As part of his series on former Detroit sports figures, Free Press special writer Bill Dow caught up with former Detroit Tigers infielder Travis Fryman:
How we remember him
Fryman was chosen 30th overall in 1987 in compensation for the loss of free agent catcher Lance Parrish to the Phillies. After 2½ seasons in the minors the 21-year-old shortstop was promoted to Detroit on July 7, 1990. The next day, manager Sparky Anderson moved him to third base, a position he had never played. In the seventh inning of that game, Fryman hit a two-run homer at Tiger Stadium for his first major league hit. In his first full season (1991), he split time between short and third, hit 21 homers with 91 RBIs and a .259 average before an injury to Alan Trammell allowed him to play short most of the next season. That year, he earned the first of his five All Star selections. On July 28, 1993, he became the eighth Tiger in 43 years to hit for the cycle. By the end of the season, after hitting .300 with 22 homers and 97 RBIs he became the regular third baseman. Fryman joined Al Kaline as the only Tiger to have three straight seasons with at last 20 homers before turning 25. As a Tiger, he averaged 93 RBIs in his first full seven seasons, earned one Silver Slugger Award (1992) and posted 149 homers, 679 RBIs and a .274 batting average.
After the Tigers
Unable to reach an extended multi-year contract as the Tigers were dumping salary, Fryman was traded to Arizona for third baseman Joe Randa and minor leaguers Gabe Alvarez and Matt Drews on Nov. 18, 1997. Two weeks later, the Diamondbacks dealt him to Cleveland with Tom Martin and cash for Matt Williams. In 1998, he helped Cleveland win the AL Central title by hitting a career-high 28 homers and two years later he hit .321 with 22 homers, 106 RBIs while earning an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove award. Shoulder and elbow injuries led to his retirement at age 33 after the 2002 season. He hit .274, 223 homers, and 1,022 RBIs in 13 seasons. For four years, he led a men’s ministry at his church before joining the Cleveland organization, first as a manager in the rookie league and later as a roving infield/defensive instructor and talent evaluator.
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Fryman, 52, has been married 29 years to Kathleen and lives in Pensacola, Florida. The couple have three sons: Mason, Branden (a Mets minor league prospect) and Cole, whose middle name is Anderson in honor of Sparky. He now serves Cleveland as a player development advisor and continues to work with infielders in their system.
His minor league development
“The pivot point in my career happened in the offseason before I was sent to play for London (in 1988). A legendary scout from my area named Ken “Squeaky” Parker approached me, gave me his card and offered to throw me batting practice. He ended up throwing batting practice five days a week from Nov. 1 to the start of spring training and he did it with me every offseason until I made it in Detroit. The first year he said, ‘Boy, when you sign that first big contract, I sure would like that Toyota 4 Runner.’ The next year, it was, ‘that Nissan Pathfinder sure is nice’ and after that he said, ‘I really like that Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer.’ When I received my bonus check after signing my big contract with the Tigers, I bought a new Eddie Bauer Explorer and put it in Squeaky’s driveway. He was a brash, colorful character and helped me a lot. It also helped that after my season in London where I led the league in doubles and before I went up to Toledo, I bought a couple of body building magazines and put on another 10 pounds of strength.”
On being called up to the Tigers
“Steve Searcy and I were picked to play in the upcoming International League All-Star Game and our Toledo manager, Tom Gamboa, took us to lunch. We thought it was for being selected but it was tell us that instead we were going up to Detroit that day. … My name was in the lineup that night playing shortstop, but everything is a blur to me now. I was excited to play for Sparky Anderson because I grew up a Reds fan and remember him managing the Big Red Machine. I would later spend hours talking baseball with Sparky and asking him a million questions. The best advice he gave me at first was when he pointed to Alan Trammell in the locker room and said, ‘young man, watch everything he does and you are going to be all right.’ There cannot be a more professional person to watch and emulate than Alan Trammell. Dave Bergman was also very helpful to me as were some others. Every day was baseball school, how to conduct yourself and how to play the game right.”
His first major league hit and home run
“In the seventh inning of my second game I hit a two-run homer off Jeff Montgomery of Kansas City. I was absolutely floating and flying around the bases. I was a very intense, brash young kid and was fired up talking to myself as I was running. When I came back onto the field for the next half inning, the umpire Tim McClelland told me that (Royals third baseman) Kevin Seitzer heard me say something to Montgomery and that I better be careful the next time I came to bat. I spent the next couple of years expecting the Royals to throw me high and tight. I later had the opportunity to tell Montgomery at the All-Star Game that I never had said anything to him. It ended there. It was a great lesson though for a 21-year-old kid to run around the bases and be quiet. In some ways though, it had a negative impact on my career because it also kept me from enjoying the good moments for fear on how it might be perceived. Hitting is so difficult and you fail so much so you should celebrate when good things happen but be respectful of your opponents. We don’t always see that today.”
Transitioning from shortstop to third base
“In my second game with the Tigers, Sparky put me at third base and I’d never even taken a grounder at that position. I could whine about it or figure it out so I learned on the job. You take the opportunity you can get. My mentality was ‘if I can play shortstop, the most demanding position on the field, with catching a close second, I can learn to play anywhere.’ The biggest part for me to learn was positioning and learning new angles and seeing the ball off the bat from a new perspective. Third base is up and back while shortstop is all lateral. At short, you’re able to track the pitch so you are moving before contact is made. At third you are focused on the area of contact. You have to have quicker reactions and at the corner there is more spin on the ball. Dick Tracewski handled the infield duties and he helped me a great deal. I was fortunate to have a strong throwing arm. I still see the game from the perspective of a shortstop but I was a better third baseman than a shortstop.”
Playing with Trammell and Lou Whitaker
“I played with Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar in Cleveland and in 2000 we all won Gold Gloves. Don’t get me wrong, there was no one more dynamic than those two guys. But Trammell and Whitaker were the greatest double-play combination in history. They played 19 years together and no middle infield has ever done that before and it will never happen again. It was a mistake that they weren’t inducted into the Hall of Fame together. Lou’s numbers are so good he should be able to go in on his own merit.”
His time with Detroit
“If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do anything differently because Detroit was the perfect place for me. I got to play for Sparky Anderson and he probably had the greatest impact on me. I also had wonderful teammates. I loved my years with the Tigers. We weren’t good and I had issues and my own disappointments as well but I wouldn’t change anything. The organization was behind the times and struggled for a long time to develop their own players.“
Getting traded away
“I was hunting in Idaho with a friend of mine and called my wife to check in and she told me that I had been traded to Arizona. It hurt me to be traded because I wanted to spend my whole career in Detroit and be associated with one organization and wear one uniform like Al Kaline, Trammell and Whitaker. I didn’t get that opportunity and it bothered me for a long time. In my eight seasons in Detroit, we had five different general managers so there wasn’t a lot of continuity. Randy Smith had a very different way of operating from the previous people. The Tigers wanted to build a new stadium and were dumping payroll and I was really one of the last players who had a bigger contract. Randy Smith didn’t believe in offering a contract longer than four years and I offered to defer money in exchange for a longer contract. They never made me a formal offer and just said they wouldn’t offer anything beyond four years.”
Retiring as player
“At the end of 2000, the best year of my career, I had some shoulder and elbow pain but I was excited about my season and I thought I was going to run off some pretty good years. The following spring training, I discovered that I had a torn ligament in my elbow but decided to play through it and I ended up also tearing my shoulder labrum. That offseason, I had shoulder surgery and tried to rehab my elbow but played poorly. I had to decide to either have Tommy John surgery and to continue to rehab my shoulder or call it a career. At the end of August, with a potential labor dispute pending and the Tigers in Cleveland, I decided to announce my retirement so that I could thank both teams at one press conference. There was a chance the players were going to strike then and I didn’t want a season ending without first saying thank you to both organizations and the fans. The strike didn’t happen so I ended up finishing the season with a month still to go. After I retired, I volunteered for four years at my church where I served as a deacon and in men’s ministry. When we were in Detroit, Frank and Cathy Tanana had helped my wife and me give our lives to Christ and become born-again believers. They are still very important to us.
“My dad had been a high school basketball coach and athletic director and when he died there were so many of his former athletes who came to the viewing (when he died). It hit me how impactful coaches are in the lives of young men. That’s when I decided to coach and began managing at the rookie level in the Cleveland organization. I currently enjoy my role as an advisor in player development and have more control over my schedule which allows me more balance between my personal and professional life. I’ve been blessed in so many ways.”