While looking into the life of Steve Evans, there were a lot of things I just couldn’t fit into his story and keep it at a manageable size. The anecdotes, the pranks, the back-and-forth with fans. It just reinforced the fact that we tend to think of the early years of baseball as somewhat dull because players didn’t hit a lot of home runs and there’s no video evidence of it in existence.
The reality is that the deadball era of baseball was fulled with characters and fascinating stories, and we just forgot most of them. Evans, at the height of his career, was considered the foremost comedian in baseball. Even after he retired, the papers frequently ran “Remember when Steve Evans…” stories. By the time of his death in 1943, it had all been forgotten. His death was announced in a one-paragraph AP newswire story that mentioned his participation in the 1913-14 world tour between the White Sox & Giants. Not a single mention was made of his jokes, his pranks or his stories.
But I like the following story for a couple reasons. One, it shows that Evans was a pretty accomplished storyteller. Second, it gives some insight into the great Christy Mathewson and his pitching style. Matty was one of the game’s greatest pitchers, but a career stat line doesn’t really go into the whys of his success. As the following story shows, it wasn’t that Mathewson was unhittable all of the time. However, if the game was on the line, he could turn it up a notch and leave even the best hitters looking silly.
So here is Steve Evans, talking about the first time he faced Christy Mathewson. The story is part of a larger article written by umpire Billy Evans, and it appeared in the Evening Star (Washington D.C.) on Sunday, April 13, 1913.
“At first Matty makes you think he is the easiest pitcher in the world to hit, and the next moment he makes you think you are foolish for so thinking. The first time I faced Matty I hit safety. Upon reaching the bench I was a bit puffed over my success, even though I had been thrown out a mile stealing.
“The next time up I crashed one into the fence for a double. When I got back to the bench I asked the fellows if they were sure it was Matty who was pitching. The third time up I singled. Upon reaching first I told the boys I wished I could hit against Matty every day; that I would be leading the league.
“Right here let me say that nobody was on the bases when I made each of those three hits. The last two times I faced Matty in that game the sacks were filled and a hit meant the game — and a new hero in St. Louis. I didn’t even make a foul. Do you wonder why I regard Mr. Christopher as some pitcher?
“Any pitcher who can strike Steve Evans out twice in succession in a pinch is bound to be a great pitcher,” he concluded, with a smile no doubt.