When you think of hitters chasing .400, Ted Williams might come to mind. Maybe Tony Gwynn in the strike shortened 1994 will be brought up.
But part time player and pinch hitter Roger Freed? Yup. He chased .400 as well. Maybe not on such a grand level, but he did in his own way.
The LA native was signed by the Orioles and drafted by the Twins within a week of each other in 1966. The Twins pick was voided but hardly caused a stir. It was a 38th round pick.
The confusion settled and Freed found himself in the minor league system of a tremendous team. The parent team gave Baltimore the World Series title in 1966 and they won again in 1970, when Freed got his first call up to the majors.
He only played 4 games for the 1970 squad and was not on the playoff roster. In the off season he went from the best team in baseball to one of the worst, the 1971 Phillies. The deal brought Grant Jackson to the Orioles and a chance to start for Freed.
The 25 year old right handed hitting outfielder would start 97 games for the Phillies, mostly in right field.
He did have a few memorable games. In just his fourth game playing for Philadelphia, he launched a grand slam and added another RBI in an 11-4 thumping of the Expos. He also had four 3 hit games along the way. But he batted only .221 with an OPS of .625 for the season.
By 1972, he became a part time player for the Phillies. Between 1973 and 1976, he played a total of 14 games in the majors, 6 with the 1974 Reds and 8 with the 1976 Expos. The rest of the time, be played in AAA or in Mexico.
In 1976, the Expos left him unprotected on their roster. Instead of going in the expansion draft to the Mariners or Toronto, he went to the Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft. As per the rules of that draft, Freed needed to stay on the major league roster for the entire season or be returned to Montreal.
Off the bench, he was a reliable pinch hitter with only a handful of starts. By mid June, he was batting .412 with an OPS of 1.251 in a small sample size. He played the entire game for the second part of a double header against the Pirates on June 28th and homered, driving in a pair. But mainly, he was a pinch hitter.
After getting 2 hits on July 15th, he was batting .405, his on base percentage was .509 and OPS was 1.105.
The thing about being a part time player is the average and swing wildly from day to day. A few 0 fors took his average from .405 in mid July to .368 going into the game on September 15th.
In that game, he got the start and went 4 for 4 with a triple and 3 RBI. His average jumped from .368 to .401. Two more hits on September 22 got him up to .421.
Then, going 1 for 6 dropped it to .402 going into the final day of the season. The Cardinals and Mets were playing out the string. Freed was not in the starting lineup, his .402 average in tact.
The Cardinals were behind 6-3 in the bottom of the 9th but rallied against the Mets bullpen.
With 2 outs and 2 on, the Cardinals had cut the deficit to 6-4. Cardinals manager Vern Rapp brought in Freed to bat. He represented the winning run at the plate. One swing of the bat would win the game AND clinch a .400 season for Freed.
Alas, Mets pitcher Rick Baldwin got Freed to ground out. He finished the season and his shot at .400, finishing at .398.
He played a little in 1978 and 1979 but did not make much of an impact with the Cardinals. Freed tried a return with the Phillies in 1980, but by the time they won the World Series, he was gone.
Interestingly, his bizarre and huge hitting stats in 1977 made him a favorite for Strat O Matic players who could get him cheaply on their team and pile up the hits.
Roger Freed passed away in 1996.
Nice strategy for a guy who very nearly batted .400.
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