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Injuries derail Fryman

When Travis Fryman was acquired by the Cleveland Indians in 1998, he wanted to wear uniform No. 3 to honor Alan Trammell, the Tigers’ long-time shortstop who took Fryman under his wing as a young player in Detroit. No. 3, however, was retired by the Indians in honor of Earl Averill decades ago, so with his customary No. 24 already being used by Manny Ramirez, he went with No. 17.

When Ramirez departed for Boston two years later, Fryman didn’t rush to get his old number back. Things like jersey numbers don’t matter much to Travis Fryman. Playing the game, and playing it well, is the most important thing, which is why Fryman announced his retirement last week, effective at the end of the season.

Fryman is just 33 years old, but is playing with the body of a 40-year-old. A chronic bad back first caused him to miss games when he was still with the Tigers, and it hasn’t gotten much better since. In 1999, he sprained a knee ligament and missed nearly three months. He got back in time for the playoffs against Boston, lugging a cumbersome knee brace around. Two years later, he injured his throwing elbow. The ligament damage would have required “Tommy John” surgery if he was a pitcher, but he dealt with sharp stabs of pain every time he threw a baseball so he could stay in the lineup. The altered throwing motion eventually started shoulder problems, and began affecting his swing at the plate.

Fryman has spent most of this season hitting close to .200, a far cry from the .321 career high he achieved just two years ago. A hitter who always had quick hands on the inside half of the plate, his bat speed has suffered terribly the past couple of years. It all became enough that he began contemplating retirement. Last week, with the Tigers and Indians playing in Cleveland, he felt the time was right to announce the end.

Tiger fans still talk with longing about Fryman. He was the heart and soul of post-Alan Trammell/ Lou Whitaker baseball in Detroit. With the Tigers getting mopped up by the rest of the American League on a yearly basis, it was Fryman who played with defiant competitive spirit, playing as hard as he could for nine innings. In the winter of 1997, the Tigers, attempting to cut salary and afraid of losing Fryman to free agency a year later, traded him to the Diamondbacks. With Matt Williams setting his heart on a return home to Arizona, the Indians swapped third basemen with the D-Backs weeks later and got Fryman.

Fryman made his presence known in Cleveland early. He accused his new teammates of not being leaders. What first created tension ultimately gained their respect as Fryman started to hit, and when the annual rite of clinching the AL Central title came about in September, Fryman’s raised the title banner. A lot of people might say Fryman got a raw deal, having to end his career so early. But the amount of time spent playing probably doesn’t matter most to him. It was how he spent the time he had. And, from that standpoint, he has a lot to be satisfied with.

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