Sensitivity to a number
On Friday afternoon in the Royal Rooters Club at Fenway Park, Red Sox owners John W. Henry and Tom Werner flanked David Price as they presented the ace with his new uniform, bearing the number 24. Throughout his career, Price had always worn the No. 14, first with Tampa Bay and subsequently with Detroit and Toronto, but that number, of course, adorns the facade of the right-field grandstand in Fenway Park, having been retired after being worn by Hall of Famer Jim Rice.
Earlier in the week, Sox president Sam Kennedy placed a phone call to Dwight Evans, who had worn No. 24 from his first full season in the big leagues with the Sox, 1973, until his retirement from baseball at age 39 in 1991, after his only season with the Baltimore Orioles.
Evans is regarded as one of the greatest right-fielders in Red Sox history, and among the best in the history of the game, but unlike Rice, his Hall of Fame candidacy on the writers’ ballot evaporated quickly. He was dropped from the ballot after drawing just 3.6 percent of the vote in 1999, his third year of eligibility.
The Sox did not give out his number until 1996, when they assigned it to outfielder Kevin Mitchell. Outfielder Shane Mack wore it the following season, and Mike Stanley claimed it from 1998-2000 before Manny Ramirez arrived from Cleveland and wore it from 2001 until he was dealt to the Dodgers at the July 31 trading deadline in 2008. The last player to wear No. 24 for the Sox was relief pitcher Takashi Saito in 2009. After that, the number was taken out of circulation.
There remains a sliver’s chance of future Hall consideration for Evans, who hit more home runs in the ’80s than any player in the American League (256), is one of 13 outfielders all-time to win eight or more Gold Gloves (Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente had 12 apiece) and had a career OPS+ of 127 equal to Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and higher than 73 other Hall of Famers, including Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Ron Santo, George Sisler, Kirby Puckett, Craig Biggio and Robin Yount.
But Evans has not appeared on the ballots for voting by the Expansion Era committee, which in 2014 elected three managers–Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre–while passing on players Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, and Ted Simmons–and which will not vote again until 2017.
It’s likely that Ramirez, who retired from Major League Baseball in 2011 and whose first year of Hall eligibility is 2017, will receive more support for his Hall candidacy than Evans did. Ramirez’s connection to PEDs is likely to prove as great a detriment to his chances for election as it has been for Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens, unless there is a quantum shift in how voters perceive players who used, or are suspected of using, PEDs.
Still, given what Evans has meant to the Red Sox, Kennedy felt it was only right to give Evans a call and let him know that the club had granted Price’s wish to wear his old number. Evans accepted the news graciously, Kennedy said, though it was not an easy call to make.
“Dwight is one of our most beloved alums,” Kennedy said, “and we wanted to be sure he was OK with David’s request for No. 24. He could not have been more gracious. He appreciated the call and said: ‘Be sure David knows he needs to put on that No. 24 and go out and win us a World Series!”
Dewey Evans played at a time when he was overshadowed by illustrious teammates–Yaz and Rice and Clemens, Fred Lynn and Wade Boggs–but his body of work over two decades is something that will long be cherished by Sox fans, even if his number does not look down upon the field on which he excelled for so long.