Friday, April 25, 2014

Card #24: Dave Frost

Who Can It Be Now?
Carl David Frost was born in November of 1952 in Long Beach, California, and he attended Millikan High School there.  During his years in high school, his baseball team won the CIF championship in 1969 and the CIF basketball championship in 1970.  Straight out of high school, he was not drafted by any major league team, so he went to junior college.  

He first attended Long Beach City College, where he played both baseball and basketball.  At LBCC, he was the MVP of the 1971 State Basketball Championship for junior colleges on a team coached by basketball coaching legend Lute Olson.  After a year at LBCC, he enrolled at Stanford University and again played basketball and baseball there.  Seeing his athletic ability, the Chicago White Sox decided to select Frost  in the 18th Round of the 1974 June Draft with pick number 412.

Frost started in rookie ball and pitched well -- a 1.80 ERA, as one would expect for a college pitcher in rookie ball.   As teams were more likely to do in those days, Frost skipped A-ball and went to AA in 1975, throwing 171 innings at a 3.21 ERA despite a 5-14 record. The White Sox saw his record and thought he needed another year in AA, and kept him there through 1976.  In 1977, he got a September callup to Chicago.  

After the 1977 season and in what have been a dream opportunity for a Southern California kid, Frost was traded with Brian Downing and Chris Knapp to the California ANgels for Bobby Bonds, Thad Bosley, and Richard Dotson.  He pitched a half-season at Triple-A Salt Lake City in 1978 before making his Angels debut on June 24.  He didn't get any run support from his teammates, but Frost pitched decently in losing 3-0 against Jon Matlack (who threw a two-hit shutout).

1979 was Frost's big year in the majors, as Jim Fregosi rode the big righthander for 239-1/3 innings in 33 starts and, by advanced metrics, Frost was the team's best pitcher.  The Angels won the American League West Division title that year for owner Gene Autry, and, despite losing the ALCS to the Baltimore Orioles 3 games to 1, things seems bright for the Angels and for Frost.

But two starts into his 1980 season, Frost's elbow started to hurt -- badly.  According to Baseball in Long Beach by Bob Keisser, tests found fourteen bone chips in Frost's elbow. Today, Frost would have had surgery to remove the chips, fix any issues in the elbow, and perhaps had Tommy-John surgery.  He would miss a year, but he would continue forward in his career.  In the early 1980s, though, baseball tended to subscribe to the theory of "rub some dirt on it and it will get better."  So Frost tried to pitch through the pain.  

That didn't work, and the elbow problems forced Frost into an early retirement at the age of 30. 

Orange You Smart
Not only did Frost play two varsity sports at Stanford University, he also earned his degree in political science from there.  

After his baseball career ended, Frost spent four years in Chicago as a commodities broker. Frost commented on this period in a news article in 2006:
Not really the happiest time in my life.  I was a Long Beach guy living in Chicago, and working in a business I didn't particularly like.  And I wasn't exactly the world's greatest commodities broker.  When you come from a field in which you have to be among the world's best to work in -- major league baseball -- and then you find yourself working in something you're mediocre in, it was hard to take. And I'm sure I felt sorry for myself because of the premature finish of my baseball career.  The transition to regular life was tough for me.
He returned to Long Beach and, then, went to Azusa-Pacific and obtained a Master's degree in psychology.  At the time of the news article, Frost was serving as a counselor and facilitator for a group of domestic violence offenders to help rehabilitate them.  

Everybody Wants You
After Frost's 1982 Topps card went to press and was issued, the Angels allowed Frost to leave.  Within two weeks, the Kansas City Royals picked Frost up and signed him to a one year contract. 

Don't You Want Me?
The Royals were not enamored with Frost putting up a 5.51 ERA (which was identical to his ERA the year prior) and released Frost after the 1982 season.  Frost caught on with first Pittsburgh and then Philadelphia on minor league deals in 1983, but even in AAA in 1983, Frost put up a 5.50 ERA.  Amazing consistency is not always good.

A Few Minutes With Tony L.
In 2014, it seems strange to hear about a pitcher whose career ended due to bone chips in his elbow.  A quick Google search for "Pitcher bone chips" (not in quotes, obviously) shows that surgery to remove bone chips is very common.  A few examples of pitchers who have had bone chips removed or treated include New York Met Jennry Mejia, Washington National Stephen Strasburg, Cincinnati Red Mat Latos (who has since followed that surgery up with knee surgery and more forearm problems), Tampa Bay Ray Jeremy Hellickson, Colorado Rockie Tyler Chatwood, and Atlanta Brave Brandon Beachy (whose bone chip was followed by his second Tommy John surgery in less than 2 years).

Frost obviously was not as lucky as these guys -- most of whom seem likely to be able to continue their careers (Beachy being the one possible exception).  Even so, I question why Frost did not get the chips removed rather than pitching through it.  It's not like bone-chip-removal surgery is new -- a quick review of Terry Forster's Wikipedia page, for example, states that he had surgery after the 1978 World Series to remove bone chips from his elbow.

In any event, this could be one of those "sliding door" moments in time.  If Frost stayed healthy, or wasn't out of baseball at age 30, would he have gone into psychology and helped try to rehabilitate domestic violence offenders?  Would he have been able to apply his training in psychology to work with kids in the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton alongside Ken Landreaux and Don Buford

Sometimes, bad things happen to good people for a reason that can't be explained easily.

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