Woodie FrymanMarch 3, 2011
According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview
By the time Woodie Fryman joined the Expos for the first time, he’d been around a while and was no longer a young man. Had he ever been a young man? It seems like he may have somehow sprang from the womb already equipped with a paunchy full-grown build and melancholy eyes and the ability to change a tire, chip adequately out of a sand trap, and itemize federal tax deductions. This card doesn’t do a whole lot to dispel that notion, what with the information on the back that he was not signed to his first contract to play professional baseball until the uncommonly ripe age of twenty-five. By the time he arrived on this 1977 card, he was thirty-seven and had played for the Pirates, the Phillies, the Tigers, and, for the previous two seasons, the Expos, and before anyone but Topps employees had a chance to consider this offering from the 1977 series, Fryman would be moved once again, to Cincinnati, who would in turn, before 1977 was done, ship him to the Chicago Cubs. By the following season, 1978, Woodie Fryman had become so transient and anonymous in the baseball world—the opposite of his life away from baseball, where the lifelong farmer stayed rooted to the land in Ewing, Kentucky, where he was born—that he was bestowed the ultimate honor for anonymous transients: he was traded for no one in particular, i.e., a player to be named later. Then, just as it seemed that Woodie Fryman might never find a place in baseball that he could truly call his own, he switched from his long-time role as a decent, unspectacular starting pitcher with a 117-137 lifetime record to the role of an uncannily effective reliever whose ERA kept growing infinitesimally smaller the older he got. And because this quiet golden moment of Woodie Fryman’s long career came during the historical peak of the Montreal Expos, there would, so it seemed, forever be an association of Woodie Fryman and the Montreal Expos. He had finally found his place in the baseball world. So what happens when that place disappears?
No future can be told for the Montreal Expos because the Montreal Expos don’t have a future. They don’t even have a present. There is only a past. Does any of this past seep into the present? I was thinking about this the other day in connection with Woodie Fryman, who died in Ewing, Kentucky, last month. If the Expos still existed, would they have taken the field in 2011 with a black armband to honor Woodie Fryman? I don’t know how these things work, but my guess is that you’d have to be a former superstar or else a current member of the team at the time of death to be remembered with a black armband, and though Woodie Fryman had some good years with the Expos, it would not be accurate to call him a superstar. From what I can gather, however, he loved his time with the Expos, and he made a connection with the fans there. If the Montreal Expos still existed, they might not wear a black armband to remember Woodie Fryman, but there would certainly be some kind of official remembrance of the man at some point during the season, especially considering the backward-gazing motto of the province that contained the Expos: “Je me souviens.” It’s sad to think that, because the Montreal Expos no longer exist, there will be no team around to remember Woodie Fryman. But what about the team that paved over the Expos and, with it, the Expos’ past? The Expos have no future, but what can be said about the future of the Washington Nationals? By virtue of this Woodie Fryman card, in which the pitcher holds only the ghost of a baseball in the glove above his head, I see for the Washington Nationals a 2011 season that will soon enough be lost to the ages, a fading echo, a ghost.
How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 4 of 30: read Bruce Markusen’s informative backward glances, as in this recent recollection of Woodie Fryman