Archive for the ‘Woodie Fryman’ Category

h1

Woodie Fryman

March 3, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Washington Nationals

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

***

2011 previews so far:
St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies

h1

Woodie Fryman

May 16, 2008
  

Unless I’m forgetting something, always a distinct possibility, there is only one former major league city. I’m not counting the borough where I lived for many years, Brooklyn, which is a part of a larger city that from what I understand has major league baseball affiliation of some sort. Of course, the same can no longer be said about Montreal.

Big league baseball has left other cities before, such as Baltimore, Milwaukee, Washington, and Seattle, but it always returned to those cities like a guy crawling back to an old girlfriend he’d once dumped.

“It can be like it was, only better, I promise,” the guy pleads, a heart-shaped box of candies in one arm, flowers in the other. This from the same guy who’d once explained that the relationship had grown stagnant and empty then packed up everything but some mildewed jockstraps and sped off to his sexy, sun-drenched new life without even turning back to wave. What the guy deserves is a kick in the nuts. But I’ve never heard of a city, even a formerly spurned city, saying no to major league baseball. It is pleasant to imagine Montreal being the first to refuse an attempt at reconciliation—I envision a torch-bearing mob, led by Warren Cromartie and a wine-breathed, filthy-furred Youppie, scalding the sweets-bearing representative of major league baseball with intricate Gallic curses as he flees across the border, head bleeding from a fresh hockey puck wound.

But let’s face it. Major league baseball will probably never return to Montreal, so the act of remembering is the only way for the Montreal Expos to endure. In that sense they are the most important team in the world of the Cardboard Gods, a world created solely to hold onto things as they fade. Because lately I keep finding baseball cards all over the place, I haven’t written about the cards from my disappearing childhood for weeks. Though I enjoyed the feeling that I was for the first time in a long time opening my eyes at least a little to the world of the present moment, I have also started feeling a little thin and empty without the ritualistic attempts to connect to my past. With my latest extended meditation of found baseball cards having run its course, I want to reach for an old card that will bring me back that feeling that what is gone can still have some kind of a life. I want to reach for a Montreal Expo.

And so today’s prayer is to Woodie Fryman, who after over a decade of mostly anonymous toil for several teams, including an earlier stint with Montreal, finally found a niche as an effective left-handed reliever for the excellent Carter-Dawson-era Expos. He looks in this picture to be someone who would know how to handle a crisis, like a former small-town farmer whose unflappability and natural moral uprightness inspired his townfolk to elect him (though he hadn’t campaigned) to the office of town sheriff, where his keen eye and steady hand allowed him to steer the town through whatever troubles came its way.

In fact he looks in this photo as if he may already be in the middle of a crisis. Perhaps a young Ellis Valentine, suffering from a premonition of the beanball that would derail his promising career, has begun raving and screaming and wildly swinging a bat around. While the Rodney Scotts and Scott Sandersons of the world bolt for safety, Woodie Fryman bravely, if also with wise caution, approaches the unstrung rightfielder and attempts to talk him down.

“Whoa there, big fella,” he seems to have just said, his voice a drawling, mellow tenor, like that of a bluegrass great. “Easy now. Take ’er easy.” He is fully prepared all at the same time to continue calming his teammate, to use his glove hand to fend off a lunge from his teammate, or to save another teammate from an attack by taking the hulking maniac down with a skillful leg tackle.

It’s natural that I, a panicky coward, would be drawn to such a card, or drawn, more accurately, to embroider this card with such a fiction. But in fact what first drew me to this card was not a need to imagine myself out of myself and into a more sturdy, capable persona, but the more primal need to be protected by such sturdiness. In other words, if I’m imagining myself into this card, I’m not imagining myself as Woodie Fryman but as the unhinged lunatic Woodie Fryman is prepared to help. In my madness I want to escape the moment, to crash through to oblivion, but if I make a run for the empty seats and artificial turf beyond Woodie Fryman, for the oblivion of the Expos as they are now without the mercy of memory, Woodie Fryman will intercede. He’ll use words, and if they don’t work he’ll drop me with a left cross to the chin or floor me with a shoulder to the solar plexus. One way or another, he’ll stop me from disappearing.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 125 other followers