Fat Freddie

July 22, 2022 William A. Gralnick
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About whom was said this? “In 1938, the cagey veteran was Brooklyn’s best pitcher?” I might add that 1938 was an awful year to be in Dodger Blue. The man who made the most of it was “Fat” Freddie Fitzsimmons, born July 28, 1901.

Let’s open with an introduction from Wiki: “Frederick Landis Fitzsimmons was an American professional right-handed pitcher, manager, and coach, who played in Major Leagues (MLB) from 1925 to 1943 with the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Nicknamed Fat Freddie (he carried as much as 205 pounds (93 kg) on his 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) frame) and was known for his mastery of the knuckle-curve. Fitzsimmons’ 217 wins were the third most by a National League (NL) right-hander in the period from 1920 to 1945. In 1940 he set an NL record, which stood until 1959, with a single-season winning percentage of .889 (16–2). He was an agile fielder in spite of his heavy build, holding the major league record for career double plays (79) from 1938 to 1964, and tying another record by leading the league in putouts four times; he ranked eighth in NL history in putouts (237) and ninth in fielding percentage (.977) when his career ended.”

Fitzsimmons had almost a 25-year career. But when he left the mound he didn’t leave baseball. The mound was his domain. If he was fat, he was a fat cat. He was a fielding demon. Hitting one up the middle or a roller to one side of the mound or the other was wasted motion for the batter. Look at that fielding percentage–.997. He was a double playmaker and a putout machine.

In 1940, three years from retirement, Fitzsimmons tossed his 200th career victory on his way to a 16-2 W/L record. Many more times than not, Fitz would give you the ball game you needed when you needed it. His career record was 217-146 which put him in the top 100 players of his era.  He had a 3.51 ERA. His record was salted with 870 strikeouts. Oh, that knuckle curve. 

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

What Freddie wanted and never got was a World Series ring. He came close in 1941 against, who else, but the hated New York Yankees. Personally, I also thought rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for IBM. Fitzsimmons was pitching a dandy. He went into the 9th with the score 0-0. When was the last time you saw a starter, particularly a well-worn one, get to the 9th inning? As recently happened, a pitcher can be throwing a no-no and if he’s across the magic 100 pitch mark he’ll most often be pulled. He who runs away lives to pitch another day, I guess is the thought.

Back to the game. Fitz is on the mound. A low, whistling liner comes at him like a bullet. It hits his knee with such force that it bounces on the fly to shortstop Pee Wee Reese for the final out of the inning. But Fitzsimmons is hobbled. The reliever gives up two runs in the 10th. The Dodgers lose the game, the series, and shortly thereafter, a few games into the next season, Freddie Fitzsimmons. But he wasn’t done.

Following his knee injury, Fitzsimmons made only one start in 1942 and served as a coach on player-manager Durocher’s staff. He then returned to the active list and made nine appearances for the 1943 Dodgers before Brooklyn released him on July 27. The following day, the tail-ending Phillies tabbed him as their manager. He was to be a player no more. 

The managing experience in Philly was the equivalent of today’s computer mantra, junk in, junk out. As a manager, he had a .367, barely breaking 100 wins. Undeterred, after the war, he was a valued coach for the Braves, the “Gints” of New York, the Cubs, and KC.

On Durocher’s Giants staff, Fitzsimmons finally earned a championship as a coach for the 1954 World Series team.

It took the likes of Bob Lemon to break Fitzsimmons put out record in the American League and then Greg Maddux to do it in the National League. Not bad company.

Fitzsimmons died of a heart attack at age 78. He had forsaken the chilly northeast and lived out the rest of his life in the sunny climes of southern California.

But why end on death? Freddie Fitzsimmons is our July birthday boy (the 28th). If not a candle in the wind, he was a candle on the mound and he was one hell of a wick, burning bright for almost two decades. Here’s to ya, Freddie!

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