'Moose' was a roomie to remember

John Steadman

October 07, 1992|By John Steadman

Chances are you didn't know or have never heard of Warren "Moose" Fralick. He was one of baseball's characters, the kind that aren't around any more. Sophistication has replaced enjoyment, which means that precious fun has been thrown for a momentous loss.

We were once a roommate of Moose. While still in high school, we had signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and been assigned to York of the Interstate League. It was on that occasion when the kid catcher met the old pro pitcher and it was instant friendship.

The rooming list had us together. He was exactly twice our age, but never pulled rank. Fralick was a frolic. In the bullpen, he would search out the best-looking women in the grandstand and try to gain their attention. If they were watching, he'd point to his finger, a signal of inquiry from afar, as he was trying to find out if they had on a wedding ring.

Once, he got lucky and a girl waited for him when the game was over. All the players were gathering around to see if romance might bloom. Then Moose, feigning embarrassment, said, "We ought to have some privacy." And then he put his hand in the air and made a move to indicate he was pulling down a blind to separate himself and his new lady friend from the rest of us.

In that season of 1945, as World War II came to an end, Moose had started with the Pittsburgh Pirates in spring training, made a stop with Albany of the Eastern League and then to York. His best years were behind him. Yet he never complained or alibied.

He was born in Canton, Mass., reached 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds with wide shoulders and facial features that made him look the part of an Indian, kind of a Chief Pontiac in a baseball uniform. When he talked, it was never with a whisper. The Moose was emphatic and his words would race one another so rapidly that often he would fall into a stuttering cadence.

It was pleasing for a boy away from home for the first time and in love with baseball to know Moose, who might have been able to make a dead man laugh. His gregarious ways made him a friend to all. Teammates and those in the other dugout knew he never meant any harm.

When our paths crossed, he didn't have much left except a classic motion and an A-plus curveball. He would get out a hitter, come to the bench and chortle, "I gave him a ga-ga-ga-ga 'Uncle Charley' and he didn't have a pa-pa-pa-prayer of getting a pa-pa-piece of it."

At night, with the lights out and trying to get to sleep, the Moose in one bed and the kid in the other would talk mostly of his past. He never liked Frankie Frisch, who managed the Pirates when he was there for spring camp, and he detested Clay Hopper, a longtime manager in the farm systems of the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers.

"That ha-ha-ha-ha-Hopper is such a no good [expletive deleted]; he comes around checking rooms to see if you're in at curfew. Even if you're sleeping in the bed he shakes you to make sure you know he was there."

Though we never knew Frankie Frisch or Clay Hopper, we disliked them, too, because what Moose said was good enough for us.

Often in the darkness, he would ask us to run down the hitters in the National League and he would tell how to pitch each of them. It proved nothing. Just a game that Moose enjoyed.

And there were moments he would try to make a kid in over his head feel good. "I'd just like to own your ca-ca-ca-contract and sell it to the big leagues," he would say.

Once on a hot afternoon, without air conditioning, he bought a 15-cent piece of ice off a delivery truck and carried it to the stifling hotel room. He got undressed, put the ice in the bathtub, filled it with water and sat there just as if he were cooling off at Atlantic City.

In 1937, Moose had a record of 21-14 with Daytona Beach of the Florida State League. He was in 46 games, 298 innings and had an ERA of 2.14. But he was to make a lot of stops in places such as Fayetteville in the Arkansas State League, Asheville in the Piedmont, Columbus in the South Atlantic, Springfield and Portsmouth in the Middle Atlantic, New Orleans in the Southern Association, Sacramento in the Pacific Coast, Utica/Elmira and Albany in the Eastern League.

After he was through as a pitcher, he managed Washington, Pa., in the Penn State Association, a Cardinal farm. That's where he settled down and married the former Alice Weber.

We met the Fralicks when they came to Baltimore to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Orioles in the 1969 World Series. He once worked part-time in a service station, and every Maryland car that came in for gas, he would ask the driver if he happened to know the "kid" in Baltimore.

And then the other day, the news editor of the Observer & Reporter in Washington, Pa., one Byron Smialek called to tell us Moose had died. We traded stories, and we mentioned the regret of never having gone to southwestern Pennsylvania to see the Moose. Smialek offered a consoling answer.

"We all have similar experiences," he said. "And, you know, we don't ever get a 'Mulligan' on something like that."

The goodness of Moose Fralick is a carry-over. Every kid who tapped out in the minor leagues should have known him. He even made failure fun.

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