Evans a Fabric of Cleveland Sports in Many Ways
By Vince Guerrieri
He started out as a sports writer. He is best known as an umpire. And by the time Billy Evans died, he had become a minor league president – and served as general managers for Cleveland’s Major League Baseball and National Football League teams.
Billy Evans was born in Chicago in 1884, but his family moved to Youngstown as his father got a job for one of the steel mills that began to pop up along the Mahoning River. Evans graduated from the Rayen School, until 1910 the only high school in Youngstown, and went away to Cornell University.
Evans had played semi-pro baseball, and was on the college team. He had also worked on his high school and college newspaper staffs. He was called home to Youngstown after the death of his father, and latched on as the first “sporting editor” for the Youngstown Vindicator at $15 a week.
While reporting on a Class D Ohio-Pennsylvania League game in 1905, he was drafted as an umpire – for $15 a week, the same he made at the Vindicator. He latched on as an umpire but kept writing. At the end of the year, Jimmy McAleer, a fellow Rayen alumnus who by then was manager of the St. Louis Browns, suggested him to American League President Ban Johnson as an umpire for the major leagues.
Evans was 24 when he started umpiring in the major leagues, and quickly acquired the nickname “the boy umpire.” He spent 22 years as a major league umpire, and umpired for six World Series, including the infamous 1919 Fall Classic, which was thrown by the White Sox. Evans said later, “Well I guess I’m a big dope. The series looked all right for me,” one of many times he was not shy about admitting he was wrong.
He was offered the job of president of the International Baseball League in 1926, with a handsome salary of $12,500. He turned it down, and in 1927, left umpiring to become the general manager of the Cleveland Indians, making the hefty sum of $30,000 annually. He spent eight years at the helm of the Indians, with the Tribe winning as many as 87 games in a season, but finished no higher than third. Evans left with manager Walter Johnson after the 1935 season in a general house cleaning.
Evans ended up with the Red Sox as chief scout, but left after they passed on a shortstop named Harold Reese, over Evans’ objections, Evans left the team. Pee Wee Reese went on to a hall of fame career with the Dodgers. Evans returned to Cleveland and took the job as general manager of the Cleveland Rams, who were just bought by Dan Reeves. The Rams won their first two games, but lost the remaining nine of the season. Reeves bought the team with the intention of moving them west, and after the Rams won the 1945 NFL championship, did just that, taking them to Los Angeles.
By then, Evans was president of the Southern Association. His foray into professional football lasted just a year. In 1946, Evans became general manager of the Detroit Tigers, where he became noted as the man who sold Hank Greenberg to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Through it all, Evans kept writing. He had his own news service for a while, and maintained a presence as a syndicated columnist. He wrote several books, including “Umpire Billy Evans’ SImplifed Baseball Rule Book,” “Umpiring From the Inside” and “What’s What In Baseball.”
Billy Evans died in Miami, Florida, in 1956, while visiting his son and new grandchild. He had a funeral Mass in Cleveland and is buried at Knollwood Cemetery in Mayfield Heights.
In 1973, Evans became the third umpire elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.