“Evans, who, at the Least, is Incompetent”

2 Dec

William George “Billy” Evans was nicknamed “The Boy Umpire” when he was hired by the American League at the age of 22.  After 21 seasons  he became a front office executive, working for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers; he was also president of the Southern Association, authored two baseball books and in 1973, 17 years after his death, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

But during his first season as an umpire, 1906, he was not held in high esteem in Chicago.

On September 10 the White Sox were in second place, a game behind the New York Highlanders.  The Sox trailed the Tigers 2 to 1 in the 9th inning.  Chicago shortstop George Davis laid down a bunt and was called out at first by Evans.  Every Chicago paper said Evans beat the throw by “at least a step.”

The call precipitated a near riot.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Instantly a shower of bottles from the first base bleachers drove the umpire, coacher, and players away from the vicinity of the base.”

After the next two batters were retired:

“Evans walked off the field amid another volley of bottle from the third base stand.”

The Tribune and The Chicago Inter Ocean said Evans and fellow umpire Tommy Connolly were mobbed by fans as they attempted to leave the ballpark with a police escort.  Both papers said “one or two blows” from fans connected with the umpire during his retreat.

The Inter Ocean said, “Evans has been the most heartily reviled arbiter that ever worked in any league.”

The Tribune said two weeks earlier Evans cost the Sox a game in Philadelphia.  After Chicago scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to take a 5 to 4 lead, Evans “let the Athletics take advantage of his inexperience,” and stopped the game on account of rain with two men out in the bottom of the inning.  The Inter Ocean said, “(Sox Manager Fielder) Jones and (second baseman Frank) Isbell nearly came to blows with the umpire and members of the Athletic team.”

After a half hour, the game was called and the score reverted back to the end of the 5th inning, giving Philadelphia a 4 to 3 victory.

The next day, September 11, the Sox played the St. Louis Browns at South Side Park.  Evans worked the game along with Jack Sheridan.  The newspapers said Sox owner Charles Comiskey had discontinued the sale of “bottled goods” at the park that day.

The Browns won 7 to 3, and the Chicago press put much of the blame for the loss on the rookie umpire.

The Tribune said:

President (Ban) Johnson’s persistence in sending Evans, who, at the least, is incompetent, is giving baseball a black eye in Chicago.  Half the crowd believes the charges that Evans is working under instructions from Johnson to beat Chicago.  These charges undoubtedly are founded on mere prejudice, yet, had Evans been under instructions and trying to beat Chicago, he could not have done better than he did yesterday.”

The Inter Ocean said the Browns “were aided and abetted by Umpire Evans, the boy wonder…Why Ban Johnson insists upon sending the joke to officiate at important games is more than any sane man can see.”

But the Evans’ most ardent critic was William A. Phelon, sports editor of The Chicago Journal:

“Umpire Evans is the worst that ever yet came down this or any other pike in the history of the modern universe…And Ban says he is the best in the game.  We are not selfish and we are willing to let some other city endure him.  We can get over the shock of his removal.  If he doesn’t move he may have a statue down on the lake front, a statue 200 feet high made of bottles.  Give us liberty, give us death, give us any old thing, but, by the snakes of old Ireland, give us an umpire!”

Phelon also said Evans “seems to be a gentlemanly individual, whose place in life is evidently a long ways from the profession of umpiring.”

1906 White Sox

Despite the blame heaped on the young umpire in the press, the White Sox went 17-7 the rest of the season and won the pennant by three games.  They went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 2 in the World Series.

Things got better for Evans as well.  He worked his first World Series in 1909—the youngest umpire to do so– and participated in five more from 1912 to 1923.  He was the third umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame; Connolly and Bill Klem were the first two.

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11 Responses to ““Evans, who, at the Least, is Incompetent””

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