Thursday, March 29, 2012
A baseball card mystery: Garth Iorg and Pepe FriasPosted by Bruce Markusen
Yes, there was a major league player by the name of Garth Iorg. He is one of only two “Garths” in major league history, the other being Garth Mann, who appeared in one game for the Cubs as a pinch-runner in 1944.
Not only did Iorg (pronounced ORJ) have an odd name, but he was also an odd player. He was principally a third baseman, but he had absolutely no power; he hit a mere 20 home runs in nearly 1000 major league games.
He also wasn’t good at reaching base, with a lifetime average of .258 and an on-base percentage of under .300. And as a right-handed hitter, he wasn’t exactly a hammer against left-handed pitching. His lifetime OPS of .677 against southpaws hardly stood out as a major strength in his game.
Yet, the Blue Jays liked Iorg, who was originally signed by the Yankees before being taken in the expansion draft. The Jays felt that he was good enough to be an important part of a third-base platoon with Rance Mulliniks for much of the 1980s. They must have considered him a reliable defender at the hot corner.
Toronto also liked Iorg’s willingness to play other positions, particularly second base. He also could man shortstop in an absolute emergency and occasionally put in appearances at first base and the outfield. A team-oriented player, Iorg played every fielding position except for right field and catcher.
A Fleer photographer presumably took this photo during the 1980 season, with the site being old Exhibition Stadium, the former ballpark for the Blue Jays. Iorg is running between second and third base while being observed by the shortstop for the Rangers.
I’m 99 percent sure the Rangers’ shortstop is the wonderfully named Pepe Frias, one of the many shortstops produced by the town of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.
(I’ll leave myself a one percent safety net because there is a possibility the shortstop is Nelson Norman, who was Frias’ backup in 1980.)
Growing up in a household where Spanish was spoken, we used to laugh at the mention of Pepe Frias because his name sounded like “Papas Fritas,” which is Spanish for “French Fries.“
Frias was originally signed by the Giants before coming up with the Expos in the mid-1970s. He managed to play in 116 games for the 1980 Rangers despite an OPS of .530. Not exactly a dangerous batsman, Frias was at least a good defensive shortstop.
Given this information, can we pin down the exact game and inning when this photograph of Iorg was taken? If it is indeed Frias in the background, we know he appeared in all six games that the Rangers played at Exhibition Stadium that season. Out of those six games, which is the correct one?
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.