A baseball card mystery: Garth Iorg and Pepe Frias

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.

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With all of that in mind, we present the most interesting card of Iorg’s career. It’s part of Fleer’s inaugural set in 1981, which came out just a few months after a court decision declared that Topps could no longer have a monopoly on a complete baseball card set featuring major league players.

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?

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Comments

  1. Jim G. said...

    A little trivia, Garth’s brother Dane was a useful utility outfielder/ph for the Cardinals around the same period. Dane could hit for average, but his lack of speed and power kept him from being a regular.
    Garth’s son, Cale, is an infielder with the Toledo Mud Hens. His prospect rating has greatly diminished and his chances of reaching the majors has all but dimmed. But if he were to, there would have been more “Iorg”s in MLB history than “Garth”s.

    Nice job to Mike on his research.

    And Bruce, thanks for the memories that old Fleer set. The early years of both Fleer and Donruss were so bad, they were good.

  2. Mike Whitaker said...

    13th Jun – Iorg pinch ran for Davis at 1st in the 9th, innings ended next batter (Griffin) on a fly to second, so unlikely: Frias was SS for that at bat (took field in 7th)

    14th Jun – Iorg pinch hit in 7th, drew a walk and watched the next two fly out, so unlikely: North for Frias in 8th

    15th Jun – Iorg didn’t play

    25th Aug – Iorg fielded for Mayberry in 8th, singled in 9th & watched last batter strike out: Frias played whole game at SS

    26th Aug – Frias and Iorg played whole game: Iorg flied out in 2nd and 4th, singled in 7th, made second on a passed ball, next batter flied out in foul territory, last batter K’ed, so… possible but unlikely: Iorg K’ed in 9th.

    27th Aug – Iorg whole game. Reached on E in 2nd, made third on single. K’d in 3rd, singled in 5th, made second on a single, next batter K’ed, last one groundout 6-3. Staub batted for Frias (who started at SS) in 6th.

    So, best guess is that was taken during the 2nd innings on the 27th: there’s a small chance it was in the 5th, but he doesn’t look like a man running from second on a routine 6-3 groundout on the 3rd out!

    from Retrosheet:

    BLUE JAYS 2ND: Mayberry singled to right; Moseby singled to
    right [Mayberry to third]; Iorg reached on an error by Frias
    [Mayberry scored, Moseby to second]; Ainge struck out; Whitt
    singled to center [Moseby scored, Iorg to third]; Griffin popped
    to shortstop; Bailor flied out to right; 2 R, 3 H, 1 E, 2 LOB.
    Rangers 0, Blue Jays 2.

    There.

    Not bad for a Brit, huh?

  3. Mike Whitaker said...

    An additional thought – apart from anything else, if it was the play in the 5th, Frias shouldn’t be watching him, since he’s just made the out! As it is, the throw’s coming from centre and we assume to 3rd?

  4. Mike Whitaker said...

    Bruce – you’re welcome.

    Good question – I’m not really sure: I have a number of ex-pat American friends who I talk with about baseball, but there’s not to many Brits of my acquaintance who follow it.

    There used to be a late night Sunday live show on Ch 5 (it was in fact the longest running show on Ch 5 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MLB_on_Five – taking ESPN’s feed) which was pretty popular, and since that was killed (*boo*!) Radio 5Live (no relation) carry a live game every Sunday, I believe, for free, and we can pay for ESPN America and/or MLB.tv online. Me, I go for MLB.tv – being able to watch games on the iPad or the Apple TV rocks, and there’s something incredibly cool about being able to drive into work at 6am listening to the end of a Twins game on streaming radio on the car stereo via an iPhone :D

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