Diamondbacks Legend Travis Fryman

I love it when baseball players change teams. For years I traded baseball cards with my friends, moving players back and forth between fictitious “teams” in 9-card binder pages. The possibility of seeing stars move to other teams makes real the possibility of seeing your own favorite players join your favorite team. As a result, the trade deadline and free agency moves are highlights of the season for me. Sometimes these forces combine to create seemingly absurd combinations that last for all but a few weeks of convenience in a pennant run or as a waypoint in a more complicated trade.

The poster child for these situations has to be Mike Piazza’s 8 day, 5-game tenure as the starting catcher of the Florida Marlins in 1998. The Dodgers traded their star to Florida as part of a package deal that brought Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla to Los Angeles. The Marlins, for their part, had no intention of paying any cash towards Piazza’s contract and quickly arranged a deal to send him to the New York Mets. Despite the brevity of Piazza’s time in Miami, more than 100 different baseball cards were issued commemorating those five games. A Boston affiliate of NPR even ran a segment in 2017 detailing the collecting habits of Jerry Dworkin, a guy who is trying to find every known example of Piazza cardboard featuring him in a Marlins uniform. [Jerry: If you’re reading this I would like to hear an update]

Other players have received similar cardboard treatment with varying quantities of cards resulting from the transactions. Tom Seaver shows up with the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 Topps Traded set after pitching in a dozen contests. Ken Griffey, Jr. played 41 games as a member of the White Sox in 2008, garnering a much larger cardboard contingent. Jose Canseco didn’t even get into an MLB game with the Montreal Expos but still had cards produced with the team.

Making an appearance for a random team doesn’t always create a cardboard memento. Satchel Paige came out of retirement in his sixties to pitch 3 innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965, but didn’t get any cards from Topps in 1965 or 1966.

There is a player in the 1993 Finest checklist that spent two weeks with another team and didn’t get any cards showing him in his new uniform. Traded by the Detroit Tigers in the 1997 offseason, Travis Fryman didn’t get a chance to even put on his Arizona Diamondbacks uniform before being sent to the Cleveland Indians. He had joined Arizona and left before the expansion team even got to take the field.

I did, however, find a Travis Fryman card that sort of commemorates this event. Topps pictures Fryman as the third baseman of the Cleveland Indians in its 1998 set. The card manufacturer produced a parallel version of the set in which every card was stamped with a gold foil Diamondbacks logo commemorating the team’s inaugural season. For anyone hoping to find a Fryman Diamondbacks card, this is your only chance.

A shortstop who could also competently handle third base, Fryman was seen as the eventual successor to Alan Trammell in Detroit’s lineup. He didn’t disappoint, averaging near 20 HRs and 100 RBIs throughout his career. However, consistent 20 homerun production didn’t hold the same meaning it once did when league leaders regularly made assaults on the single season HR record.

Collecting Fryman

Travis Fryman cards were briefly popular in the early 1990s when he showed he could live up to post-Trammell expectations. His cards become more of a regional specialty around Detroit and Cleveland as the ’90s progressed and collectors began to chase McGwire and Sosa.

Fryman’s 1993 Finest refractor has reflected these trends. His regular Topps Finest card is readily available in any common bin, but the refractor parallel stands out from many other cards given local demand from the Great Lakes region. His is one of several Tigers cards that saw some hoarding among local collectors, resulting in moderate difficulty in finding a copy for my set. This particular example was obtained from the same Las Vegas-based set collector that provided me with cards of Orel Hershiser and Jimmy Key. The PSA slab incurred some minor damage during transit, but the integrity of the card remains intact.

Travis Fryman is himself a baseball card collector. He once told an interviewer that he particularly concentrates on cards of Rod Carew.