In 1906, William George “Billy” Evans became the youngest umpire in major league history. “The Boy Umpire” was just 22-years-old.
A decade later, in a syndicated newspaper article, he told the story of how he, by chance, he began his career as an umpire. Somewhat altered versions of the story were told over the years, including a version in his obituary; however, this was his earliest, direct telling of the story:
“It was one day in 1903 that I journeyed out to the ballpark to cover the game for the paper (The Youngstown Vindicator). There was a delay when the time arrived to start to the contest.”
Evans said the umpire had become ill and while “a number of ex-players” were at the ballpark, the opposing managers could not agree.
“Finally, my name was suggested and proved acceptable to both managers. I was informed of their decision but declined with thanks.
“The crowd was impatient. It became noised about that I was the only man acceptable to both managers, and that since I refused to work the game would probably be called off.”
Evans was determined not to work the game, but said a voice from the stands changed his mind.
“Just when it seemed that I was to escape the ordeal a fan in the bleachers with a decidedly loud voice yelled: ‘What’s the matter—have you lost your nerve?’
“That short but trite remark shaped my career.”
Evans said one of the managers told him he’d earn $15 for the game—later versions said Youngstown Ohio Works Manager Marty Hogan told him what he’s be paid:
“Fifteen dollars for a couple of hours’ work—almost as much as I was getting for carrying the title of sporting editor for an entire week! It made umpiring appeal to me. Attired in the very best clothes I had, I took the field for my debut.”
Evans said that first game—a 1-0 victory in thirteen innings for the visiting team from Homestead, Pennsylvania—had “but few close decisions, and I got along famously.”
The regular umpire was still sick the following day.
“I gathered in $15 more. My bankroll was so large that for the first time in my life I felt that a pocketbook was a necessity instead of a luxury.”
The following day, Evans accepted a permanent position “(A)lthough there were many times when I seriously doubted my wisdom in accepting the position.”
Three years later, Evans made his big league debut in New York.
“When I stepped on the field it seemed that wherever I looked I could see grinning faces. I imagined that all of them were laughing at me when as a matter of fact I suppose there was scarcely a single person on the field who noticed me.”
Evans, who was harshly criticized early in his career, also wrote about his most dangerous incident on the field.
“I have dodged a million pop bottles…I have had them pass just above my head, between my legs, and, in fact, graze almost every part of my anatomy; but never have I been hit by a missile really intended for me. I did stop a bottle that was intended for somebody else, and that stop almost resulted in the Great Umpire declaring me out.
“I was working a game at St. Louis, between the Detroit and the St. Louis clubs in the fall of 1907.”
The Tigers were locked in a three-team race with the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox—entering the series in second place, the Tigers fell to third after losing a doubleheader on September 14.
On September 15 the teams met for another doubleheader. An overflow crowd filled an area of left field in front of a “swinging gate about six feet long out in the left field fence, about ten feet above the ground…used to facilitate the delivery of bottled goods into the park.”
With the game tied in the fifth inning, St. Louis pitcher Harry Howell was batting:
“(Howell) hit a ball into left field. As I followed its course I was surprised to see the opening in the fence. A few minutes before I had occasion to glance in that direction, and had observed nothing wrong. I afterward learned that the gate had been opened only a few seconds before Howell hit the ball.
“It was my bad luck to have the ball pass squarely through the opening. When Howell made the hit I had run toward third base in order to be able to follow the ball more closely. When it passed through the opening I was about fifteen feet back of third base. Howell paused at second base, and I motioned for him to continue home.”
“I was at once surrounded by a group of Tigers players all talking at the same time. There is no fairer man in baseball that Hughey Jennings, the famous leader of the Detroit team, and I told that gentleman that the easiest way to settle the argument was to get rid of the players, and the two of us would thresh it out, which he proceeded to do.”
As Evans and Jennings wrapped up the argument, Evans suddenly slumped to the ground unconscious.
“The next thing I remember was when I came to in the hospital, and inquired what happened.”
What happened was a 17-year-old Browns fan named Hugo Dusenberg threw a pop bottle which struck Evans at the base of his skull. As Evans lay unconscious on the field, fans attacked Dusenberg.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:
“(Dusenberg) was saved from lynching by the quick action of the players who formed themselves into a guard and held back with bats a mob that swarmed.”
The St. Louis Republic said:
“Fifty policemen fought their way through the mob, rescued the assailant and with the greatest difficulty conducted him out of the grounds.”
Initial reports said Evans’ injury was serious—The Associated Press said his chance of recovery was “slim,” The Washington Post said he was “Probably fatally hurt.” By the following day, it was reported that Evans would recover, but would likely miss the remainder of the season. Despite the grave predictions, Evans returned to work on October 5, the second to last day of the regular season; he worked the bases, with Jack Sheridan behind the plate, in a game between the Tigers and Brows in St. Louis.
Dusenberg, an American citizen who worked as a clerk at the German consulate in St. Louis, was charged with assault with the intent to kill Evans. The Republic said in the days following the incident that “Sentiment is for the prosecution to the limit.”
Two months later Dusenberg was released after paying a $100 fine.