|Volume LV||August 2008||Number 3|
Brothers On and Off the Field
He waited nine years, but Bro. Bob Friend, along with his teammates, earned a World Series Championship. As a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he felt fortunate to be in the "big show" at all, so making it to the "grand finale" was the honor of a lifetime.
Playing baseball wasn't about the money for Bro. Friend, especially since in the Golden Age of baseball, there weren't million dollar contracts as seen today. It was about the love of the game and your fellow players.
It was through fellow teammates, Bro. Dick Groat (shortstop), Bro. Ron Kline (pitcher) and several others, as well as his father, that Bro. Friend decided to join the Masonic fraternity. He received his degree 50 years ago from John "Red" McCartney, a head usher at the ballpark. He belongs to Franklin-St. Johns-Trinity Lodge No. 221, Pittsburgh.
"I'm very proud be a Mason," Bro. Friend said. "It has a great history. Many of our founding fathers were Masons. They've done so much good for so many people over the years. I've met a lot of fine people, and I'm still meeting them. It's great to be called a Mason."
Bro. Friend was active in baseball, football, basketball and golf in high school. Ever since the age of 7 or 8, though, his heart belonged to baseball. As a freshman at Purdue University, he was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950. He would spend most of his career with them, until 1966, when he was traded to the New York Yankees and then to the New York Mets. He continued to pursue his college education during the off-season and earned an economics degree in 1956.
"They didn't have a draft," he said. "Scouts went around signing players. I was very fortunate and only spent a year in the minor leagues."
Traveling around with the team and seeing different cities was a good experience for Bro. Friend, coming from the small town of West Lafayette, Ind. It was during the period he played, from 1951-1966, that baseball expanded to the West Coast. In 1958, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved out to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively, and the American League followed suit in 1961 with the Los Angeles Angels.
"I wouldn't have done it any differently," he said. "To be able to play in the great American pastime for that long was an honor."
This right-handed pitcher, who relied on his fastball and sinker, never missed a starting assignment and pitched in 602 games throughout his career. Pitchers in today's game rarely pitch through nine innings, but Bro. Friend pitched 163 complete games. The number of innings he pitched, 3,481, is an all-time Pirates' record. He had 1,734 career strikeouts in those innings and 36 shutouts.
"I pitched every fourth game," he said. "To play 16 years without any injuries - I'm very proud of that."
He was chosen to pitch in three All Star Games (1956, 58 and 60) and won two of those games. One of his other crowning achievements was his 1955 season. With a 2.83 ERA (earned run average), he led the National League. He led his team in pitching with the best ERA, the most wins, the most appearances and the most strikeouts. His ERA was better than the future Cy Young Award winner Don Newcombe. The Cy Young Award, given to the best pitcher in the Major Leagues each season, was first awarded in 1956. He would come in third place for this honor in 1958.
Bro. Friend earned an impressive 197 wins and 230 losses, making him the only pitcher to lose more than 200 games, while winning less than 200. The losses are the result of five seasons in which his team placed last. Without run support, achieving a winning season is difficult.
"As a pitcher, you do feel frustrated when your team is not scoring," he said, "but everybody's trying to win; to get a hit. We are all doing the best we can."
The Pirates remained a losing team for the first eight years of his career. The team made a few trades and things started turning around for them in 1959. In 1960, they made it to the World Series. In the seventh game of the series, the Pirates edged out the New York Yankees 10 - 9. "That was the best year!" Bro. Friend exclaimed.
Among the All Stars he played with was Roberto Clemente. He also faced the legendary Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Ted Williams.
"It was awesome," he said. "Clemente was one of the best I ever saw."
A bittersweet highlight of Bro. Friend's career was giving Pete Rose his first hit, a triple, on April 13, 1963.
"I knew he was going to be a good player, but not that kind of player," he said, alluding to Rose's eventual 4,256 career hits, an all-time Major League record he still holds today.
Bro. Friend threw his last pitch on Sept. 24, 1966, for the New York Mets. His affiliation with baseball continued as the Pirates' player representative for 10 years and then the National League player representative for five years. He served as Allegheny County Controller from 1967-1975 and worked as an insurance broker.
His first few years out of baseball were tough as he really missed the game, but he started working on another swing: his golf swing. "I'm halfway decent," he said. His son, Bro. Bobby Friend, Franklin-St. Johns-Trinity Lodge No. 221, is a professional golfer. He also has a daughter and five grandchildren.
In 1979, he was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1999, fans named him as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates' Team of the Century. "I was very flattered to receive that honor," he said. "Several of my teammates were named and we all feel very fortunate. It's nice to be durable."
Residing in Pittsburgh, Bro. Friend still makes it to a few Pirates games each year. Along with about six of his former teammates, he is active in an alumni group that raises money for various charities.
In the more than 40 years since Bro. Friend graced the mound and gripped the stitches between his fingers, the game of baseball has seen a few changes. Television has made the sport more accessible to fans. Stronger players' unions have given all players more leverage. Unwavering, however, is the camaraderie among the players and the required skill, timing, athleticism and strategy to play the game.
"I feel like I've been a part of great things: playing a national pastime and being a Mason," he said. "Everything about the Masons and baseball has been positive for me."
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