Only one major leaguer came from my hometown of West Lafayette, Indiana (several have come from Lafayette, but that’s an entirely different town…seriously). His name is Bob Friend, and he spent 15 of his 16 years in the Big Show with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He led the NL in ERA in 1955, becoming the first man to do so on a last-place team. Friend was a four-time All-Star (1956, ’58, twice in ’60), won 20 games in 1958, and won a World Series ring on that legendary 1960 Pirates team.
So aside from hometown pride, why am I devoting an entire article on a Mets-themed publication to this man? Because as I have learned this week from the DeBoer Family Bureau of Statistics, he has an abnormal amount of connections to New York National League baseball. He tossed a complete-game victory in the final regular season game the New York Giants played in the Polo Grounds in 1957. His dealings with the Mets include wins in the franchise’s third-ever home game in 1962 and first game at Shea Stadium in 1964. These two landmark decisions were part of Warrior’s 14-2 record and 1.61 ERA against the Amazin’s in 18 career starts, so when the Yankees put him on the trading block in the middle of the 1966 season, the team figured it was better to have the guy on roster than face him again. Twenty-one of his 22 appearances in the orange and blue could be considered unremarkable…in the 22nd, he beat the greatest pitcher of the era.
Dateline: August 30, 1966. The Mets had the other expatriate New Yorkers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in town, and were putting Tug McGraw on the mound to face the incomparable Sandy Koufax. If there was one man who had a better record against the Mets than Bob Friend, it was he of the Left Arm of God: 17-2 with a 1.44 ERA in 20 starts, including his first career no-hitter in 1962. Keep in mind that the five years Koufax had the chance to face the expansion Mets are considered by some to be the greatest five-year stretch in baseball history. This begs the question, as is often pointed out to me by the head of DFBS: how in the world did the New York Mets beat Sandy Koufax…twice? The first time was far from Koufax’s fault. The second time was August 30, 1966: perhaps the most Amazin’ game this franchise ever played. Not kidding.
Wes Parker’s two-run homer put the Dodgers up almost immediately, and after spotting the visitors a double, walk, and single by Koufax in the 2nd inning (the lead runner was thrown out at home), the young McGraw was lifted in favor of 35-year-old Bob Friend. Warrior promptly got Maury Wills to ground out weakly and Parker to line out to right field, ending the L.A. threat.
Meanwhile, Koufax cruised through the 1st inning but ran into trouble himself in the 2nd, walking Jim Hickman, allowing a single to Billy Murphy, and walking Ron Swoboda. Sandy’s third walk of the inning to Eddie Bressoud forced in New York’s first run of the game, at which point he made quick work of the Mets’ 8-9-1 men.
In the 3rd inning, Koufax would not be so lucky. Ron Hunt and Ken Boyer led off with a single and a double, and Hunt scored on an error by the shortstop on Hickman’s groundball. Murphy hit into a fielder’s choice to score Boyer, then Swoboda got contact for a run-scoring single. Dodger skipper Walter Alston had seen enough from the Brooklyn native and former bonus baby, yanking Koufax in his shortest outing ever against the Mets. With Jerry Grote’s two-run double off Joe Moeller two batters later, Sandy’s final numbers were set at 6 runs (5 earned) on 4 hits and 3 walks in 2+ innings.
The home team got some much-welcome run support in the 5th inning on RBI singles by Cleon Jones and Hunt, then Jones added another run with a single in the 7th and Murphy brought another home in the 8th. Fortunately for everyone involved, the Mets would not need any more than their six scores off Koufax, because Bob Friend was doing to the Dodgers what he had done to the Mets for so many years. When the sun set on the two teams and the 50,840 “new breed” fans at Shea Stadium, Friend was victorious by way of his 7.2 innings of 2-run (1 earned), 4-hit relief pitching. Final score: New York 10, Los Angeles 4.
That shellacking turned out to be the last career start the former Sanford Braun would turn in against his hometown’s new team. After the Dodgers lost the 1966 World Series to the Baltimore Orioles (in their third Fall Classic appearance in four seasons), Koufax retired at age 30 due to arthritis in his left elbow. On the basis of his 111-34 record, 1.95 ERA, 1444 strikeouts, four no-hitters (including a perfect game in 1965), three Cy Youngs, the 1963 MVP, and two World Series rings in three tries from 1962 until 1966, Sandy Koufax took his rightful place in Cooperstown in 1972.
As for the man who outdueled him in his final New York start, that sweet victory turned out to be the 197th and final one of his career. Bob Friend made four more unimpressive appearances for the ninth-place(!) Mets before retiring at the end of the season. After his baseball career, he went into politics, serving as Allegheny County Comptroller from 1967 until 1975 and as a three-time delegate to the Republican National Convention. He sold insurance after leaving the comptroller’s office and retired in 2002. An avid golfer, Friend is the father of Bob Friend, Jr., a former PGA competitor. Perhaps his most important contribution, however, is lending his name to the baseball field at his alma matter. Some of my finest memories are of spring afternoons spent working the public address microphone in the press box at Bob Friend Field, home of the West Lafayette Red Devils. For that I say thank you, Bob, and it is my honor to have my family sponsor your page on Baseball-Reference.com.
August 30. A good day for Dutch Leonard in 1916 (tosses a no-hitter for the Red Sox against the St. Louis Browns) and Jack Buck in 1998 (honored with a statue by the St. Louis Cardinals). Also a good day for Hong Kong in 1945 (liberated from Japan by the British). A bad day for General Horatio Wright in 1862 (his Union forces routed by the Confederates at the Battle of Richmond) and enemies of Soviet communism in 1918 (an attempt on Vladimir Lenin’s life leads to the Red Terror). A great day for Bob Friend in 1966.