On Feb. 8, 1921, Hoot Evers was born. With a nickname like that, you know he has to be a player with a story worth a column.
I am an absolute sucker for nicknames. Given my past topics—two of whom were known by their nicknames—you might have figured this out already. I’m really a sucker for funny nicknames, and this one is, one might say, a hoot.
Sorry about that.
Hoot Evers was born as Walter Arthur Evers in St. Louis. He gained his nickname as a child when he was a devoted fan of the films of Richard “Hoot” Gibson, a popular cowboy. (Gibson, for his part, had earned the nickname working for the Owl Drug Company.) Gibson was widely popular at the time, releasing nearly 75 short films during the first 10 years of Evers’ life and giving the youngster a nickname that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
In 1941, Evers was a hot prospect coming off an impressive college career at the University of Illinois, good enough that he still appears in the Illini’s baseball record books. The Detroit Tigers thought highly enough of Evers that in signing him they released future Hall of Famer Earl Averill, who was just two years removed from an MVP-caliber season. (To be fair, the Tigers made the right choice here, as Averill was pretty much cooked.)
Evers didn’t see much action in 1941, appearing in just one game—he went 0-for-4—but the future still looked bright. Like so many others, however, his line soon was interrupted by World War II.
Evers missed four full seasons, from 1942 through 1945, years which likely would have helped his development considerably. Of course, speculating on what spending those four years in Detroit rather than fighting a war would have meant to Evers’ career is something of a fool’s exercise. It probably is safe to say, though, that his career would have benefited.
In addition to missing time because of the war, Evers suffered from what you might term J.D. Drew or Cliff Floyd Disease; that is, he couldn’t stay in the lineup. In 1946, the Tigers handed Evers the starting center field job. He was putting together a fine-but-not-great season when it ended prematurely when he broke his ankle.
The next year, 1947, marked the beginning of Evers’ brief peak, which would last just four seasons. Already an accomplished defender, Evers finally would begin to hit as many had expected from his days at Illinois. He was remarkably consistent the first three years, posting an OPS+ of 119, 118 and 120.
His problem was staying in the lineup; Evers averaged around 132 games a season. (Of course, the baseball schedule was just 154 games in those days, but that’s still missing an average of more than 20 games a year.) Nonetheless, Evers’ performance was beginning to draw notice. He made the All-Star team in 1948 and drew MVP support, thanks in large part to his .314 average, eighth in the league that year.
In 1950, Evers had the hands-down best year of his career. He hit .323/.406/.551, setting career highs in all three categories. He played in 143 games (also a career high) and led the league in triples. This, combined with the Tigers’ 95-win, second-place performance, earned Evers his second and final All-Star appearance and he placed 11th in the MVP vote.
Evers slumped badly in 1951, hitting just .224, and his career was clearly in its decline. In 1952, with Ted Williams serving in Korea, the Red Sox needed an outfielder and acquired Evers as part of an eight-player deal also involving Johnny Pesky, Walt Dropo and Dizzy Trout. Evers’ problems continued in Boston, though. Attempting to replace Ted Williams is no mean feat in its own right, but Evers suffered a broken finger. Although his numbers represented an upgrade from 1951, they were still not especially good.
Evers could still play a solid defensive outfield, and was still young enough that teams could hope he would regain his form of the late ’40s. Boston finally tired of this hope and waived him in early 1954. The Giants picked him up, but he played just 12 games for the eventual champions before being waived again. (I’m just guessing here, but I imagine you don’t get a World Series share for that.) Evers then found himself back in Detroit, where he finished the season with fewer than 75 times at bat and an average well south of .200.
The Orioles purchased Evers before the 1955 season and he showed enough that the Indians traded for him in hopes he would bolster their efforts to defend their American League pennant. Evers had the last great stretch of his career there, hitting .288/.314/.515 in around 40 games for the Tribe, but found himself on a team falling three games short of the Yankees for a spot in the World Series.
After a few games with the Tribe in 1957, Evers, now 35, was dispensed back to the Orioles. He was released in early August only to be resigned on Sept. 1. Failing to have found an explanation for that, I am going to assume it was part of some roster shenanigans on the Orioles’ part. Evers would make his last appearance in a major league game on Sept. 30 of ’57.
All things considered, Evers had a pretty decent career. His sometime ability to produce better than league average offensive numbers, combined with accomplished defense in the outfield, made for a pretty decent all-around player, especially in his prime. The mystery of Evers’ career is what it might have looked like without the first half of his 20s being spent in the service, but such are the vagaries of fate.
After his playing career, Evers served as a farm director for the Indians. He died in Houston in 1991 at age 69.