To say the least, slugging first baseman Darrell Evans was a key member of the 1984 World Championship Tigers and for five seasons clubbed an impressive 141 homers for the ballclub.
Sparky Anderson and Bill Lajoie (former GM) both stated that the off season acquisitions of Evans and closer Willie Hernandez made the difference in 1984.
“There’s no question that Bill Lajoie saved us by getting Evans and Hernandez because I don’t think we would have otherwise won,” Anderson once told me.
When the Tigers signed their first major free agent in December of 1983 Darrell Evans was 36 years old and a seasoned slugger who in 16 seasons with the Braves and Giants, hit 262 home runs and walked more than he struck out.
In 1985 at age 38 Evans was the oldest player ever to league the league in home runs (40) and became the first player in history to hit 40 home runs in both leagues.
Baseball statistics guru Bill James has written:
“Darrell Evans is probably the most underrated player in baseball history. A fine defensive third baseman he never won a gold glove because of Mike Schmidt. His career average was just .248 but with a secondary average of .373 he was actually producing quite a few runs.” Evans remains one of a handful of players to have hit over 400 home runs and not be elected to the Hall of Fame. (It should be noted that earlier in his career Evans was used primarily as a third baseman)
In 1987 at age 40 the veteran also helped lead the Tigers to the American League Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins.
But sadly his gaffes in Game Four of the playoffs may have been the turning point of the series.
With the Tigers down two games to one in the five game series, Evans, who would make two fielding errors in the game, made the biggest base running error in Tiger history.
In the bottom of the sixth inning and trailing 4-2 the Tigers were putting together a game changing rally in hopes of evening the series. The Tigers made it 4-3 when pinch hitter Dave Bergman followed up singles by Chet Lemon and Evans with a single of own that scored Lemon and moved Evans to second. Mike Heat then sacrificed Evans to third and Bergman to second with one out.
I was at that Sunday night game standing deep behind the lower deck section behind home plate. I remember how crazy the crowd was going with anticipation of a come from behind victory to even the series.
Suddenly Twins catcher Tim Laudner threw a bullet to third baseman Gary Gaetti who tagged out a stunned Darrell Evans who pathetically dove back to the bag.
To say the least Evans’ bonehead mistake created a crescendo of boos that could have been heard in Wyandotte. The rally was killed for good when the next batter flew out to end the inning as the Twins eventually won 5-3 and placing the Tigers on the brink of elimination.
In 2010 Evans told The Saginaw News writer Hugh Bernreuter:
“On my way home I was thinking that at least my kids still loved me, and my dog still loved me too so I was going to be OK. It was one of the worst games of my life.”
(Sorry Darrell, but I can’t think of what could have been worse.)
However what happened the following day at Tiger Stadium will surely go down as one of the classiest displays ever exhibited by Tiger fans.
When Evans’ name was announced as he stepped up to the plate for the first time, there was not a boo to be heard. Instead the 47,000 fans in attendance who would see Detroit lose the pennant that day rose as one and gave Evans a polite standing ovation, a spontaneous show of sympathy and support for the much appreciated veteran ballplayer.
Years later Evans reflected on the ovation.
“That was a special moment. “Game Four I made two errors and was picked off third … it was one of the most disappointing times of my career no doubt. To come to the ballpark and get a standing ovation was one of the most cherished moments of my life,” Evans told Hugh Bernreuter.
Darrell Evans may be underrated, but despite making an historic blunder, he was certainly appreciated by diehard Tiger fans.