Speaking for League Park: Billy Evans, the Accidental Hall of Famer

Baseball seasons may come and go, but the baseball discussions never stop.

On Saturday, November 18, from 12-1 PM, one such conversation will occur at the Baseball Heritage Museum at historic League Park in Cleveland, Ohio, where published author and Did The Tribe Win Last Night writer Vince Guerrieri will present the story of Baseball Hall of Fame umpire and first Cleveland Indians general manager, Billy Evans.

Evans became the third umpire inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976. Born in Chicago in 1884, he grew up in Youngstown. His sports career seemingly ended with a knee injury in college, but he forged a new path in the business as a reporter for the Youngstown Vindicator before working his way up to the role of sports editor for the publication. The same year, he began to umpire in local games and a few years later, he was offered an umpire position by American League President Ban Johnson at the age of 22, earning him the nicknames “Big Boy Blue” and “Boy Umpire”.

An Evans story - National Baseball Hall of Fame Library
An Evans story – National Baseball Hall of Fame Library

He earned a reputation for the way that he called a game and became the youngest to umpire a World Series game, doing so at the age of 25. He also was a man who held his ground, engaging notorious hot head Ty Cobb in a fist fight following a game in 1921 (Cobb was suspended for a game, while Evans was said to have umpired his next contest wearing bandages from the brawl). Evans continued to write throughout this phase of his career and later penned a pair of books on baseball and umpiring.

Evans’ career took a new direction in 1927, when he became the Indians’ GM, becoming the first person to hold the title in Major League Baseball. He spent nine years in the role for Cleveland, leaving in 1935 over a salary dispute, but remained in baseball with the Boston Red Sox as their farm director through the rest of the decade. The versatile Evans was not done in pro sports after his time with Boston ended in October of 1940, however, as the next year, he took on the title of general manager of the National Football League’s Cleveland Rams. It was a brief foray as he was back in baseball the next year as the president of the Southern Association. He would later return to baseball with the Detroit Tigers as the club’s executive vice president and general manager for five years before retiring in 1951. He died at the age of 71 in 1956 and was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

The program is free to the public and made possible, in part, by a grant from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture (CAC).

The Billy Evans presentation marks the second straight weekend of offseason baseball talk at the Baseball Heritage Museum at League Park. From November 8-11, the museum and the Cleveland Public Library hosted a celebration of Cleveland native Dorothy Seymour Mills – author, speaker, and mentor to a new generation of baseball researchers and women in baseball.

Photo: George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress

 

*information on Evans’ life courtesy of the SABR Baseball Biography Project and work specifically composed by contributor David W. Anderson.

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