Saturday, January 29, 2011

#88 - Freddie Patek

In another nice segue we move from one of the biggest guys playing baseball at the time of this set to the smallest. Here Freddie Patek takes an imaginary cut in Oakland during a year in which his offense had a nice bounce pretty much across the board from his '72 numbers. And he probably should have been an All-Star again. In researching articles for this post I was struck by how many times Freddie was called a dwarf or midget by the writers. Very non-PC of them, but it was a different era. I did, however, find one funny incident which I will share before moving on to Freddie's bio: in '69 the Pirates got into a bench clearer with the Expos. When Dick Radatz, a reliever who was 6'6" came running out of the bullpen looking for someone to tussle with, the only available guy was Patek. Radatz said to him "I'll take you and a player to be named later."

Freddie Patek played baseball in high school and then the service. He used service ball to leverage a tryout with the Pirates and was then drafted in a late round in '65. After completing his hitch in early '66 he put up some nice numbers in A ball that got him looks at the two higher levels. He stole 41 bases that year and then 42 the next in a Triple A season. While most of Freddie's field time was at short, he would also spend time at second and in the outfield in the minors. In '68 a nice start at Triple A Columbus - .304 and 18 steals in 38 games - helped propel him to Pittsburgh that summer. His push up was aided as well by Bill Mazeroski's pretty rapid decline in offensive production at the time. He stole 18 up top as well, did good work at the plate and in the field, and in '69 became the starting shortstop due both to incumbent Gene Alley being hurt and Alley's time at second due to the above. With the emergence of Dave Cash in '70 Alley returned to his normal infield spot, Freddie's time declined and following that season he went to the Royals in a multi-player trade,

Patek quickly became an institution in KC and was the starting shortstop for the next nine seasons. He teamed up with Cookie Rojas and then Frank White to give the Royals one of the best defensive middle infields of the '70s. He was a hustler and put up big stolen base totals. In '71 he and Amos Otis became the first teammates since 1917 to grab a combined 100 stolen bases in the AL. Freddie also led the league in triples that season and got some serious MVP consideration, finishing sixth. The next year his offense tanked but his D was excellent and he nabbed his first All-Star nod. His '74 numbers were roughly equal to '73's though he added a bunch of walks to post his best MLB OBA of .324. After a similar '75 season a .300-plus start to the '76 season got him more All-Star time and in '77 he topped out with 60 RBI's and 53 stolen bases, a total that led the AL. In both '76 and '77 he hit .389 in the playoffs against the Yankees. In '78 after another strong offensive start he was named starting shortstop for the All-Star game. By '79 toothpick-chomping UL Washington was grabbing more and more playing time and following that season Freddie became a free agent, signing with California. In '80 he had a decent season for the Angels splitting time with Bert Campaneris at short. After playing very rarely in '81 he was released. Freddie posted a lifetime .242 average with 385 stolen bases. He played in those three All-Star games and also hit 55 homers, a record for a guy that small. In the post-season he hit .288 with eleven RBI's in 15 games. He had a pretty good sense of humor about his size. Once when asked how he dealt with being the smallest guy in the majors he said "It's better than being the smallest guy in the minors."

Patek had a tough run of things when he stopped playing. Investments in real estate and a restaurant went south and for a while he was a salesman for a computer paper company. He saved most of his time and energy for his family. He started having kids young and was already a grandparent in his early 50s. In '91 he returned to baseball as an infield coach in the Milwaukee system. The next year he was inducted into the Royals hall of fame and then something terrible happened: his daughter of was paralyzed in a car crash in and Freddie's insurance didn't cover her medical costs so he would be actively involved in fund-raising to help pay her medical bills and for paralysis research throughout the rest of the decade and into the 2000's. She passed away in '95. Freddie continues to reside around the KC area.

'71 stands out as Freddie's best offensive season. He was an excellent defender with a great arm and is in the top 60 all-time in shortstop putouts and assists and the top 40 in double plays.. Whitey Herzog called him the best fielder he ever saw on artificial turf and he coached Ozzie Smith. Freddie's another guy who had to subsidize his baseball income.

Jenkins' move to the AL helps here:

1. Patek and Dave Nelson '76 to '77 Royals;
2. Nelson and Jenkins '74 to '75 Rangers.

1 comment:

  1. Patek was my favorite Royals player when I was growing up, along with Lou Piniella before he was traded to the Yankees. One of the funniest baseball photos you'll ever see is the one of 5'4" Patek leading off first base next to 6'8" Frank Howard covering the bag when he was with the Senators. Can you imagine having a 16" height advantage over someone?