One of the best hardluck pitchers in baseball history, Bob “The Warrior” Friend was saddled to some rather inept Pittsburgh Pirates teams the majority of his career. Granted, he was with the 1960 team that captured the World Series title when they shocked the Yankees, but the years before that season Bob toiled on a basement dwelling club. He was able to notch 197 career wins despite the lack of support, but that lack also saw to him losing 230 contests. It wasn’t unusual for Bob to post an ERA around 3.40 yet have a sub .500 winning percentage.
The Warrior left Purdue early to sign with the Pirates in 1949. The husky right-hander was called up to Pittsburgh in 1951 and posted the first of what would be 36 career shutouts. In his second season he had adequate peripheral stats (he surrendered just one hit per inning) but nevertheless posted a 7-17 record. Over the course of his lengthy career he would get used to the losing in Pittsburgh. His next two seasons he again had losing records but in 1955 he enjoyed his breakout year. The Warrior won 14 games that year and led the National League with a 2.83 ERA. The next three years he would be one of the most reliable workhorses in all of baseball.
Friend was named to his first All-Star Game in 1956 as he won 17 games on a tidy 3.46 ERA. However, the Pirates were still a sorry outfit and Bob was also tagged with 17 losses. One of the few bright lights in Pittsburgh, the Bucs packed a lot of innings on Bob’s back as he led the league with 314 innings pitched and 42 games started. The big right-hander finished fourth in shutouts. The following year his peripheral stats were nearly identical–he did trim his ERA down to 3.38–but was handed a losing record courtesy a punchless Pirates attack. For the second straight year he led the National League in both games started and innings pitched, but his record was below .500 once again.
The Pirates began to show signs of life when Danny Murtaugh took over control of the team. Friend had one of his finest years with the Murtaugh-led Pirates in 1958. The Warrior led the National League with 22 wins and for the third straight season made more starts than any other pitcher in the NL. The Warrior made his second All-Star Team, finished sixth in MVP voting and came in third in the Cy Young vote. The Pirates, a doormat for years, climbed into second place thanks to the brilliant leadership of skipper Murtaugh.
Bob would suffer through a 19-loss season in 1959 before the Pirates romped to a World Series title in 1960. Friend won 18 games on an even 3.00 ERA during the regular season. As his career progressed, Bob’s accuracy steadily got better with each passing season and in 1960 he walked just 45 batters in 276 innings of work. He also fanned 183 batters (fifth in the NL) which gave him a league best strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.07-to-1. But the World Series was perhaps the most maddening in baseball history. The Yankees wore out Pirates pitchers and the games that they won they won by heavily lopsided scores. However, the Pirates scratched out wins in the close affairs and took home the trophy. That 1960 Fall Classic was Friend’s only World Series action.
The Pirates fell back down in the standings in 1961 as Bob led the National League in losses despite a sub 4.00 ERA. In 1962 he would win 18 games on a trim 3.06 ERA while leading the NL in shutouts. In what was perhaps his greatest year, The Warrior went 17-16 in 1963 on a terrific 2.34 ERA. The sturdy right-hander completed a dozen of his starts and possessed the best accuracy among NL hurlers. That year he averaged just 1.5 walks over nine innings. By this time Bob had proven himself a valuable and reliable workhorse. He had notched six seasons in which he reached 260 innings pitched but had a losing career record to show for his troubles. After the ’63 campaign he would never have another winning season.
Bob went 13-18 on a solid 3.33 ERA in 1964. The Warrior completed thirteen games that year and in ’65 he trimmed his ERA down to 3.24 but nevertheless had a poor 8-12 record. Friend worked 222 innings in 1965 which gave him eleven consecutive seasons of 200 or more frames worked. After the season the Pirates dealt their veteran workhorse to the Yankees for Pete Mikkelsen. He split the 1966 season between the New York teams, throwing his last Major League pitch with the inept 1966 Mets.
W 197/L 230/PCT .461/ERA 3.58/G 602/CG 163/SHO 36/IP 3,611/H 3,772/BB 894/SO 1,734