans of the Central league. The second baseman on the team was player-manager Ed McKean, whom we recently discussed here. Evans’ time with the team was short – 27 games with a .226 average, according to baseball Reference. He then moved on to play first base for the Fairmont (W.V.) Champions, managed by none other than Reddy Mack. Mack, true to his word, tried out the roller coaster operator and put him on the roster. Evans played well enough to get noticed by renowned 19th Century slugger and Giants scout, Dan Brouthers, who acquired his contract for the Giants.
Within the span of four years, Evans went from working for $15 a week at an amusement park to a $1,500 contract with the Giants. He impressed at the team’s training camp, too. “He is one of the hardest hitters I ever saw,” said Brouthers. “He was a ‘fence-breaker’ in the Pennsylvania League, and I think, with practice, he can hit any pitcher in the business.”
Evans’ stay in the majors in 1908 amounted to 2 games with the Giants, with 1 hit in 2 at-bats. The hit came on April 17 against the Phillies. The story goes that Evans pinch-hit for Cy Seymour, and as he settled in the batter’s box, Phillies catcher Red Dooin warned him that the pitcher (likely Buster Brown) was wild and likely to throw at his head. Sure enough, the first two pitches sent Evans sprawling. Undaunted, Evans got back up and warned Dooin that if the pitcher wanted to drive him away from the plate, he’d need more than those slow pitches. “If he hands me another one like that I will knock the button off his coat with a line drive. Tell him to duck, I don’t want to kill him.” Sure enough, the next pitch resulted in a line drive base hit up the middle. Evans had proven his point.
Evans was eventually sent to the Montreal Royals of the Eastern League in May, as Giants manager opted to keep rookie Fred Merkle as his backup first baseman. If the New York Giants, Fred Merkle and the year 1908 sound really familiar, that’s because “Merkle’s Boner” would soon condemn the rookie to baseball infamy in late September. And yes, Merkle is the undeserved scapegoat for the baserunning gaffe, but baseball history might look very different if McGraw had decided to keep Evans around instead.
Evans didn’t want to go to Montreal. In fact, he did his level best to run away from the team – literally. In the spring, McGraw was having an on-field meeting with Jimmy “Doc” Casey, who ran the Royals. McGraw pointed to Evans, who was working in the outfield, and said, “See that fellow over there? Well, he can play first base for you.” The two managers started walking out toward the outfield, and Evans, watching the two, took off at a dead run away from them. McGraw had to put on a burst of speed to corral the rookie. “I had the right hunch,” Evans said as Casey came trotting up. “I heard the boilers rumbling the minute I seen you fellers piking it across and I tried to do a getaway. Johnny, [meaning McGraw] can you bear to part with me?”
Evans was indeed hauled off to Montreal and hit .292 with 5 homers, but it wasn’t good enough for the Giants. They placed him on waivers in January 1909, and the St. Louis Cardinals snatched him up. He spent most of the next five seasons as the team’s starting right fielder, enjoying some, frequently painful, success. Evans proved to be excellent at getting on base by any means necessary. He got a good share of hits and drew plenty of walks, but he excelled at getting hit by pitches. From 1910 through 1912, Evans led the NL in getting hit, including a record-breaking 31 times in 1910. That stood as the 20th-Century record for HBPs until Ron Hunt was hit 50 times in 1971. It’s still the record for a left-handed hitter, as Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs fell one shy in 2015.
Evans, by all accounts a pretty happy-go-lucky goofball, became popular in St. Louis for his timely hitting as much as his personality. Whether it was driving in the winning run against his old Giants teammates of knocking 3 hits off Three-Finger Brown, he proved to be a handy player to keep in the lineup. He hit .259 in 1909, and his fielding in right field was a little below par, but he would come into his own in a couple of seasons. In 1911, he hit .294 with 13 triples, 5 homers and 71 RBIs. The next year, he raised his home run and RBI total by one apiece while batting .283.
Not that he was perfect. On multiple occasions he is said to have stolen third base when there was already a Cardinals baserunner occupying the sack. Once he stole third when it was already occupied by his player-manager Roger Bresnahan. When Bresnahan asked him what the hell he thought he was doing, Evans said, “I’m going right back where I came from,” and ran back to second.
On another occasion, Evans struggled to reach a number of fly balls that were hit just out of his reach. One sportswriter claimed he was a part of the “shady corner club,” meaning that he played close to the fence, which provided a little shade in the hot St. Louis summers. The next day, Evans trotted out to right field with a Japanese parasol and a stool. Sitting down, he lit a cigarette and waited for play to resume. The umpire only caught on when he heard the roar of the crowd and knew that something was amiss.
Evans had a down year in 1913, batting .249 in 97 games. He was still invited to join the White Sox, who embarked on a worldwide tour of exhibition games against the New York Giants. Both teams had stocked their rosters with other players, making it more of a traveling All-Star Game than anything else. The “White Sox” had Chicago players Buck Weaver, Tom Daly and Joe Benz along with the likes of Germany Schafer, Sam Crawford, Tris Speaker and Evans. Fellow eccentric Schafer was well known on the Vaudeville circuit, and Evans was constantly told he could tell stories from the stage, so they must have made for an interesting combination.
The two were perusing over a menu when Schafer asked, “What kind of a dish is Bubble and Squeak?”
“Sir,” Evans responded, “that isn’t an entrée; it’s a cabaret act. They’ll be on in a minute.”
“Who are they?”
“Tip O’Neill and Ted Sullivan.”
The tour included stops across the United States before heading to Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Egypt, Italy, England and France. Evans and catcher Ivy Wingo enjoyed a leisurely game of catch in Egypt. Wingo threw a ball 100 yards over the Sphinx, and Evans waited on the other side to catch it.
As soon as the players arrived back in the U.S. in March 1914, Evans jumped the Cardinals to sign a contract with the Brooklyn franchise of the new Federal League. The Tip-Tops, like most of the Federal League teams, signed some long-time minor-leaguers like Yip Owens and major leaguers at the end of their career like Jim Delahanty and Three-Finger Brown. Evans was a relative rarity, a 29-year-old (or 31-year-old) not far removed from his best seasons. The Cardinals had slated him for the minors in 1914, so he had nothing to lose by jumping.
Evans was an offensive dynamo for Brooklyn. He led the FL in triples (15), slugging percentage (.556) and OPS+ (177) while batting .348 and reaching career highs in homers (12) and RBIs (96). It also had an 18-game streak of reaching base at least twice on a game, whether by hit, walk or HBP. The major-league record is 21, set by Ted Williams in 1948. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which regularly ran stories on Evans’ hijinks, even noted that he seemed to have shelved the comedy routine to focus entirely on baseball.
He hadn’t, really. Over the offseason, he almost got the Brooklyn business manager Dick Carroll arrested for car theft after phoning in a fake report of a stolen car to the Cleveland Police Department. Carroll was arrested while driving his own car to the train depot for a meeting. He was taken to the police station and avoided a night in jail only when a reporter who happened to be at the police station recognized him and vouched for his identity. “I’ll get even with that guy Steve Evans if it takes me ten years,” Carroll muttered afterwards.
Evans was let go by the Tip-Tops in mid-1915 (surely Carroll had nothing to do with it) after batting .296 through 63 games. He was sold to the Baltimore Terrapins, the worst team in the Federal League, and he hit .315 the rest of the way. Taken as a whole, Evans led the FL in doubles with 34 and hit by pitches with 14. The league folded after the season was over, and it also marked the end of Evans major-league career.
In 8 seasons, Evans slashed .287/.374/.407, with 963 hits. He hit 175 doubles, 67 triples and 32 home runs, driving in 466 runs. He was hit by a total of 111 pitches and generated 15.3 Wins Above Replacement in his career.
Once the Federal League shut down, Evans reverted back to being the property of the St. Louis Cardinals. However, Cards president Schuyler Britton wanted no part of any of the contract jumpers, so Evans signed with the Toledo Iron Men. They were a new team in the American Association managed by Roger Bresnahan, his old Cardinals skipper. Within a couple of seasons, they would change their name to the Toledo Mudhens. Evans played with the team for two seasons and played well. However, he hung up his spikes after the 1917 season, and baseball became a little less fun with his absence.
Steve Evans stories circulated around the league for years afterwards, though Evans himself seemed to keep a low profile. On his World War I draft card, dated 1918, Evans lists his residence in Cleveland and his occupation as a farmer in the employ of one Thomas Keegan, possibly in Dover Township. He later settled into a job with the state of Ohio. A report from 1923 noted he still played ball in Cleveland as the star attraction and slugger of the County Surveyors baseball team. “I still have the old eye and can go get ‘em fairly well, so why shouldn’t I keep at it?” he said.
Evans’ World War II registration card, issued about a year before he died, shows he was working for the State of Ohio Highway Department in Cleveland. Steve Evans died on December 28, 1943, in Cleveland after a lengthy illness. He was most likely 60 years old, but possibly 58. Seventy-seven years after he died, we still don’t know how old he was. It’s his last joke on baseball. Evans is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.