Before Travis Fryman wore the Old English “D” from 1990 to ’97, there was Woodie Fryman, a pudgy southpaw who helped an aging Tigers team win the American League East Division in the strike-shortened 1972 season.
Woodie, a Kentucky tobacco farmer by trade, passed away on February 4 at age 70. During an 18-year career from 1966 to ’83, he compiled a record of 141-155 with a 3.77 ERA for the Pirates, Phillies, Tigers, Reds, Cubs, and two stints with the Expos.
In early August 1972, General Manager Jim Campbell bought Woodie from Philadelphia for the stretch drive. He went 10-3, 2.06 in 14 starts, and 0-2, 3.65 in the AL Championship Series against eventual world champion Oakland (shades of Doyle Alexander in 1987). At the same time, Campbell purchased catcher Duke Sims from the Dodgers and pinch-hitter Frank Howard from the Rangers to give the Tigers’ roster additional depth, which was helpful in beating the Boston Red Sox 14 of 18 times and edging the Olde Towne Team by a half-game for the division crown. (The Tigers’ margin of victory resulted from players and owners agreeing that games postponed due to the early-season strike would not be made up.)
Although Woodie’s Tigers career is best-remembered for pitching 7.2 innings of one-run ball against Boston’s Luis Tiant in a 3-1 division-clinching victory on the next-to-last game of the season in front of more than 50,000 fans at The Corner on October 3, his best performance in a Tigers uniform arguably came on August 13 against the Indians.
On a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon at Tiger Stadium in front of 37,835 fans, Woodie opposed Gaylord Perry–a tobacco and peanut farmer from North Carolina–in the first game of a scheduled doubleheader. (Remember those?) The Tigers won 3-2, besting the eventual American League Cy Young Award Winner, and both starters went the route in a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Also significant about that game was that Manager Billy Martin drew the lineup from a hat to help the Tigers stop a losing streak. The batting order was Norm Cash, 1B; Jim Northrup, RF; Willie Horton, LF; Eddie Brinkman, SS; Tony Taylor, 2B; Duke Sims, C; Mickey Stanley, CF; Aurelio Rodriguez, 3B; and Woodie Fryman, P -– the last season before the American League adopted the DH rule. Tom Timmerman, one of the speakers at last year’s Annual Gathering, started the nightcap, giving up five runs in 4.2 innings and taking the loss in a 9-2 shellacking by the Tribe.
Following the 1974 season, the Tigers traded Woodie to the Expos for catcher Terry Humphrey and pitcher Tom Walker, whose son, Neil, is now the Pirates’ starting second baseman.
After the 1967 season, Woodie was traded from the Pirates to the Phillies for former Tigers hurler Jim Bunning, southpaw Bill Laxton — who would go on to play for the Tigers in 1976 — and infielder Don Money, who
enjoyed a solid career with Milwaukee in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, and was a role player for ex-Tiger Harvey Kuenn’s AL pennant winners in 1982.
For those of us who remember the 1972 season, Woodie Fryman will always be the reason the Tigers made it to the playoffs, giving us memories of October glory that would have to suffice for another 12 years until Sparky’s “Bless You Boys” came along.