Sunday, July 26, 2009

CHIN MUSIC: One That Got Away

One That Got Away
from Boston Baseball
by Glenn Stout

It is one of the most fascinating documents in Red Sox history.

On October 7, 1945 in Chicago, while covering the World Series between the Cubs and the Tigers, Boston Globe baseball writer Harold Kaese sat and chatted for a while with Billy Evans. Little remembered today, Evans had one of the most varied careers in the history of baseball, serving as an umpire, a syndicated newspaper columnist and general manager of the Cleveland Indians from 1928-1936 and the Detroit Tigers from 1947-1951. That was enough to earn him admittance into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. But it was his job from 1936 to 1941 that caused Kaese to sit with Evans, and, a short time later, type up his notes to save them for posterity, even making some corrections and additions by hand.

Tom Yawkey purchased the Red Sox in 1933, and after an orgy of spending had little to show for it when he invited Evans to his suite at the Ritz in August of 1936. After a dinner of lobster and champagne, he unveiled his plan, offering Evans a job as Red Sox farm director. Evans agreed, and took on the task of building a farm system and, hopefully, a dynasty.

Within a year the Red Sox future was bright, as both Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr were signed from the Pacific Coast League in 1937 after Red Sox GM Eddie Collins confirmed the opinion of lesser Red Sox scouts and signed both young players. One year later, Evans himself spotted another stellar prospect, shortstop Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, playing for Triple-A Louisville, where he hit .277 as a nineteen year old. Although shortstop-manager Joe Cronin was only thirty-one years old, as Evans told Kaese, “E. [Evans] had told Y [Yawkey] to buy him, because Y. wanted a shortstop. Said Cronin could only play 2-3 more years.”

To get rights to Reese, at Evan’s suggestion Yawkey purchased the entire Louisville franchise after the 1938 season for $195,000. To protect his prize, Yawkey then asked Evans to move to Louisville, serve as GM of that franchise and continue to serve as farm director.
Evans did as he was told, but in the spring of 1939, when Cronin got his first look at Reese, he dismissed him roughly, telling Evans “So that’s the guy that’s going to take my place. He’s too small.” Reese, battling illness, then got off to a slow start in 1939. That was enough for Cronin. Evans told Kaese that “Collins had been talking to him [Yawkey],” and suddenly Evans was told to sell Reese – essentially tossing that $195,000 down the drain, because at the time no organization was interested in a sick ballplayer.

Evans was secretly pleased – he still thought Reese has a future in Boston. By June Reese was feeling better and playing the best shortstop in the minor leagues. As Kaese recounted “E. begged Cronin to go see him play, or send scouts. ‘I’m not interested in Reese,” said C. [Cronin].”

That was that, and a short time later Reese was sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers for $35,000 cash and four players. He took over as Dodger shortstop in 1940, made the Hall of Fame in 1984, and became one of the great “what ifs” in Red Sox history.

Evans never forgot. To him, the deal revealed a flaw in the Boston organization. He told Kaese that “C. [Cronin] too impetuous, has too many likes and dislikes, and makes up mind too fast. Y. [Yawkey] also too impulsive. Col. [Collins] nervous and impulse [sic]. RS need stabilizer. Cr. Lacks Patience. Y wants results in a hurry.”

The sale essentially ended Evans career with the Sox. As Cronin inexorably slipped over the next few years, “Cr. belittled players E. Sent up.” But although Evans disagreed with Cronin’s judgment – Cronin thought Ted Williams had an uncorrectable hole in his swing – Evans liked Cronin personally.

Evans lasted two more years on the Boston payroll. Then, on September 6, 1941, Yawkey called Evans and without explanation abruptly fired him. Kaese’s notes tell the rest of the story: “That was all. Rough deal for E [Evans] – fired over the telephone and without reason. Y. [Yawkey] drunk… offered to call up Collins in Boston and fire him, too.”

Although the Red Sox website starts that “There are 14 former Boston Red Sox players and two executives who were inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame prior to the formation of the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995. They are automatically enshrined into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame,” one name is missing from that list.

Billy Evans.

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