Bob Friend – Practice Makes Perfect…

My son Cameron just turned 1 last week and what a crazy year it has been!  It’s been fun watching his personality start to develop as he grows into a little person.  I’ve always been a “planner” so I’ve certainly got my eyes on the future for him.  We’ve set up his savings
01081202account already, the college fund is up and running, and I’m debating on whether or not I should just go ahead and start now teaching him to hit from both sides of the plate.  Being a switch hitter may generate more baseball-scholarship dollars one day.  All jokes aside (not really) and without even knowing whether or not he will ever like baseball, I decided to start a little project for him.

I started writing baseball players letters back when I was 9 years old.  My first “success” was a postcard from Johnny Bench with his signature printed on it.  I still have it and even though it’s not a real signature, it’s still one of my favorite pieces.

After looking at a stack of 8×10 photos of baseball players, I decided to mail a few off to some retired players.  My note explained that I planned on giving the photo to my son one day.  I asked the player to personalize the photo and make a short inscription.  Mr Friend was happy to oblige and personalized this photo of him at Shea Stadium in 1966.  He wrote:  “To Cameron – Practice Makes Perfect – NLAS ’56, ’58, ’60 – Good Luck”.  The return is absolutely perfect and I can’t wait to give it to Cam one day.   Mr Friend is a great through-the-mail signer.  This request took 5 days to get back to me.

Bob Friend is nicknamed “The Warrior” as he averaged 39 starts per season between ’56 through ’60.  1955 was unique in that Friend posted a 14-9 record for the Pittsburg Pirates and led the National League in ERA with 2.83.  He was the first ever pitcher to do so for a dead-last team.

Being credited with wins in the ’55 and ’56 All Star Games, Friend shares the record for most All Star Games won.  His ’55 start saw him strike out Mantle, Berra, and Williams.

It was an unfortunate turn of events in the ’60 World Series where the Yankees got the best of him in both of his starts as well as a save opportunity.  Game 7 saw Friend being called in from the bullpen to preserve a 9-7 lead in the ninth.  Friend gave up singles to Bobby Richardson and Dale Long when manager Danny Murtaugh replaced him with Harvey Haddix.  Haddix then proceeded to give up a single to Mantle, scoring Richardson and advancing Long.  A grounder by Berra scored Long tying the game 9-9.

Of course, the ending of this game is well-known and regarded by some as “the greatest game ever played.”  It was Bill Mazeroski who faced Ralph Terry in the top of the 10th with the score tied.  It was a 1-2 fastball that Maz sent sailing over the wall in left, crowning the Pittsburgh Pirates the World Champions.  The Series of 1960 would go down as Mantle’s “biggest disappointment in his career.”

One of the most durable pitchers of his time, Friend averaged 232 innings pitched and 13 victories for 15 years.  Had those numbers not been for some of the worst teams in baseball, Friend would likely be in the Hall of Fame.

Bobby Shantz – 1952 AL MVP

01071201I’ve always loved this cover of SPORT magazine.

Gracing this February 1953 issue is Bobby Shantz.  He very graciously signed the cover through the mail.  I asked him to personalize it to my son Cameron and he added the following inscription:

“To Cameron – Best Wishes – Keep your eyes on the ball” – Bobby Shantz, 1952 AL MVP”

I’ve had the issue forever and decided to package it up and mail it to Mr. Shantz.  The return took about 10 days and came out beautifully.

There aren’t very many of us who can say we beat out Yankee legends in MVP voting.  Okay, so probably NONE of us can say that.  Mr. Shantz can say it though.  The award was handily won by the pitcher in 1952 after posting a 24-7 win/loss record.  Also in the running were a few guys by the name of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Allie Reynolds.

Despite the Philadelphia A’s finishing in 5th place that year, Shantz led the American League in wins, winning percentage (.774), fewest walks per game (2.03), finished second with 27 complete games, third with a 2.48 ERA and 152 strikeouts, tied for third with five shutouts, fourth with 255 innings pitched and fifth in fewest hits per game (7.39).

Due to being born just a bit too early, 1952 would have likely won him the Cy Young Award had it existed at the time.  His odds of winning would have been even greater when you take into consideration the award is given out to the top pitcher in each league.  The 280 innings pitched came at the expense of the ’53 and ’54 season as he battled arm soreness

In addition to starring in 3 All-Star Games, Shantz retired with Eight Gold Gloves and had the award been around prior to 1957 he would likely have won more.  Only Greg Maddux, Jim Kaat, and Bob Gibson have won more than Shantz’ eight.

Shantz’ last season (1964) was split between St. Louis, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  He was actually part of one of the most infamous trades in major league baseball history that year as he was shipped off to the Cubs along with Ernie Broglio (and a few other players) in exchange for a young ballplayer named Lou Brock.  Shantz was at the end of the line with his career, Broglio was shipped off with a failing arm (that whether or not St. Louis knew about is still up for debate), and of course, it goes without saying that Brock went on to have a pretty decent career for St. Louis.