Obituary: Ken Frailing (1948-2022)

RIP to Ken Frailing, a left-handed pitcher who was part of one of the more infamous trades between the Cubs and White Sox. He died unexpectedly on August 25 at the age of 74 — his death was announced by members of his family and members of the Sarasota (Fla.) Alliance Church where he was a member, along with his wife, Dianne. Frailing played for the Chicago White Sox (1972-73) and Chicago Cubs (1974-76).

Kenneth Douglas Frailing was born in Madison, Wis., on January 19, 1948. As a 15-year-old freshman in April of 1963, he debuted with the Marion High School varsity baseball team with a no-hitter against Tigerton High. He struck out 18 batters and cracked a triple at the plate, too. Frailing contributed both great pitching and solid offense during his four years at Marion. In a tournament game against Waupaca in 1965, he struck out 19 batters and hit a solo homer in the 9-6 victory. Whether it was for Marion High, the Marion amateur city team or the Marion Legion team, he was a strikeout machine and a pretty dangerous hitter, as well.

Pro scouts were in attendance for Frailing’s games in his senior year of 1966, and he treated them to a no-hit, 19-strikeout performance against Marshfield Senior High on June 3. Only four batters managed to put the ball in play, and two of those were harmless comebackers to the pitcher. He ended his senior season with a 13-0 record and 0.17 ERA — not a typo. Eleven days later, he threw his first 9-inning no-hitter (high school games are 7 innings long) with the Marion Legion team. He struck out 22 in that game. The Chicago White Sox drafted him in the 5th Round of the 1966 June Amateur Draft, thanks to scouts Fred Hasselman and Glen Miller. Frailing reported to the Midwest League and the Fox Cities Foxes, but his only start wasn’t quite as easy as his high school games. He gave up 5 runs in 7 innings on 11 hits and took the loss. Frailing spent the rest of the season with the Sox Gulf Coast League team. He struggled there as well, but he soon adapted to professional ball. Balancing his baseball development with his higher education at Wisconsin State Uiversity – Stevens Point, Frailing had a fine 2.55 ERA for Appleton in 1967, even though his win-loss record was just 4-7.

Ken Frailing at Marion High School. Source: The Post-Crescent, April 17, 1965.

Frailing stayed in Class-A ball through 1969. He averaged about 14 starts per season, showing good control and the ability to throw the ball past opposing hitters. He jumped to Double-A Mobile in 1970 when he was 22 years old. Due to his college studies and military service, it was his first full season as a minor-leaguer. He threw more than 100 innings for the first time in his pro career and ended up with a 4-9 record in 22 starts and a 2.71 ERA. He struck out 77 and had a WHIP of 1.240. After the season, he played ball in the Mexico winter league for Mazatlán, which was managed by former White Sox great Minnie Minoso. The White Sox then sent Frailing to Tucson of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, and he predictably struggled in 1971. He gave up 175 hits in 124 innings, though his 6.02 ERA wasn’t that much worse than the team ERA of 5.31. He shaved more than a run off his ERA while with Tucson in 1972 and won 8 games, thanks in part to an improved slider. The White Sox brought him to the majors for the first time that September.

Frailing debuted at Yankees Stadium on September 1, 1972. The lefty was brought in to relieve Rich Gossage with a runner on third base and Bobby Murcer at bat. He got out of the inning by retiring Murcer on a grounder to first base. After allowing a leadoff single to Roy White in the next inning, Frailing was lifted. His next assignment came on September 5, and the rookie was asked to retire Minnesota’s Rod Carew with two outs and two runners on base in a tie game. Frailing induced a groundout to second base to end the threat. In the bottom half of the seventh inning, the Sox scored 3 runs to give Frailing his first win. “Frailing has pitched only two-thirds of an inning and he has one win. He probably thinks this big league pitching is easy,” Sox manager Chuck Tanner joked. Frailing pitched twice more after that, one of which was another 1/3 of an inning performance. He then pitched 2 innings in a blowout loss to Minnesota in the final game of the season and allowed an inside-the-park homer to Eric Soderholm, leaving him with a 3.00 ERA in 3 innings pitched.

The White Sox moved their Triple-A team to Iowa in 1973, and Frailing moved between the two teams a couple of times that season. He won 11 games with the Iowa Oaks against just 3 losses. He made his first trip to Chicago in late July and stayed there about a month. In that time, he pitched in 4 games in relief. He fanned 6 batters in 3-2/3 innings against Cleveland on August 8, allowing 1 run. He threw 6 innings against Detroit on August 10 and allowed 3 runs, but just one — an Al Kaline solo homer — was earned. He was brought back up in September and made 6 more appearances, finishing with a 1.96 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 18-1/3 innings.

Frailing was involved in a bit of Chicago history on December 11, 1973. The Cubs sent star third baseman Ron Santo to the South Side for Frailing, pitcher Steve Stone, catcher Steve Swisher and a player to be named later (pitcher Jim Kremmel). The trade happened because Santo became the first player ever to invoke the 10-5 clause when he blocked a trade to the California Angels. He wanted to remain in Chicago, so the Cubs and White Sox worked out a deal days later. The trade is best remembered because it brought Santo’s career to an ignominious end. He lasted just one season with the White Sox, never found a set position in the infield and had by any measure the worst season of his Hall of Fame career.

The Cubs end of the deal was a bit more successful. Stone spent three years with the Cubs and won a total of 23 games — or two fewer than he won in his Cy Young Award season with Baltimore in 1980. Kremmel pitched in 23 games for the ’74 Cubs and had an 0-2 record. Swisher spent four years with the Cubs and hit .217, though he did garner an All-Star Team nod. Then there was Frailing, who started the season as a part of the Cubs starting rotation.

“I was happy to come to the Cubs because I knew they needed left-handed pitching, but I didn’t know I’d become a starter,” he said. He got off to a great start, too. He beat Montreal 7-4 on April 13 and also singled in his first major-league at-bat off Expos starter Ernie McAnally. He finished one out shy of a complete game and gave up 4 runs (3 were unearned) in the ninth before Ray Burris got the final out. He won his second start as well, throwing 7 shutout innings against Pittsburgh. If the young hurler got nervous, veterans Don Kessinger or Billy Williams were quick to make a mound visit and settle him down. “I’ve followed Williams since I was a kid, so I’m thrilled to be on the same team with him,” Frailing said.

Frailing remained in the rotation until June, when a string of losses and early exits left him with a 5-7 record and 4.83 ERA. He was moved to the bullpen and was pretty stellar. He didn’t allow an earned run in his first 11 relief appearances. Over the final three months of the season, Frailing made 39 appearances, just one of which was a start. He had a 1-2 record and 1 save, and his ERA was 2.09 in that stretch. He and closer Oscar Zamora became the only two really dependable relievers in the Cubs bullpen. On the year, he had a 6-9 record and 3.88 ERA in what proved to be his busiest year in the major leagues. He struck out 71 batters and walked 43.

With a successful stint as a reliever in 1974, Frailing was used exclusively out of the pen in 1975. He took the Opening Day loss on April 10 against Pittsburgh after giving up a home run to Willie Stargell. The Pirates homered 4 times against the Cubs; Stargell hit 2, and Manny Sanguillen hit a 2-run blast against new Cub Bob Locker. Frailing picked up a couple of wins in April, including a 6-inning, 1-run stint against St. Louis on April 26. However, he struggled, particularly in the second half of the year, and ended the year with a 2-5 record and 5.43 ERA. The long ball was problematic, as he gave up 6 homers in 53 innings. However, Frailing did get a trip to the All-Star Game. He and teammate Tom Dettore were selected as batting practice pitchers for the National League hitters.

Frailing was beset by injuries in 1976. He started the season on the 21-day disabled list in spring training with a stiff shoulder. He returned to the Cubs in May and won his first appearance with scoreless 3 innings of work against the Giants on May 2. Frailing rejoined the starting rotation but exited his second start after 3 innings with shoulder soreness. After one more ineffective start, the Cubs optioned Frailing to Triple-A Wichita on June 9. Frailing had offseason shoulder surgery and pitched just 23 innings with Wichita in 1977 before being released in July. His final season as a pitcher came in 1978 with Knoxville, a Double-A team in the White Sox organization. He pitched well and recorded 11 saves, utilizing several varieties of a knuckleball that he had developed after the shoulder surgery. Even with the success, the 30-year-old pitcher did not get back to the major leagues.

Over parts of 5 seasons in the majors, Frailing appeared in 102 games, including 19 starts. He had a 10-16 record and a 3.96 ERA, with 1 complete game and 2 saves. In 218-1/3 innings, he struck out 136 batters and walked 82. Frailing showed good promise as a hitter. In his one full season of 1974, he had 8 hits for a .258 batting average, and 6 RBIs. Baseball Reference credits him with 3.0 Wins Above Replacement.

Steve Stone and Ken Frailing (in back) jog on the beach during spring training in 1977. Source: The Dispatch, February 15, 1977.

Frailing was hired as a minor-league pitching coach for Kansas City in 1979. He left that role in 1981 to work at the Jim Rice Florida Professional Baseball School in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was a coordinator, teacher and coach at the school, which taught both baseball skills and clean living in equal measure. Frailing, who by then had moved to Sarasota with Dianne, was a frequent instructor at baseball clinics and schools throughout Florida. He said he fell in love with the city after visiting it for spring training during his playing years. Given the large amount of ex-ballplayers living in Florida, there were always plenty of amateur golf tournaments throughout the year, and he participated in many of them in his spare time.

Frailing said that his annual salary as a ballplayer peaked at $32,000 with the Cubs in 1976. Though he held no grudges against the multi-million dollar contracts of today, he noted that baseball players of the 1970s had a different view of the season. “When I played, if your team was out of the race by August, you kept playing hard because you were on a salary drive,” he said in a 1993 interview. “You needed to play hard for next year. Now, with the four- and five-year deals players have, they are saying, “Well, we have a night game today and a day game tomorrow, I don’t think I will feel like playing.”

Of course, Frailing had another reason to not hold a grudge against today’s ballplayers — he saw the ugly side of contract negotiations. Stone recalled Frailing’s experiences with negotiating with Cubs GM “Salty” Saltwell. “Salty didn’t want to give Frailing any money because he said the Cubs had two other left-handed relievers — Darold Knowles and Mike Garman,” Stone recalled. “The only thing was, Garman was right-handed.”

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2 thoughts on “Obituary: Ken Frailing (1948-2022)

  1. I played with Ken in 1973, he was a great pitcher and a solid friend liked by all players.He helped all the pitchers and along with RichHinton he was a very good hitter. We had alot of major league talent. Great pick off move..but Ken was class all the way.and what a smile…could light up the room

    Liked by 1 person

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