One of the foremost umpires in baseball history, Evans was refined and fastidious. He substituted diplomacy for belligerency during baseball’s rowdier days. He began as a sportswriter but took up umpiring after he substituted for an absent arbiter in a game he was covering. He was only 22 when he was promoted from a Class C league to the AL, the youngest man ever to be employed as a ML umpire and the only one ever promoted all the way from Class C.
In his 22 years as an AL umpire, he achieved a reputation for fairness and unquestioned integrity. In Game Two of the 1909 WS, played in Pittsburgh, the Pirates’ Dots Miller hit a low line drive along the foul line in the direction of temporary right-field bleachers that rested in part in fair territory. As the ball sailed over the stands the fans stood and obstructed the views of Evans and the other umpire, Bill Klem. Neither saw the ball land. Both marched to the outfield and Evans began questioning the bleacherites as to whether the ball was fair or foul. On their testimony Evans decided the ball had landed fair and skipped into the crowd. Miller, who had circled the bases, was sent back to second with a ground-rule double.
Although he was a diplomat, Evans once fought Ty Cobb under the grandstand after Cobb challenged Evans over two close out calls at the plate. Al Schacht, baseball’s “Clown Prince,” described the fight: “When the game ended they both went under the grandstand while the members of both teams became spectators. Billy posed like a real fighter while Ty stalked him like a Tiger and then suddenly hit him in the jaw. Down went Evans with Ty on top of him. With his knee on Evans’ chest, Ty held Billy by the throat and tried to choke him. We finally got him off Billy and that was the end of the fight.”
Evans continued his writing career, authoring many articles and a book: Umpiring from the Inside. From 1920 to 1927 he wrote a syndicated column, “Billy Evans Says.” In later years Evans served as GM for Cleveland (1927-36) and Detroit (1947-51), farm director for Boston (1936-40), GM of the NFL’s Cleveland Rams (1941), and president of the Southern Association (1942-46). In 1973 he was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.