Wrigley couldn't hold Frobel this day in 1984

On this day in 1984 Pittsburgh Pirates Doug Frobel (Ottawa, Ont.) almost hit the scoreboard at Wrigley Field turning around a Lee Smith pitch for his second homer of the day.

On this day in 1984 Pittsburgh Pirates Doug Frobel (Ottawa, Ont.) almost hit the scoreboard at Wrigley Field turning around a Lee Smith pitch for his second homer of the day.

Frobel enjoyed interesting career in minors and majors
 
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network

Doug Frobel had some bright moments in a career that ended way too early and his brightest moment may have come on a June 26, 1984.

If he had done more of what he did that day, his career would have been longer, not just a mere footnote of 542 at-bats which amounted to one full season, if you look at it that way.

On Tuesday June 26, Frobel took a pitch from Cubs reliever Lee Smith and with that long, looping swing of his, smoked it to deep centre field, hitting the last row of seats, just barely missing the mammoth scoreboard that sits above and behind the expansive bleachers in the second game of the doubleheader.

The solo blast took place with two out in the eighth inning and it was one of the longest home runs ever hit at Wrigley Field. It was actually one of two homers Frobel hit that day. The homer off Smith cut the Cubs lead to 9-7 and according to the Retrosheet information site, his first homer, also a solo shot, came in the fifth inning off of Rich Bordi leading off the fifth cutting the Cubs lead to 7-3. The Cubs won 9-8 after the Pirates won the opener 9-0.

Back on April 24, 1948, Bill Nicholson of the Cubs came close to hitting the scoreboard. Ditto for one of Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, whose drive on May 17, 1959 screamed by the left side of the scoreboard before it landed on Waveland Ave.

“I remember the day and what I remember most about it is what happened afterward. Cubs announcer Harry Caray was quite complimentary,’’ Frobel said in an interview this week. “He would always say ‘Holy Cow’ and I saw a tape of Harry announcing the home run.

“I have the VHS that you stick into a recorder. He said it was the longest home run he’d seen since Clemente did it. I saw a recorded interview he did after the game and he was so complimentary. He talked about a young fellow, who needed a chance to play. Wrigley Field was one of my favorite places. It’s a beautiful environment. That day at Wrigley certainly stands out. It was one of my fun moments.

“You remember the good things. Then there is the frustrating part of the game. You think you had a terrific game and then you’re sitting the next seven or eight games. And then when you do play, you come up against guys like Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage or Jeff Reardon.’’

How long the home run Frobel isn’t quite sure. He felt it was important to remember how many home runs he had hit rather than how far they travelled.

“It’s always better to know how many you hit rather than how far they want,’’ he re-iterated.
Frobel’s career in the big leagues was short because he couldn’t handle the tough pitching he faced. The old adage of good pitching beats good hitting applied to Frobel. But you have to think not everything was bad for him.

In 1984, Frobel hit 12 homers and drove in 28 runs, while batting .203 in 384 at-bats for the Pirates. That was enough for Bucs management to allow slugger Dave Parker to depart as a free agent. He certainly had gigantic shoes to fill in right field.  

As Frobel pointed out in his favour, there was a lack of patience on the part of the Pirates’ organization.

“There was a lot of promise, pressure and hopes from fans and media and maybe even the coaching staff,’’ Frobel said of his time with Pittsburgh. “Dave Parker was the Pittsburgh Pirates. There are not too many Dave Parkers in the world. He provided a lot of leadership. He never got credit for his leadership. He was underrated. If people thought someone was going to fill his shoes, it was not going to happen.

“I wish I had been able to slowly walk into those shoes. There was that jump-in-there factor in stepping into the big leagues. I wish Dave had played longer to help you grow as a ballplayer. From 1982-84 with Pittsburgh, I showed I had the potential to hit home runs and get extra base hits.’’ But he added, “You have to have enough playing time in a row to be a streak hitter. You have to be able to play to be in a groove.

“Pittsburgh went through a transition in 1984. Teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets were bringing up seven or eight young guys from the minors but Pittsburgh went in the opposite direction. I was a young fellow on a team filled with 35-year-old players. It was like ‘you gotta win now.’ The Pirates would take a flyer on a guy for two years hoping he would produce like he did 15 years ago. It’s not always the best thing for an organization. Bottom line is to stick with us young players.’’

That’s right. It’s a philosophy the Pirates have stuck to for many years. They have had a history of signing or acquiring players, who are long in the tooth.

The Pirates had signed Frobel in 1977 to what was then a free-agent contract after he was discovered at a tryout camp in Utica, N.Y. Of course, some scouts had seen him play earlier in his native Ottawa in the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians’ organization. When Frank (Chummy) Frobel wasn’t tending to a number of lucrative parking lots he owned in downtown Ottawa, he was shuttling Doug and his brothers to ballparks in the Ottawa area.

I didn’t play with Doug but I did play against his brother Rick of the Canadians and with his brothers: twins Bruce and Brian on the Alta Vista Ritchies’ squad of the Ottawa Senior Interprovincial Senior Baseball League in 1979-80. Rick was the eldest, Doug was next and along came Bruce and Brian for Chummy and his wife Helen.

Frobel began his minor-league career in 1978 in Charleston, West Virginia but it was 1980 when he finally started impressing the Pirates. In a combined season with Shelby, N.C. and Salem, Mass., he hit .292 with 20 homers and drove in 59 runs. With Buffalo Double A in 1981, he continued to excel. He hit 28 homers and drove in 78 runs, while batting .251. 

During that season, Ottawa Citizen baseball writer Bob Elliott showed up in Buffalo to check Frobel out during the major-league strike. During one stretch of seven games, Frobel hit six homers including a few over the old Buffalo Bills’ press box and over the roof, a mighty feat at old War Memorial Stadium. 

And one of the blasts was 100 feet over the 385-foot mark on the fence, prompting team GM Don Colpoys to tell Elliott, “So who knows how far it went.’’

Frobel played first base and right field for Buffalo but was clearly not a fan of playing that outfield spot in the cozy confines of the Buffalo park. Yes, he hit a number of homers over the 297 foot sign in right but playing defence was tough.

“It’s not an easy field to play,’’ Frobel told Elliott. “There isn’t any room. You are either diving for balls in front of you or you’re up against the cement brick wall – I stay away from it.’’

And while with Buffalo, Pirates minor league hitting instructor Steve Demeter was working on trying to harness Frobel’s swing.

“Since Demeter came here, he has been working on shortening my swing. I’ve improved but it seems like forever they were telling me to extend my swing,’’ Frobel told Elliott, who is currently the baseball columnist for the Toronto Sun and the Canadian Baseball Network, a web site he founded years ago.

“He’s got major-league power right now,’’ Demeter told Elliott.

Added Buffalo manager John Lipon: “Right now, he’s got more power than Mike Easler. He doesn’t have the power of a Dave Parker or a Willie Stargell but we’re talking about a 22-year-old.’’ 

“If I was managing next year in Portland (Triple A in Oregon),” Lipon said, “that’s where he’d be. And once he gets there, he’s at most a year or two away from the big club. He reminds me a lot of Tommy Agee.’’

Sometime during the winter of 1981-82, I remember writing a story for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, saying that Frobel had been promoted to the Pirates’ 40-man roster, an exciting moment in his glide toward the majors.

And Lipon was right. Frobel did play the 1982 season with Portland and continued to impress. He cranked out 38 doubles, 23 homers and 75 RBIs, while batting .261, all of which prompted his first call up by the Bucs, resulting in his first game being played Sept. 5. 

All in all, Frobel went 7-for-34 with two homers and three RBIs in 1982 with Pittsburgh. He also pinch ran for Stargell as the aging slugger played his final game.

“It’s certainly a memory, it’s always fun to be part of history,’’ Frobel said of getting sent into run for Stargell on Oct. 3.

At spring training in 1983, Frobel impressed in 10 games, going 9-for-27 with two homers and three RBIs but Cecilio Guante and him were the last cuts as the Pirates went north from Bradenton, Fla.

“He’ll play in the major leagues some day because simply he wants to be a major-leaguer badly,’’ Pirates manager Chuck Tanner told reporters. “But he’ll regress rather than progress if he stays here, playing twice a week. We want him to play every day.’’

Frobel would spend most of the 1983 season with the Hawaii Islanders and he opened up a few eyes there with 24 homers, 80 RBIs and a .304 average in only 378 at-bats. Again, he was promoted to the Pittsburgh collecting three homers, 11 RBIs and hitting .283.

In 1984, Frobel finally stuck with the big club the entire season but he was mostly a part-timer. If only the Pirates had let Frobel play a full season of let’s say 550 at-bats without disrupting things by sitting him for games on end. In late April of 1984, for example, 

Frobel knocked down Cardinals’ catcher Darrell Porter in a home-plate collision and Porter ended up with a chipped bone in one of his shoulders.

Next time up at the plate, Frobel hit the dirt when Cards pitcher Danny Cox threw chin music at him in retaliation over the Porter incident. Later in the game, Frobel made up by hitting a line drive homer off Cox.

“You think you have a terrific game offensively, a terrific game defensively, you hit Porter and then you sit for four or five days,’’ Frobel told me about Pittsburgh’s penchant for not giving young players more of a chance.

By 1985, he had regressed and played little: zero homers, seven RBIs in 109 AB. Then to top it off, the Pirates let him go and the Expos purchased his contract on Aug. 12, 1985. The Pittsburgh experiment had ended. He would go 3-for-23 with the Expos, his most notable contribution being a grand slam.

“You look at patience and you look at who you are,’’ Frobel told me about being acquired by the Expos. “I tried to be what the Expos were looking for. The confusion was what kind of hitter do you want to be? It’s like the star hockey player, who scores a lot of goals and then he becomes a defensive player and not scoring a lot of goals and the team is wondering where that player went.

“It’s like that Yogi Berra expression: ‘Baseball is 90 mental and other half is physical.’ The biggest mistake I made was to remake myself. I was a power hitter with a fair number of strikeouts and then I was trying to hit for average, to put the ball in play more. Once you try to market yourself differently, it doesn’t always work. You lose faith in yourself. You question yourself on how to play the game. It’s knowing who you are.

“Once you lose confidence, it’s hard to get it back. It’s not an excuse. You have to learn to deal with it. You have to try and do things but in retrospect, it caused more confusion, when you start changing things. If you’re facing a 102 mph fastball and you’re thinking of the type of swing you want, it’s confusing. 

“You don’t always get what you want. I am so very happy with the opportunity to do the best I could. It was never from lack of trying. I was quite proud of my time with Pittsburgh and playing right field as a guy who could throw guys out. A lot of teams, for example, like to go with guys who take the liberty of stealing bases but they can’t throw.’’

Frobel wouldn’t get back to the majors until 1987 when he got 23 at-bats, two homers and five RBIs with the Indians.

“With the Indians, they were in a transition year. They had some terrific players like Joe Carter, Brook Jacoby and Brett Butler,’’ Frobel said. “I’d pinch hit one game and then 18 days later, I’d go 0-for-3. Nothing against the Indians but it was so tough but it was an opportunity. I was brought up in and called up.’’

In ensuing years, he tried out with a number of minor-league teams and his last stop professionally was with the Chicago White Sox farm team in Vancouver in 1989. That was the end of the road. He gave it up at age 30, although there was a major reason why he packed it in.

“At spring training with the White Sox, I tore a ligament in my left thumb,’’ Frobel said. “I tried to put a brace on my thumb but in June I was looking at surgery. They were going to take the ligament and re-attach it and it would be a year before I would play again. At that point, I said it was time to head home. You see how hard it is to use your thumb to turn a knob in the house door or the car door. You realize thumbs are very valuable.’’

According to George Farelli, the Canadian Baseball Network’s encyclopedia of Canadian baseball information, Frobel was one of only two Canadians playing in the majors in 1984, the other being Saskatchewan-born outfielder Terry Puhl -- following Fergie Jenkins’ retirement. 

Farelli also mentioned two “dual status’’ Canadians, who suited up that season. One was Kansas City pitcher Bud Black, whose parents were both Canadians. The other was Cincinnati pitcher Frank Williams, whose mother was Canadian.

Since his playing days ended, Frobel has been living in the Ottawa area, since 2007 in the suburban Kemptville with his wife Kelly. One of their hobbies is raising quarter horses.

“I’ve gone from living in hotels to living on a farm,’’ quipped Frobel, who played in 14 minor-league cities and three major-league cities.

As we chatted on the phone, Frobel was sitting in a small booth on a street in downtown Ottawa, collecting money and arranging for cars to be parked. His father once owned four lucrative parking lots in Ottawa, beginning in the 1950s and now there are two and they are gold mines operated by Frank’s sons.

“I’m sitting in what was my father’s chair. Even when I was in the major leagues, I was helping out with the parking lots,’’ Frobel said. “I chit-chat with all of the customers. I gab too much.

“My brothers and I work together. We have a great relationship. We’re proud of what we are doing. It’s in our blood. I remember coming down here when I was nine years old to earn money and making 50 cents on a Saturday. I can’t tell you where the parking lots are located because people would want to come here and talk.’’

Yes, talk about his baseball career. 

How many Canadians can say they played in the majors? Frobel even has a park named after him in Ottawa. 

He should be proud of what he accomplished.

Year          Team                        HR           RBI        BA
1980         Shelby/Salem          20            59          .292
1981         Buffalo                      28            78          .251
1982         Portland                    23            75          ,261
1983         Hawaii                       24            80          .304
1984         Pittsburgh                  12            28          .203

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Danny Gallagher

Danny was born in Ted Lindsay's hometown of Renfrew, Ont. but his roots are in nearby Douglas. He played 27 consecutive seasons of top-level amateur baseball in the senior ranks in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec and thrived on organizing events himself, the major one being the highly successful 1983 Canadian senior men's tournament in Sudbury. He began covering the Montreal Expos in 1988 when he joined the Montreal Daily News. Later, he was the Expos beat writer for the Ottawa Sun and Associated Press. He has written four baseball books, including Remembering the Montreal Expos, which he co-authored with Bill Young of Hudson, Que. Gallagher and Young are currently working on a book about the ill-fated 1994 Expos squad. Gallagher can be reached here: dannogallagher@rogers.com