Monday, August 13, 2012

Frank Evans, 90, played in the Negro Leagues and coached in the Cardinals organization

Frank Evans stayed with the game he loved until the day he died. The former Negro League player and longtime scout and coach for the Louisville Redbirds of the St. Louis Cardinals organization passed away August 3rd in Opelika, Ala., at the age of 90.

Frank Evans 1985 Louisville Redbirds Card
Evans began his playing career as a teenager in 1937 and stayed active well into his 40s, playing as an outfielder, first baseman, and catcher with the Birmingham Black Barons, Cleveland Buckeyes, and the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. After the color line broke, Evans batted .313 in a short stint with Class C minor league teams in Port Arthur and Borger, Texas in 1954 at the age of 32.

Well after he hung up his glove and cleats, Evans was recruited by major league All-Star and future big league manager Jim Fregosi to be his first base coach in Louisville for the 1984 and 1985 seasons. Infielder Willie Lozado who played under the tutelage of Evans in 1985, said via e-mail that he brought a great amount of spirit to the clubhouse.

"Frank was a good man that always had something positive to say," Lozado wrote. "He will be missed."

A few of Evans’ other prized pupils during that time were Vince Coleman, Terry Pendleton, and Jose Oquendo, all of whom would figure prominently in the Cardinals 1987 National League pennant-winning team.

A few years back, I called Evans at his home in Alabama to discuss his career in the Negro Leagues. My recorder wasn’t working, so I just tried to soak in his vast experiences the best I could. This was at the time of President Obama’s election, and Evans was enthusiastic about his chances, a far cry from the segregation he faced in his youth. He spoke of the long bus rides, hanging his uniform outside the window while traveling to the next city, all with the hope that they might be able to find a place that would feed them while they filled up for gas. Even with the harsh indignities that he faced as a player, Evans remained enthusiastic about the game, telling me of a baseball clinic he finished a few days ago.

As our conversation progressed and I told him that I still played, he even offered me the opportunity to visit him in Alabama to help with my swing. He assured me with a few days of work that he could turn around my fortunes at the plate. I kept his number in my phone, knowing that if I ever made it down that way, that I could grab some hitting advice that I could not only use but also pass on to my players. Even though I didn’t visit, the offer of help to someone he had just encountered on the phone only thirty minutes prior spoke volumes about his generosity and love for the game.

The Topps Company honored Evans in their 2009 Allen and Ginter set, providing him with his first nationally issued baseball card. Evans was once again in the spotlight, allowing him the opportunity to not only provide his autograph, but to further spread the word about the greatness of the Negro Leagues.


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