Monday, February 7, 2011

Woodie Fryman RIP

Woodie Fryman, a two-time All-Star who began his career with the Pirates, died Friday night in Lexington, Kentucky. He was 70.

The portly left-hander pitched in the show for eighteen seasons, taking the hill for the Pirates, Phillies, Tigers, Expos, Cubs and Reds in a career that spanned from 1966-83.

Fryman was a tobacco farmer in Ewing, Kentucky before signing his first pro contract for $6,000 with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the age of 25 in 1965 (he returned to the farm every off-season.) Locals knew him as the "Fleming Flame" from his fireballing days at Fleming County HS; MLB fans sometimes called him Farmer Fryman.

Originally, Fryman knocked a few years of his birthday, believing that the Pirates wouldn't be interested in a prospect who was already in his mid-twenties. That little white lie led to a long and solid major league career.

After pitching a dozen games in the minors at Batavia and Columbus in 1965, he broke camp with the Bucs and made his big league debut in April of 1966, never playing another game on the farm. Now that's fast-tracked!

He joined the team's rotation in May, and in late June and early July tossed three straight shutouts, including an oh-so-close one-hitter against the Mets. He allowed a leadoff single to Ron Hunt; Hunt was caught stealing, and Fryman retired the next 26 batters.

Overall, he ended his rookie campaign with a 12-9 mark and 3.81 ERA, and was named to the Topps All-Star Rookie Team.

The next year, Fryman struck out 15 in a game against the Phillies, but after going just 3-8 with a 4.01 ERA, he was dealt to the Phillies after the season.

It was a fairly significant deal for a veteran arm; the Bucs sent him, Harold Clem, Bill Laxton, and Don Money across state to land Jim Bunning. The Bucs weren't nearly as patient with young talent like Fryman and Money back in the day as they are now.

He won 12 games and posted a 2.78 ERA in 32 starts for the Phils on the way to his first All-Star selection that season. Bunning, by comparison, won 13 games that year and was traded away before the season ended. Fryman lasted until 1972 in the City of Brotherly Love, going 46-52.

Fryman later earned some Motown love in 1972 after he was plucked off waivers by Detroit from the Phillies in early August, going 10-3 with a 2.06 ERA in sixteen outings down the stretch to lead the Tigers to the postseason. The streak included the pennant-clinching win over the Red Sox and Luis Tiant in the next-to-last game of the season.

But the fairytale story had a sour ending. He lost both of his starts against the A's in the ALCS, dropping the decisive game five 2-1. Fryman tossed a four hitter, but was outdueled by the Oakland tandem of Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue.

He then pitched two more years in Detroit before joining the Expos in a trade for Terry Humphrey and Tom Walker, Neil's dad, and was named an All-Star again in 1976 when he won 13 games with a 3.37 ERA in 34 appearances.

Fryman finished his career as a reliever with Montreal after brief stops with the Reds and the Cubbies after trades, earning 46 saves over his last five seasons as an Expo before retiring in 1983 at the age of 43.

He said he felt his arm pop, and the truth was that he pitched much of his career with severe arthritis in his elbow. By the early-to-mid seventies, he needed an extra day of rest between starts, and it eventually drove him to the bullpen.

Fryman finished his career with 141 wins and 58 saves to go with a 3.77 ERA and tossed four one-hitters. He threw 2,411-1/3 innings over 625 games, including 322 starts, and pitched over 200 innings four times. Fryman was inducted into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and is a member of the Expos Hall of Fame.


WilliamJPellas said...

I didn't realize Fryman played much of his career with an arthritic elbow. I well remember him at the tail end of his career as a very effective lefthanded reliever for the Expos. It wasn't until much later that I learned of his days as a starter and of the fact that he had played for the Pirates. A very underrated player, for my money. He was with a lot of bad teams and still managed some pretty impressive numbers, all things considered. 27 shutouts, 58 saves, along with 141 wins, even though he had a losing record overall. Very cool that he literally came straight off the farm to pitch professionally at an age when he was much older than most "prospects". Rest in peace, Woody. Thanks for the memories.

Ron Ieraci said...

I didn't know myself, Will, until I researched him a bit, so he apparently never whined about it. Too bad surgery was so primitive back then, but I suppose a few decades from now, they'll say the same of Doc McAndrews.

He was a workmanlike pitcher. And I remember being honked when the Bucs traded him and Don Money for Jim Bunning. Joe Brown liked his vets; being a teen, I liked the pups, lol.