By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
When most people think of Travis Fryman, they remember him as a steady, productive Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman for the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.
But to me, Fryman will always be a fresh-faced 20-year-old shortstop for the double-A London Tigers at Labatt Park.
I was a baseball-crazed teenager when Fryman, who turns 52 today, and the double-A Tigers relocated to my hometown in 1989. There was a buzz in the city around the team which would be managed by New York Yankees postseason hero Chris Chambliss, and Fryman was the club’s best prospect.
After the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Lexington, Ky., native was selected in the first round (30th overall) by the Detroit Tigers in the 1987 MLB draft, he quickly began his ascent up the club’s minor league ranks.
Fryman got off to a fast start in London and was batting .364 on May 4 to lead the Eastern League. The talented youngster was benefiting from the hitting tips offered by Chambliss. Fryman had hit .234 in each of his two previous minor league seasons.
The London club, whose roster also included future big leaguers Milt Cuyler, Scott Livingstone and Scott Aldred, as well as future Toronto Blue Jays’ first base coach Tim Leiper, struggled that season, finishing with a 63-76 record. But Fryman flourished. It was in the Forest City that he started being heralded as the heir apparent to Hall of Famer Alan Trammell in Motown.
Fryman’s most memorable game with the double-A squad came on April 27 when he walked to the plate in the bottom of the ninth at Labatt Park with two men on and his club trailing the Hagerstown Suns 2-0. The young shortstop promptly belted a three-run, walk-off home run to send the Labatt Park faithful into a frenzy.
For his efforts that season, Fryman was selected to the Eastern League All-Star Game and by late July, the league’s managers had voted him “the best defensive shortstop” with the “best infield arm” in the circuit in a Baseball America poll.
“The real bright spot this year has been Travis Fryman,” Tom Gamboa, the Detroit Tigers’ director of minor league operations, told Bob Duff of The Windsor Star that July.
Fryman finished his 1989 season in London with a .265 batting average, 113 hits, nine home runs and a league-leading 30 doubles. The big league Tigers rewarded him by adding him to their 40-man roster.
Not surprisingly, Fryman was assigned to the triple-A Toledo Mud Hens the following season, and after his power numbers improved there (10 home runs in 87 games), he was promoted to the big league club in early July where he took over as the starting third baseman. Just 21 at the time, he batted .297 with nine home runs in 66 games and finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
In 1991, he cemented his spot with the big league Tigers by batting .259 with 21 home runs in 149 games while splitting his time between shortstop and third base. The following year, with Trammell sidelined first with an elbow injury then with a broken ankle, Fryman took over as the club’s everyday shortstop and batted .266 and added 20 home runs in 161 games.
Fryman eventually settled into his role as the Tigers’ everyday third baseman and became one of the most productive big leaguers at the hot corner over the next decade. In all, in parts of 13 seasons with the Tigers and later with Cleveland, he was selected to five All-Star games and won a Gold Glove Award and a Silver Slugger Award.
He retired at the age of 33 after the 2002 season due to a nagging shoulder injury. He finished his big league career with a .274 batting average, 223 home runs and 1,022 RBIs in 1,698 games.
After a few years away from the game, he returned to manage Cleveland’s Short-Season A New York Penn League Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2008. These days, he serves as a roving hitting instructor with Cleveland.
Here are five more things you should know about this former London Tiger who turns 52 today:
-Fryman didn’t hit well at Toronto’s SkyDome during his big league career. He batted just .220 with six home runs in 65 games there. But he did have his first big league five-RBI game at the Dome. On June 18, 1992, he was batting third for the Tigers (after Lou Whitaker and ahead of Cecil Fielder) and starting at shortstop when he went 2-for-4 with five RBIs in a Tigers’ 14-10 win over the Blue Jays. Three of those RBIs came via a second-inning, bases-loaded triple off Dave Stieb.
-On June 28, 1993, Fryman became the first Tigers player in 43 years to hit for the cycle. Fryman went 5-for-5 in the contest that the Tigers still managed to lose 12-7 to the New York Yankees at Tiger Stadium. Fryman doubled in the first, homered in the third, singled in the fourth and then tripled in sixth. For good measure, he added another double in the ninth. For the record, Hoot Evers had been the last Tiger to hit for the cycle, completing the feat on September 7, 1950. Surprisingly, neither Kaline, Trammell or Whitaker ever hit for the cycle.
-Fryman played his entire major league career in the American League, but he did play one interleague series against the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium with Cleveland in June 2002. In all, Fryman was 1-for-9 against the Expos, but his sole hit was a two-run home run off right-hander Zach Day in the fourth inning of a Cleveland 5-4 win over the Expos on June 22, 2002.
-Do you remember Fryman with the Arizona Diamondbacks? Neither do I. But he was, in fact, with the D-Backs for two weeks following the 1997 season. On November 18, 1997, the Tigers dealt Fryman to the D-Backs for Matt Drews, Gabe Alvarez and Joe Randa. Two weeks later, the D-Backs flipped Fryman to Cleveland, along with left-hander Tom Martin and cash for third baseman Matt Williams.
-Fryman’s son, Branden, is an infield/outfield prospect in the New York Mets’ organization. Selected in the 21st round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Mets, Branden, who at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds has the same wiry build as his father, batted .356 in 17 games between Rookie Ball and low-A ball in 2019.