Free agency began in the mid-70s. However, the Detroit Tigers refused to participate in bidding wars for big names. Darrell Evans was the Tigers first major free agent acquisition. He signed with Detroit in December, 1983 and appeared a good fit. He was a left handed power hitter and the Tiger Stadium overhang stood just 315 feet from home plate. Evans disappointed in his first year, but emerged a major offensive force in 1985. In the end, he hit 141 home runs in five Tiger seasons.
Darrell Evans began his career with Hank Aaron’s Atlanta Braves in 1969. He played nine seasons in Atlanta from 1969-1976 and then returned in 1989. In 1973, he blasted 41 home runs, knocked in 104 runs, led the league in walks with 124, and posted a .959 OPS. Evans made his first All Star team that season and led the league in walks again in 1974.
The Braves traded Evans to the Giants on June 13, 1976. He batted just .205 with 11 home runs between the two clubs and appeared washed up at 29. However, the third baseman rebounded with San Francisco and remained a Giant through 1983. He put together an All Star campaign with 30 home runs and 82 RBI in his final Giant season.
The Tigers believed the free agent infielder would be perfect for Tiger Stadium. Evans had an uppercut swing and hit long fly balls. Tiger Stadium’s right field overhang beckoned and Evans signed with Detroit in the offseason. The Tigers used the former Giant at DH, first, and third in 1984 and they won the World Series. However, Evans had a lousy year after switching leagues. He hit just 16 home runs and batted a lowly .232.
Tiger owner Tom Monaghan blasted his free agent pickup in the press for under-performing. Evans took it in stride, but had to feel the heat from the owner and the press. He started 1985 slow and then exploded. The Tiger first baseman ended up leading the major leagues in home runs with 40. He enjoyed a remarkable comeback season at age 38. Overall, he hit his career average (.248), posted a .875 OPS, drove in 94, and walked 85 times. He finished in the top 20 of the MVP race for the third time in his career.
He enjoyed two more excellent seasons for Detroit in 1986 and 1987. In 1986, Evans hit 29 home runs, knocked in 85, and had a .798 OPS. The following season was his best as a Tiger and his best since 1973. He hit 34 home runs, had 99 RBI, walked 100 times, and finished with a .880 OPS. Evans finished 12th in the MVP vote, which represented his high water mark.
Evans turned 40 in 1987 and the Tigers lost the ALCS to the Twins that October. He slumped dramatically in 1988. The former all-star hit just .208 with 22 home runs and 64 RBI. Evans became the second player to hit 100 home runs with three different teams. Reggie Jackson also accomplished the feat. Evans left the Tigers for the Braves in 1989 and finished his career in Atlanta. The Brave, and former Tiger and Giant, set the Major League record for home runs by a player over 40 with 60. The record was surpassed by a steroid era player.
Darrell Evans gave the Tigers five seasons. His first season was a disappointment and age caught up with him in his final year. However, the three campaigns in between gave management all they hoped for. Evans batted only .238 with Detroit, but hit 141 home runs, drove in 405, finished with an .806 OPS, and walked more than he struck out (437-433). He helped the Tigers to two division crowns and the 1984 World Championship.