That time Tom Monaghan tried to run Darrell Evans out of Detroit

Some of the more interesting tales in sports are the “what if’s.”

What if Barry Sanders had not retired so early? What if the Pistons had drafted Dwyane Wade or Carmelo Anthony instead of Darko Miličić in the 2003 NBA Draft? What if the Tigers had resigned Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson in the 1980s, instead of letting them leave as free agents? And so on.

The 1984 Detroit Tigers are arguably the most iconic championship team in Detroit sports history. They boasted Hall of Famers Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, Parrish, Gibson, and Sweet Lou Whitaker. The bench was loaded with talent. They bolted to a 35-5 start and dominated the season, culminating in their victory in the 1984 World Series.

Darrell Evans was a veteran leader on the ’84 team. Even though he was in his first season in Detroit. I’ve had the chance to interview members of the team, including Tom Brookens, Dave Bergman, and Larry Herndon, and they all mention the leadership that Evans brought to the Tiger clubhouse.

But Evans was nearly a one-and-done in Motown because the owner of the Tigers was impatient.

Detroit Tigers First Big Name Free Agent

The Tigers signed Evans to a three-year contract after the 1983 season: he was the first notable free agent the franchise ever signed. Under humorless general manager Jim Campbell, Detroit had been one of the cheapest teams for more than two decades, and signing a veteran free agent was a very un-Tigers thing to do. Evans loved Detroit, when they announced his signing, the team held a huge press conference. “They treated me like a king,” Evans said.

The man writing the check, Detroit’s new owner, was a man named Tom Monaghan, who made his money selling pizzas. Monaghan deserves to be remembered, because he was one of the biggest dolts to ever own a professional sports team. He once called Kirk Gibson a “disgrace to the Old English D” because Gibby liked to go a few days without shaving. Monaghan hired football coach Bo Schembechler and fired popular broadcaster Ernie Harwell. That’s about all you need to know about his baseball intellect. 

After the 1984 season, when everything went right for his team and the Tigers won the World Series title in his first year as owner, Monaghan still wasn’t completely happy. And Tom Monaghan was a gazillionaire, so if he wasn’t completely happy, someone was going to hear about it.

Mr. Pizza Man was upset that Evans had been signed to a three-year deal and hit only 16 home runs in ’84, so he instructed Campbell to get rid of Evans and his expensive contract. The Tigers and Yankees had a deal in place that would have sent Evans to New York for a relief pitcher. It fell through at the last second, and Evans stayed in Detroit, and that’s a good thing.

Home Run King in Detroit

Evans won the home run crown in 1985 with 40 bombs for Monaghan’s Tigers, hit 29 the following year, and earned a fourth year in Detroit where he hit 34 more home runs.

With his long, uppercut swing, and discerning eye, Evans was a dangerous low ball hitter, who hit soaring home runs into the short porch in right field at Tiger Stadium. Heck, he hit home runs everywhere. Eventually, Evans hit a home run in 27 different big league parks (75 at Tiger Stadium).

In all, Evans hit 414 home runs and is one of baseball’s most underrated players. He got better with age: after the age of 30, Darrell hit 284 home runs. At the time of his retirement, only eight players had hit more after blowing out the candles on their 30th birthday.

Evans is one of the only four players in baseball history to hit as many as 100 home runs with three different teams. He smacked 142 for the Giants, 141 as a Tiger, and 131 for the Braves. The others to accomplish the trifecta are Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez, and Adrian Beltre.

Monaghan never recovered from the negative press he received for firing Harwell, and in 1992 he sold the Tigers to his pizza rival, Mike Ilitch.