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Like so many other players of the 1980s, Todd Frohwirth was born into my life in an avalanche of baseball cards, in his case during the last couple years of the decade.
By the time I pulled my first Frohwirth card from a Topps wax pack in the spring on 1988, his Philadelphia Phillies were just a shell of the powerhouse that had awaited me when I dived into the game with my full being around 1983.
Back then, the Phillies were the “Wheeze Kids”, marching to a National League pennant led by veterans like Mike Schmidt and Bo Diaz, but also bolstered by truly old geezers like Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Ron Reed, and even Steve Carlton.
It was largely the same core that had led Philly to a World Series title in 1980, and that ’83 team was great fun to watch and an excellent opportunity to learn about the recent history of the game.
But Philadelphia management decided after that season that the team needed to get younger — what choice was there really? — and parted ways with most of the creaky old guys who had carried them so far in the summer of 1983.
The next few years saw an influx of unknown players who brought some exciting moments, a few flashes of real hope, and a tumble down the standings.
For baseball card collectors, though, the new guys brought the prospect of discovering the next big-time player before he became BIG.
Among the names that lit up our speculative lists of must-haves and maybe-good-to-haves (someday) were … Steve Jeltz, Juan Samuel, Charles Hudson, Darren Daulton, Rick Schu, Ron Jones, Ricky Jordan, Jeff Stone, and on and on and on.
Todd Frohwirth was part of the last wave of young players who made their debuts with the Phillies in the ’80s, first appearing in 1987 but not logging his “official” rookie season until 1989. By then, he was a cardboard veteran, having landed in some form of most of the major sets in 1988.
No one outside of Philly really knew much about Frohwirth at the time, but we did know the Phils were building for the future, and that the future would come soon or they’d blow it up again. This was a team and a city hungry for championships, after all, and they were anxious to get back on track.
That put Frohwirth in line for a very binary cardboard future: either he’d become a hobby (semi)stard as a member of a winning Phillies bullpen or he’d land in the commons bin as part of a failed rebuild.
As we waited for the crystal ball to reveal its secrets, the card companies continued to churn out new images of Frohwirth. With the increased emphasis on improved photography — and action photography — wrought by newcomers Score and Upper Deck, we soon had in-game shots of the Phils’ mound hopeful.
Now for Something We Hope You’ll Really Like
And as we began pouring through those 1989 and 1990 Todd Frohwirth cards, something stood out — this guy was different. In particular, his delivery was different.
Based on the photographic evidence, he was a sidearmer or maybe a submariner, and he always seemed to be leaning in toward the plate. You could imagine that he’d be right up in the batter’s lap by the end of his follow-through.
But by the end of the 1990 season, Frohwirth was 28 years old and had yet to develop into much more than an arm to lean on for a few innings when games got out of hand. In parts of four seasons with the Phillies, Frohwirth was 3-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 86-2/3 innings over 72 appearances.
At the same time, the Phils were deciding who from among their stable of young players might still be part of their future, a future that would eventually include a run to the 1993 World Series.
Frohwirth didn’t make the cut, so General Manager Lee Thomas let him walk in free agency. Frohwirth signed with the Baltimore Orioles in December of 1990 and turned in a really nice season with the O’s in 1991 (7-3, 1.87 ERA).
He spent two more years with Baltimore and then bounced through a few different organizations before hanging up his spikes in 1996 at age 33.
Reacquainted Too Late
Honestly, though, I lost track of Frohwirth the second he left the Phils. I was on to other younger players who still had the mystique of potential. By then, Frohwirth was a known commodity, and what we knew he’d be in the commons bin for all of eternity.
It all came rushing back this summer, though, when I happened on this article while searching for something else baseball-related. If you didn’t click over to read the piece, the sad upshot is that Frohwirth passed away in March of 2017 from cancer-related complications.
That Journal Sentinal article help to fill in some of the details of a man most of us fans didn’t know much about …
He was an Orioles scout after his playing career.
He was a family man who grew up in and returned to the Milwaukee area.
He was a respected boys and girls basketball coach in Wisconsin, leading two girls squads to state runner-up honors in the past 11 years.
Most of all, Frohwirth received praise across the board — from colleagues, former teammates, family members — as a caring and warm personality who positively impacted all of those populations and more.
Frohwirth would have turned 55 on September 28, 2017.
What better time to remember the player we thought, once upon a time, might be a lasting star in the baseball firmament.
In a way, it seems, he made that happen after all.