In a pretty unusual run for this set we have the second player in a row born in the Dominican Republic. Pepe Frias, who also had a pretty long road to the majors, basks in the sun at Shea on his rookie card. That he made his debut and played most of his career with Montreal is appropriate, given he resuscitated his career in a Canadian league. His first season up top would be emblematic of his career: back-up work and occasional starts at middle infield and sometimes third with better than average defense and average offensive numbers. ’73 would be the most work he got as an Expo as regular Tim Foli missed some games at shortstop and second base was starting to get a bit transitional. Pepe would be one of only two major leaguers to date to play under that name. Ironically the other one so named would be a teammate, Pepe Mangual.
Pepe Frias was one of 15 kids born to a sugar cane worker in the DR who played baseball as much as he could while growing up. His defense on those less-than-perfect fields was impressive and after a summer of semi-pro ball in ’66 he was signed by the Giants. He came up north the following spring and after barely playing in both Rookie and A ball was released by July. After the season he was picked up by LA and, after playing winter ball back home, released during ’68 spring training. Things were pretty desperate economically back home and rather than go back and wait for the next winter season Pepe signed to play for not too much money in the Canadian Provincial League which was then unaffiliated with any MLB teams. After that season he again signed with San Francisco and for them in ’69 he hit .188 in A ball before again getting released in July. He returned up north and later in August got signed by Montreal and then finished out the late summer in the Instructional League, where he upped his average 10 points. In ’70 he moved up to Double A where he had his first significant offensive season while finally getting some regular time at shortstop. That was followed by a ’71 at the same level with similar stats offensively and improved work in the field. He also got some token work in Triple A and after another regular season at the higher level in ’72 he was called up to Montreal the following year.
After his rookie year in ’73 Frias’ at bats halved the following season as the addition of Jim Cox and a bit more work for Larry Lintz at second compressed Pepe’s time a bit. That year and the next he backed up at third as much as anywhere and ’75 saw a further contraction in time with the arrival of Pete Mackanin at second and Larry Parrish at third. In ’76 Lintz left for Oakland and Pepe’s time increased a bit as he again split time between second and short and raised his average to .248. But the ’77 signing of Dave Cash – who rarely sat – and the later emergence of Rodney Scott further cut into Pepe’s time the next two seasons as he only managed 85 at bats over that time, though he moved his average up to .260.
Prior to the ’79 season Montreal was looking for some pitching and the Braves for a regular shortstop so that March Frias went to Atlanta for Dave Campbell. Pepe finally got a chance to start and had 475 at bats that year, by far his most in the majors. He didn’t do too badly at the plate, hitting .259 and only striking out 36 times. He had a bit of a tough time in the field – everyone seemed to back then in Atlanta – finishing second in the NL with 32 errors. In December he went to Texas with Adrian Devine for Doyle Alexander, Larvell Blanks – another former Braves shortstop – and cash. There he split time at short with Bud Harrelson, hitting .242, before a stretch run trade to the Dodgers in September. There he got half a month of late-inning work behind Bill Russell. He began the next year on LA’s roster and after not too much use was released in August, missing any playoff action. Early in ’82 he signed with Montreal, played a bit for their Triple A team and was done. He finished with a .240 average in his 1,346 at bats and hit a bit below that in the minors.
In ’83 and ’84 Frias played summer ball in Mexico while continuing to play in the DR in the winter. From that point on he pretty much went underground media-wise. He did play in the Senior League in ’89 and when caught up with in 2001 he was living off his MLB pension and coaching kids. He resides back home in the town of his birth.
Pepe gets the defense props in his star bullets. I guess he is another guy who would be appropriate in a bunting pose.
The Montreal Expos contribution to the ’76 baseball centennial was their ’69 home opener, which was significant because it was the first MLB game ever at a home park in Canada. The venue was Jarry Park – or Parc Jarry if you were from those parts – and was happily an 8-7 win over the Cards. It wasn’t a very pretty game: Montreal went up 6-0 in the first three innings before St. Louis scored all seven of their runs in the top of the fourth. The Expos tied it up in the bottom of that inning when Bob Bailey raced home on a wild pitch. It then became a pitching duel until Expos reliever Dan McGinn knocked in Coco Laboy in the bottom of the seventh for the winning run. The first hit in the game was by Curt Flood of the Cards. The first Expos hit was by Don Bosch in the first, shortly thereafter followed by the first homer in Canada by Mack Jones. Jones was the Expos hitting star with his two hits and five RBI’s. The Cards’ big boy was – gasp! – Dal Maxvill who went two for four with four RBI’s. McGinn was the winning pitcher and he deserved it with five-plus innings of shutout ball in relief.
These guys probably played each other all the time in the DR but here it gets a little trickier:
1. Frias and Buddy Bell ’80 Rangers;
2. Bell and Tommy McCraw ’72 and ’74 to ’75 Indians;
3. McCraw and Winston Llenas ’73 to ’74 Angels.