Tuesday, March 1, 2011
RIP: Woody Fryman (1950-2011)
(Reprinted from Shaking Like a Mountain)
I always thought that name, Woodie Fryman, was yet another of those oh-so-succulent, sublimely apropos, only-in-the-landscape-of-baseball names that sound, well, pitch perfect. While a rabid baseball fan through the vast majority of Fryman’s career, I admittedly have no specific game memories of Fryman, no on-field exploits, not even a vividly recalled mental picture to fall back on. Nope, but Iremember the name, and I still find it comfortably resounding, and even, dare I say it, one of those baseball monikers that seem intrinsically poetic, as if they’ve been scribbled down by a high falutin’ authorial voice, or handed out by a set of salt-of-the-earth parents who just somehow knew that their baby boy was going to make an adult living playing a glorious childhood game.
Moe Drabowsky. Zoilio Versalles. Gates Brown. Manny Mota. Van Lingle Mungo. Junior Griffey. Sal Maglie. Coco Crisp. Biff Pocoroba. Harmon Killebrew. Dane Iorg. Jesus Alou. Gaylord Perry. Nomar Garciappara. Milt Pappas. Sixto Lezcano. Kiki Cuyler. Boog Powell. Elroy Face. Honus Wagner. Minnie Minoso. Tuffy Rhodes. Bernie Carbo. Enos Slaughter. Mookie Wilson. Hack Wilson. And, yes, Woodie Fryman.
Fryman, born in Ewing, Kentucky, made it to the majors in 1966 and stuck around until 1983, compiling a lukewarm lifetime won-loss record of 141-155, with 2411.1 innings pitched, a non-too-overwhelming ERA of 3.77, while piling up 1,587 strikeouts, and racking up 68 complete games and 27 shut outs. He pitched for six separate teams (in chronological order: Pirates, Phillies, Tigers, Expos, Reds, Cubs, and the Expos again), managed to toss four one-hitters, and was named to the National League All Star squad twice___ making him the sort of scrappy journeyman that predominate the rolls in major league baseball. No all-time sensation, he was consistently competent, just missing a perfect game in his rookie season with the Pirates and evolving into a late-career reliever, saving 17 games for the Expos in 1980. (He was also inducted into the Montreal Expo’s Hall of Fame in 1998, a Pyrrhic achievement if there ever was one.))
Woodie Fryman. Who knows? Without that name he may not have been destined to stand tall in the midday sun, leaning into a batter after a cursory glance at his catcher’s sign, a king of the hill toiling under the unwavering banner of America’s once greatest national pastime. Maybe he would’ve wound up being the guy unlocking the corner gas station doors at the break of dawn in Ewing, or traveling the backroads of the deep South trying to sell vacuum cleaners or household cleaning supplies, or possibly somehow uprooting himself to settle in as insurance man in a dull gray suit in Hartford, CT.
Maybe. But stop, and imagine that name, emblazoned on a Topps baseball card, with his everyman visage smiling from underneath one of his six specially designed home team caps, and you have to know that he found his proper calling, struggling through another tight spot late in the game, taking a deep breath and hurling that round bit of rawhide over the plate, willing himself a strike or a batter out, the crowd urging “C’mon Woodie,” or “ For Christ’s sake Fryman, get this bum out,” the right guy with the perfect name in a place that could never be righter.