Obituary: Fred Lasher (1941-2022)

RIP to former pitcher Fred Lasher, who played for four different American League teams in the 1960s and ’70s. He was a part of the 1968 World Championship Tigers team and pitched well in his one World Series appearance. Lasher died on February 27 at the age of 80. He played for the Minnesota Twins (1963), Detroit Tigers (1967-70), Cleveland Indians (1970) and California Angels (1971).

Frrederick Walter Lasher Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on August 19, 1941. He was known in the majors for a sidarm/submarine pitching delivery that earned him the nickname “The Whip,” and he picked up that delivery as a child by throwing rocks at his parents’ house. “They poured a lot of shale in the roadway. They were large flat pieces of rock and I used to hold them in my fingers and see how far I could sail them sidearm,” he said.

He played basketball and baseball for Poughkeepsie High School and the local Poughkeepsie YMCA. As a high school senior, Lasher had a 7-0 record and threw a no-hitter. He was highly regarded enough to be named to a Dutchess County All-Star team that played the New York Yankee Rookies, a collection of players being scouted by the team, in 1959. Lasher took the loss in the 6-2 game but was the victim of some sloppy fielding. A large assemblage of scouts, including Joe Gall of the Washington Senators, attended the game. In January of 1960, Gall inked Lasher to his first professional baseball contract.

See Fred Lasher on Baseball Almanac

Source: Atlanta Constitution, April 4, 1964.

Lasher spent seven seasons with the Senators/Twins organization, starting in 1960 with the Wytheville Senators of the Appalachian League. The 18-year-old had a short and unsuccessful season in 1960, with a 2-2 record in 7 games, including 6 starts and an ERA of 7.31. He worked as a swingman in 1961 for Fort Walton Beach, won 8 games and saved 13 more with an ERA just over 4.00. After that, Lasher rarely started again, but he became a very effective as a full-time reliever.

Lasher moved up to the Bismarck-Mandan Pards in 1962 and got off to a fast start, allowing 1 run in his first 37 innings for a 0.24 ERA. He adapted well to his new role and said that he wanted to become “the best relief pitcher in the league.” He ended up getting 5 starts in his 41 appearances, and he threw 3 complete games and 1 shutout, and he finished the season with an 8-5 record and 2.03 ERA. He fanned 132 hitters in 115 innings. He also met and married his wife, Judy, in Bismarck. They were married for 41 years until her death in 2004 and had two daughters and two sons.

Lasher came to Minnesota’s spring training camp in 1963 as a talented but very raw pitcher, with a sidearm fastball but no curveball, and occasional control problems. The coaches taught him a three-quarters overhand delivery for his curve. After putting up good numbers in the spring, Lasher became a surprise addition to the Twins’ pitching staff, and manager Sam Mele said he wouldn’t be afraid to throw the 21-year-old into a critical situation if necessary.

Lasher debuted in the majors as the third pitcher in a 6-0 loss to the Kansas City Athletics on April 12, 1963. He sort-of pitched a 1-2-3 inning; Bobby Del Greco and Ed Rakow flew out, and in between them Haywood Sullivan bunted for a base hit, raced to second on a throwing error by third baseman George Banks and was thrown out trying to reach third base. Lasher was occasionally wild in his first games and, with an ERA of nearly 5, was sent down to Double-A Charlotte in May when the rosters shrunk. He pitched better in the minors and returned to the Twins in September for a few more games. In 11 outings in the majors, he gave up 6 earned runs on 11 walks and 12 hits for a 4.76 ERA. He also struck out 10 batters in 11-1/3 innings.

That was the last major-league action Lasher would see with the Twins. Considered a sure thing to make the team in 1964, he struggled in spring training, and his problems continued in Triple-A Atlanta and Double-A Charlotte. Finally, he ended up back in Bismarck in the Class-A Northern League, where he finally regained his form. The Twins, however, never promoted him again, and he spent all of 1965 and ’66 pitching for Class-A Wilson in the Carolina League. He abandoned the three-quarters delivery and went back to his old form. He was a dominant reliever there and clearly outclassed his competition, but he remained buried in the low minors.

The Detroit Tigers rescued Lasher from Single-A oblivion by picking him in the league’s minor-league draft. He split 1967 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Toledo, and he was brilliant, with an ERA under 1 at both stops. Lasher had a combined 10-2 record and 0.64 ERA in 44 games, with just 17 walks allowed against 67 strikeouts.

Lasher said that if he hadn’t been drafted out of the Minnesota organization, he would have quit. He acknowledged that his relationship with the Twins had been strained, which probably accounted for his exile to Class-A ball. He didn’t like the attempt to mess with his delivery, but he admitted his own faults as well. “I got in bad with the organization. I gave the managers trouble and argued with some of the men in the organization out in front of everybody,” Lasher explained. “They said I had a bad attitude. But I’ve settled down now. I got a little older, and I got married. Now I’m just interested in moving up.”

Lasher did indeed move up, all the way back to the majors, at the tail end of the 1967 season. The Tigers were fighting for the AL pennant, and manager Mayo Smith was looking for any pitcher who could help. Lasher picked up a save in his first appearance on August 13, blanking the Orioles for 2 innings in a 3-2 victory. After that, Smith used him over and over, almost to the point of overuse. Lasher shut out the Twins for 3 innings on August 22, striking out 4 and picking up his first major-league win. “I wanted that one,” he said after the game against his old team. “They buried me, you know.”

Source: The Montgomery Advertiser, May 13, 1969.

Lasher appeared in 17 games for Detroit and earned 9 saves, good enough for third-best on the team behind Fred Gladding (12) and Mike Marshall (10). He won 2 games and lost 1, and a couple of poor late-season outings rose his ERA from below 2.00 to 3.90. Still, it was an impressive performance that made him a member of the Tigers bullpen for several seasons. It came at just the right time, too. The 1967 Tigers may have fallen short of the AL pennant, but the 1968 squad won it all, winning 103 games in the regular season and then knocking off the Cardinals in the World Series. Lasher had a 5-1 record in the regular season and 5 saves, though an abscessed tooth and a groin injury limited him to 34 games in relief. The infected tooth landed him in the hospital with a 106-degree fever and caused him to miss the last month of the season. In spite of the injuries, Lasher enjoyed the being the front-runners in the pennant race.

“It’s a great thrill to see guys like Al Kaline — who have been around so many years — finally get a shot at the series. Guys like him certainly deserve it!” he said.

Lasher pitched in one game of the World Series — Game Four, when Bob Gibson struck out 10 and shut down the Tigers 10-1. Lasher threw 2 scoreless innings, striking out Dal Maxvill, the first batter he faced. The only Cardinal to reach base was Orlando Cepeda, who singled in the seventh inning.

The Tigers got off to a slower start in 1969, and the bullpen was considered a weakness. Lasher took that personally, since he was part of the bullpen — albeit an infrequently used part. Mayo Smith leaned heavily on veterans Pat Dobson, Don McMahon and Dick Radatz, while Lasher and young reliever Mike Kilkenny barely pitched.

“When I read that stuff in the papers about what a bad bullpen we have I get so mad I tear the paper all apart,” Lasher said. He felt that Smith had lost confidence in him and didn’t know what his role was. “Well, there are 130-some games left and maybe things will change,” he reasoned in May. But they really didn’t change much. The Tigers recovered to finish in second place in the AL East with 90 wins, Lasher pitched in only 32 games and had a 2-1 record and 3.07 ERA.

In his final stint with the Tigers in 1970, Lasher appeared in 12 games, recorded 3 saves, and had a 1-3 record and 5.00 ERA. He was traded to Cleveland on May 23 in exchange for pitcher Billy Rohr and outfielder Russ Nagelson. He pitched better for Cleveland but gained more notoriety for his feud with Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro.

Source: Pinterest

The problems started on July 4 when Lasher knocked the Red Sox outfielder down with a pitch. Conigliaro, who suffered from greatly reduced vision following his infamous beaning in 1967, responded by homering on the next pitch. “Tell Tony the next time he faces me he’s going to get jammed a little,” Lasher told reporters after the game. The two ballplayers met after the game to resolve differences, and then the two faced each other again when Cleveland and Boston met on July 12 for a doubleheader. Lasher, making the only start of his major-league career, hit Conigliaro in the arm with a pitch, starting off a wild first-inning brawl. Conigliaro charged the mound and kicked Lasher in the hip, opening up a small spike wound, before he was restrained by teammate Reggie Smith and carried off the field. Tony C. was ejected, but he got the last laugh. In the second inning, Lasher was chased from the game after giving up home runs to Billy Conigliaro — Tony’s little brother — and Tom Satriano.

That fracas aside, Lasher was a busy reliever for Cleveland and appeared in 43 games for them. He set career highs in appearances (55) and innings pitched (66-2/3) in 1970. He saved 5 games with the Indians, giving him 8 on the year, but he also dropped 7 decisions, leaving him with a 2-10 record and 4.19 ERA on the season. Cleveland left him off the team’s 40-man roster, and he was picked by the California Angels in the Rule V draft. He made two appearances with the team in 1971. He threw a scoreless inning of relief against the Brewers on June 23. But on July 1 against the Royals, Lasher retired only one of the six batters he faced, allowing 4 earned runs on a walk and four hits. That was his final major-league appearance. He had been experimenting with a more conventional overhand delivery while he was with Cleveland, and he soon developed arm problems that ended his effectiveness.

Lasher shows off his latest catch while playing in Salt Lake City. Source: Deseret News, July 23, 1971.

In 6 seasons, Lasher accumulated an 11-13 record with 22 saves in 151 games,. He struck out 148 batters and walked 110, and opposing batters hit .243 against him. He had an ERA+ of 92 and a WHIP of 1.431.

Lasher spent the rest of the 1971 season playing for the Salt Lake City Angels of the Pacific Coast League. He picked up 10 saves, and he also got to enjoy a favorite hobby — fishing. He found a great fishing hole on the Provo River, “somewhere near Midway” — he never gave out the exact location. But he routinely found good-sized brown trout there.

Lasher and his family lived in Janesville, Wis., in the offseasons, where he had plenty of opportunities for fishing in all seasons. After he was released by the Angels in spring training in 1972, he returned there and pitched for local teams into the 1980s. They eventually settled in Hatfield, Wis., and he worked as an independent drywaller. Lasher continued to enjoy fishing and golfing, and he even made a spring-fed lake on his property.

In a 1993 profile, Reid Creager of the Detroit Free Press talked with Lasher about his career, and the former pitcher admitted that his immaturity frequently got the best of him. “I always had trouble handling things that didn’t go my way. My parents were separated when I was 9. My dad was chemically dependent. I didn’t have a father figure, and it hurt me.” Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith once told him that he had a million-dollar arm and a 10-cent head. “And he was right. I’m 52, and only in the last 10 years have I gotten my act together. Luckily, I have a great wife.”

Lasher is survived by his daughter Cory, sons Todd and Zach and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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