May 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Darrell Evans

DarrellEvans.jpgHappy 61st (?!) Birthday to ol’ #41 Darrell Evans.

Before Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, the Tigers’ big splash in the free agent market came on Dec. 17, 1983, when they signed the 36-year-old slugger.

As most seasoned Tigers fans remember, the free agency was anathema to the club’s leadership. Former Tigers GM Jim Campbell hated paying for his own free agent players — and loved to trade them before their walk year. He certainly wasn’t going to dole out cash for someone else’s players.

I can distinctly remember the old “re-entry draft” which created a competitive auction market for the services of veteran players. The Detroit News and Free Press would list, usually in agate type, each team and the free agents it “drafted.” Year after fifth-place year I would read “Detroit: No selections made.”

That changed in 1983 when Evans chose a Detroit offer which was, of course, lower than those of the Yankees, Giants and other clubs that tried to sign, or in the case of San Francisco, re-sign him. The allure of joining a team poised to win now (or then, as it were) made Detroit the best choice.

In his first game as a Tiger, April 3, 1984, Evans homered of the Twins’ Keith Comstock — a three-run jack — and Detroit was off to the races. A week later, on Opening Day in Detroit, he homered in his first Tiger Stadium at bat, an upper-deck blast of the Rangers Dave Stewart. He’d hit only 14 more home runs that year, but quickly became a fan favorite.

In five seasons with the Tigers, Evans hit 141 of his career 414 home runs. In 1989, he finished his career where it began: with the Atlanta Braves.

Today’s Tigers fans may be used to their team being in the mix for big-name free agents. But it certainly wasn’t the case in the late 1970s and early ’80s. And what better guy to break that bad habit than Darrell Evans?

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