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Tony Freitas

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Antonio Freitas

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[edit] Biographical Information

Tony Freitas ranks fourth all-time in career minor league wins, with 342, and won the most of any southpaw. He trails only Bill Thomas, 383, Joe Martina, 349 and George Payne, 348. He also won 25 in the majors, more than any of those ahead of him. Even more impressively, he also did it while missing three years to military service. He is also tied with Spider Baum for the most minor league 20-win seasons (9), twice falling one win short of that total.

Tony was playing pickup games in Mill Valley, CA, when a friend of Sacramento Senators manager Buddy Ryan spotted him and offered him a tryout.

Freitas went to spring training with Sacramento in 1928 and was assigned to their Phoenix Senators farm club, where he was 5-4 with a 4.58 ERA and 36 K in 116 IP in an inauspicious debut. He began '29 with the Globe Bears and was 12-11, 3.61 when Sacramento called him up - he went 2-4, 6.41 for them that year.

Despite that, Tony spent the full year in Sacramento in 1930 and had a very good 19-6, 3.24 campaign. He was second in the Pacific Coast League in ERA, behind Ed Baecht and tied veteran Frank Shellenback for fifth in wins. Freitas got several speeding tickets that year and the judge got fed up and threw him in jail. The Senators manager pleaded to have Freitas let go to pitch in a game, saying he needed the arm, and Tony beat the San Francisco Mission Reds 5-3, before returning to prison to complete his sentence. It was rumored that a scout from the majors was in town and Sacramento wanted to show off Freitas as he might fetch a good sale price.

In '31, the southpaw went 19-13, 3.09; he tied for sixth in wins again and was third in ERA behind Sam Gibson and Shellenback. He was 6-4 with a 3.61 ERA for the 1932 Senators but after a no-hitter against the Oakland Oaks on his 24th birthday (May 5), he was sold to the Philadelphia Athletics. Connie Mack said that a left-hander such as Freitas only came around every twenty years. He was rocked early with the 1932 Athletics but won nine in a row to have a fine year (12-5, 3.83). He struck out Babe Ruth in their first encounter than allowed a homer to the Bambino. In one game, Freitas turned an unassisted double play, an incredible feat for a pitcher, freezing both runners with several fakes during a pickoff attempt. Known for his defense, Tony had 9 assists in the prison-release game and in one PCL game, recovered a ball that got away from the catcher and threw out Prince Oana at first.

After the '32 season, Connie Mack offered Tony a cut in salary of $1,400 despite his fine peformance, citing the Great Depression. Freitas signed for the same amount as he had played for in 1932 but struggled with the 1933 Athletics, going 2-4, 7.27. Sent to the Portland Beavers, he was 4-7, 3.98 there in one of his worst seasons.

Freitas was 2-3 with a 3.13 ERA for the 1934 St. Paul Saints when the Cincinnati Reds signed him. He was 6-12 with one save and a 4.01 ERA for the 1934 Reds. His ERA+ was 102, putting him above-average for two of his three big-league seasons to that point. In one game, he dueled Dizzy Dean for 17 innings, losing nine pounds in the hot July sun, before Freitas left. His line read 5-10, 2 Sv, 4.57 for the 1935 Reds and he was below league-average with an 87 ERA+. He was 0-2, 1.29 in 4 games for the 1936 Reds to complete his major league career with a 25-33 record and 94 ERA+. The left-hander was sold to the Columbus Red Birds, where he got shelled (10-8, 5.86). Tony asked Branch Rickey, owner of Columbus and Sacramento, to sent him to Sacramento and Tony got his wish.

He went 23-12, 2.86 in 1937 for the team, now the Sacramento Solons. He was in the top five in the PCL in ERA and tied for second in wins, one behind leader Ad Liska. Freitas followed with a 24-11, 2.67 year, in the top 5 or 10 in ERA and again one win behind the league leader, Minor League Player of the Year Fred Hutchinson. Rickey offered him a return to the majors but Tony preferred to stay on the coast, arguing he wasn't good enough for the big leagues, liked it out west and found it easier with the weaker teams he faced.

Freitas went 21-18, 2.87 in 1939. Having never led his league yet in wins or ERA, he led in losses and also in strikeouts (172) and innings (332). He only walked 37 batters. He tied for fourth in the PCL in wins and was again in the top 10 in ERA. In '40, he again led in innings (332) as well as hits allowed (350) while posting a 20-19, 2.71 record. He was fifth in victories in the Coast league and in the top 10 in ERA.

In '41, he won 20 for the fifth consecutive season, going 21-15 with a 2.70 ERA. He was third in ERA and tied Al Hollingsworth for third in victories. At age 34, he rattled off a sixth straight season of 20 wins, going 24-13, 2.93 and only walking 36 in 295 innings. He was in the top 10 in ERA and tied Jack Salveson for second in the league in wins. That year, Sacramento won its only PCL title. The Los Angeles Angels had been leading the Solons by 2 games entering the final 7-day homestead in Sacramento. Freitas lost the opener and Blix Donnelly lost game two, putting LA one game from clinching with five left. Sacramento won the next three. The last two games were part of a doubleheader. In game one, the Solons rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win, Freitas getting the save with a 1-2-3 ninth. Pepper Martin called on him to pitch game two of the twin bill and he won 5-1 with a four-hitter.

Tony then spent the next three years serving in the military during World War II.

He returned to Sacramento at age 37/38 and was 16-20 in 1946 but with a 2.34 ERA, in the league's top 5. In '47, the old-timer went 13-17, 3.85, then followed with a 12-11, 3.09 year for the Solons. By '49, he was a reliever, going 4-4 with one save and a 4.04 ERA in 31 games, only six of them starts. In his 15th Sacramento season, the veteran was 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA and an uncharacteristic 12 walks in 11 innings pitched. Sacramento retired his number (17).

Freitas wasn't done yet. He moved to the Modesto Reds and went 20-6 with a California League-leading 2.56 ERA (taking his first ERA title) and 37 walks in 218 innings. At age 42, he completed 19 of 33 starts to fall three shy of the league lead in that category.

In '51, he won a career-high 25 games (leading the league for the first time), losing 9, and having a 2.99 ERA for Modesto with 43 BB in 283 IP. At age 43/44, he went 18-13, 2.92 for the Stockton Ports, finishing fourth in ERA and fifth in wins. In his final season, he again led in wins (22-9) and innings (279), walking only 45, striking out a career-high 174 and having a 2.38 ERA, among the top five in the league.

Overall, Tony went 342-238 with a 3.11 ERA in the minors, walking 932 in 4,905 innings. He tied Spider Baum for the most 20-win seasons in the minor leagues at 9. Freitas relied heavily a curveball and developed a screwball after leaving Cincinnati. Not an overpowering pitcher, he relied on control. Off the field, he was known as a prankster and threw dynamite on the field occasionally. In 2003 he was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame.

Freitas was in the unique position of being with Sacramento on May 22, 1930 when the Senators hosted the first night game in Pacific Coast League history, and with Cincinnati on May 23, 1935 when the Reds hosted the first night game in major league history.

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