Bob Friend: The Warrior

On October 13, the Pirates celebrated the 51st anniversary of the team’s spectacular seventh game, bottom of the ninth, come from behind World Series victory over the heavily favored but universally disliked (at least in Pittsburgh) New York Yankees. In one form or another, Pittsburgh has continuously celebrated the upset since the instant Bill Mazeroski hit his historic home run in Forbes Field at 3:36 P.M. See it here.

The most popular event occurs annually at a small section of the old Forbes Field that was left behind for posterity after the Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium in 1970.  Hard core fans gather to share their recollections and chat with some of the players on the 1960s team. Among them are Dick Groat, Elroy Face and Bob Friend.

When it comes to the 1960s Pirates, it’s pretty much a non-stop love fest until Friend’s name is mentioned. Friend was then and still is now a fan favorite. We just hoped that the World Series would have turned out differently for Bob.

During the years that led up to the Pirates fifth World Series appearance, Friend acquired the nickname “The Warrior”. A quick look at Friend’s statistics explains why. From 1956 through 1960, Friend averaged 39 starts and led the league twice in that category. During that same period, Friend also led the league in innings pitched twice. In 1955 for the 60-94 Pirates, Friend posted a 14-9 record with a National League best 2.83 ERA, the first pitcher ever to record the league’s lowest ERA while toiling for a last place team.

Friend’s stellar 1955 and 1956 seasons earned him a spot on the All Star Game roster. During his three innings, Friend struck out Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Ted Williams and got credit for the win. In the 1960 All Star Game, Friend also notched the victory and thus shares the record for most All Star Games won. two. Years later, Friend ran into Williams.  Teddy Ballgame asked him, “What were you doing throwing me a curve ball?”

The 1960 World Series was a nightmare for Friend. In his two starting efforts in the second and sixth games, the Yankees shelled Friend. In game 7, manager Danny Murtaugh summed Friend in from the bull pen to preserve a 9-7 lead.  But Friend gave up two quick singles to Bobby Richardson and to pinch hitter Dale Long. Murtaugh lifted Friend, charged with two earned runs, in favor of Harvey Haddix. By the series’ end, Friend’s record stood at a sorry 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA.

By the next season, Friend had put his disappointing World Series behind him. Between 1961 and 1964, Friend continued to be the Pirates’ go-to guy; he started 35, 38, 36, 35 and 34 games while averaging 15 wins a year for mostly second division teams. In 1965, the Pirates traded Friend to the New York Yankees who in turn swapped him to the cross-town Mets.

Friend ended his career with a 197-230 record and is the only Major League pitcher to lose 200 games without winning 200. A Purdue University graduate who served as the Allegheny County Controller from 1967 to 1975, Friend still lives in the Pittsburgh area.

Among Pirates’ fans who remember that Friend at his peak rarely missed a start, we know  that if fate had dealt him a different hand– like say 15 seasons with the Yankees and one with the Pirates– his final totals would be similar to Robin Roberts’ and he would likely be in the Hall of Fame.

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