Thursday, August 18, 2011

#229 - Fritz Peterson

Fritz Peterson gets an action shot in Baltimore that is strangely reminiscent of Nolan Ryan's card earlier in the set. Like Nolan, Fritz is bearing down here but these pitchers couldn't be more different style-wise. Nolan was all heat while Fritz was a control specialist, never walking more than 50 batters a season. '73 would be a tough year for him. On the heels of his very public family swap with Mike Kekich, Fritz was roundly booed during the season at various stadiums and put up his lowest win total in six years. It would be unfortunately the beginning of the end for his career.

Peterson grew up on the outskirts of Chicago and then attended Northern Illinois University from which he was signed by the Yankees upon graduating in '63. After a slow start in Rookie ball that season he went on to produce excellent stats his next two seasons in the minors - 26-13 with a 2.21 ERA - ending the '65 season in Double A. He also hit over .300 during that span. In '66 he went to NY and had a fine rookie year, winning 12 with a 3.31 ERA. After a back-pedaling '67 he went on a very nice run the next five seasons with a combined record of 81-66 with a 2.88 ERA. Every season during that run he led the AL - and three times both leagues - in fewest walks per nine innings. He peaked in '70 when he was an All-Star and won his 20th game on the season's last day in Boston, a tough place for lefties. After his tough '73 Fritz in early '74 was included in a big trade to Cleveland: he, Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, and Steve Kline all went to the Indians for Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow, and Cecil Upshaw. The trade would prove to be hugely one-sided in NY's favor and Fritz had another bumpy ride in '74, improving by a win over his '73 numbers but also adding nearly half a run to his ERA. In '75 he had a pretty good comeback year, going 14-8 despite an ERA pushing 4.00. But by then his arm was pretty shot and in '76 after a crappy start in Cleveland he was sent to the Rangers for Stan Perzanowski. For the Rangers he went 1-0 in four starts but then sat out most of the season on the DL and was released the following winter. It would be his final season. Fritz put up a record of 133-131 with a 3.30 ERA, 90 complete games, 20 shutouts, and a save. He had some good moments at the plate, three seasons hitting better than .200. His lifetime ERA at Yankee Stadium is 2.52, the best on that field of anyone.

Peterson had a pretty turbulent existence after baseball, reportedly losing a bunch of money in various business deals. He was a blackjack dealer at an Illinois casino for a long while and then made some better business investments and seems to have recovered quite a bit financially. He has been twice diagnosed with prostate cancer which he has dealt with both traditionally and experimentally. As a result of his brushes with mortality in 2009 he published a book entitled "Mickey Mantle is Going to Heaven" in which he spends a chapter each on various past players - Mantle, Thurman Munson, and Bobby Murcer to name a few - including some inside dirt on each and then surmising where they will spend the afterlife. Fritz had become a born-again Christian after several discussions with Danny Thompson while both were in Texas in '76 led him to re-evaluate his life and get religion. There is an '09 interview with him linked to here. It's a long one and most info disclosed is already known but Fritz is engaging and happy and not really preachy at all.

Fritz gets props for his Single A run the first half of the '65 season and then for his '70 season. Lindy McDaniel pitched Fritz out of a jam in that 20th win in Boston, the third time he bailed out a pitcher for the starter's 20th. Per the cartoon only 37 stolen bases occurred during Fritz' time on the mound for his career and 54% of attempted steals were caught. In '75 75% of guys who attempted to run on him were nabbed. I'd say that qualifies for outstanding.

Fritz was involved in a bad trade. Let's use a participant in another one to hook up these two:

1. Peterson and Danny Cater '70 to '71 Yankees;
2. Cater and Ted Kubiak '67 to '69 A's.

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