#TBT Travis Fryman: A Detroit Tigers fan favorite sacked by Randy Smith
By Matt Pelc
It could be argued that the Detroit Tigers’ chief rivals since moving to the American League Central 17 seasons ago have been the Cleveland Indians.
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Arguments can also be made for the Chicago White Sox after contentious battles in the 2006 season and the Minnesota Twins for taking advantage of a pair of monumental Tigers’ collapses during the final months of 2006 and 2009, but the Indians and Tigers seem to take glee in tormenting the other.
The Tigers once were swept in a season series by the Tribe–swept! Zero-for-12 in 1996. Detroit returned the favor with the shocking 15-4 mark in 2013 that cost Cleveland the division title by one game. The animosity also comes from the teams using former players of the other team to tease and taunt to victory.
Detroit has had the leg up in recent years with Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta tearing up their former mates, but for Tigers’ fans in the 1990’s the roles were reversed when Travis Fryman patrolled the infield for the competitive Cleveland Indians.
Fryman is the subject of this week’s Throwback Thursday.
Born in Lexington, Kentucky and raised in Pensacola, Florida, Fryman had an unmistakable southern drawl when he spoke. Somewhat quiet and reserved, he did most of his talking on the field and was a solid two-dimensional player for the Tigers.
Drafted in 1987, it didn’t take Travis long to reach the big leagues, making his debut in a July 7, 1990 game at shortstop against the Kansas City Royals. One day later he notched his first hit, a ninth inning solo home run again KC closer Jeff Montgomery, who had been working mop-up duty in a 10-4 Detroit drubbing.
Seeing as how Fryman was 21 at the time and just had launched a homer as his first career hit, he was understandable excited, perhaps too excited for Montgomery’s liking. The Royals said Fryman celebrated too much and would “pay” the next time the teams met. Unfortunately for those who are fans of basebrawl, the teams’ next meeting was in Spring Training and the alleged slight was quickly forgotten.
Fryman was a natural third basemen but had been used as shortstop for much of the 1990 season, spelling an aging Alan Trammell for rest or DH duty. He also went over to third base from time-to-time as a defensive upgrade to provide an alternative to error-prone Scott Livingstone in subsequent seasons.
Travis was a run producer from the start, hitting nine homers and 27 RBIs with an OPS of .818 in 251 at-bats his rookie year. He laced 21 homers in a power-filled 1991 lineup that also included Cecil Fielder, Mickey Tettleton, Rob Deer and Pete Incaviglia. The following year he earned the first of three All-Star appearances as a Tiger and won the Silver Slugger Award.
His best season was 1993 when he hit .300 with 22 homers and 97 RBIs.
By this time he was the Tigers’ primary third basemen and a favorite of the old guard that was made up of Sparky Anderson and a revolving door of GMs which included Bill Lajoie, Joe McDonald, Jerry Walker and Joe Klein.
A new regime, with manager Buddy Bell and infamous GM Randy Smith, took over prior to the 1996 season. With the departure of Lou Whitaker and the final season of Tram in a reduced role, the team was eager to build toward the future and signed their young star to a three-year contract extension.
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He put up two more solid years for the Tigers with 100 RBIs in each season until Smith decided to administer one of his idiotic trades that were all too common, sending Fryman to the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks for Matt Drews, Gabe Alvarez and the “prize” of the deal, Joe Randa.
For a player who was so consistent in his time here from 1990 to 1997, it was a bitter pill to swallow, but at least he was dealt to a National League team where he could do minimal damage against Detroit, right? Wrong. Less than a month later Arizona traded him to Cleveland.
The Tigers never competed in the AL Central during those years against the dominant Indians and the teams rarely played meaningful games. Detroit had just two winning seasons with Fryman but he jumped right into a championship-caliber team for Cleveland, heading to the playoffs in 1998, 1999 and 2001. Fryman made another All-Star Game and won his only career Gold Glove in 2000.
Injuries slowed down his stellar career and he ended up retiring following the worst statistical season of his career. He retired at the age of 33 after the 2002 season.
Even though Fryman likely had his best statistical years in Detroit and spent eight seasons here, as opposed to five in Cleveland, he has never been an “alumnus” of the Tigers. He has managed in the Indians’ minor league system and is currently a roving hitting instructor in the organization.
Travis Fryman would never have been an Alan Trammell or Lou Whitaker in the hearts of fans, but he could have been an intriguing part of the organization and more than a forgotten former fan favorite.
Thanks to Randy Smith for allowing Fryman to be one of few that got away to Cleveland, instead of vice versa.
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