Bob Friend’s Curious Waco Start

Bob-Friend

Bob Friend Died February 3, 2019.

On one sometimes curiously magical level, life will always be a beautiful connect-the-dots experience. Today, and in honor of the great, but now deceased former Pittsburgh Pirate pitching legend, Bob Friend. we’d like to recall such a link that we don’t think enough people about. ~ It was one that involved him. ~ And who knows how much energy he absorbed and used as only one of the results:

Buddy Hancken
At Age 90

(1) It’s 1950 ~ and 19-year old pitcher Bob Friend is breaking into professional baseball with the Waco Pirates of the Class B Big State League.

(2) One of Friend’s teammates is a 24-year old pitcher named Jack Bumgarner of Norman, Oklahoma.

(3) Jack Bumgarner stays in touch by letter and telephone with a younger brother named Jim Bumgarner.

(4) The younger Bumgarner will move to Hollywood and change his name to “James Garner” as he is breaking into the movies on his way to becoming a major film and television star before the 1950s decade concludes.

James Garner

(5) 35-year old veteran catcher Buddy Hancken is the playing manager of the 1950 Waco Pirates.

(6) Hancken’s entire MLB career consisted of one inning of defensive work behind the plate in a May 14, 1940 game that the Philadelphia Athletics won over the Cleveland Indians by 9-7 ~ but without Buddy ever getting a chance to hit in the game ~ or in any other time from that moment thereafter in the big leagues.

(7) The likeable and sociable Hancken will go on to enjoy a long career as a  minor league player and manager, finishing his career as a coach and  administrative employee of the Houston Astros.

(8) Joe L. Brown, the son of famous film comedian Joe E. Brown. is the General Manager of the Waco Pirates. In 1955, we will take the reins as GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the meanwhile, he and his father’s baseball obsession, along with a connection to good old Buddy Hancken are the reasons for the famous Brown’s extensive trips to Waco. While he is there, he dresses  out in a Waco Pirates uniform ~ and he acts out in the dugout during games as though he were a member of the coaching staff, but one with a broad and loud flair for physical comedy.

 (9) Bob Friend (12-9, 3.08) leads all Waco pitchers in 1950. Jack Bumgarner (11-5, 4.90) and Norman Morton (12-12, 4.50) also so well, but the Pirates still finish with a losing record in 6th place.

(10) Bob Friend is the only man among those three named starters who makes it the big leagues for the major part of his time in the big leagues, mostly with the great rising Bucs of that era and a post-1966 career line of 197 wins, 230 losses and an ERA of 4.58. Friend’s best of 16 MLB seasons (1951-66) was the glorious 1960 Pittsburgh Pirate championship year when he won 18, lost 12 and registered a 3.00 ERA.

(11) How much did any of these connected energy dots have to do, if anything, with helping Bob Friend succeed as quickly and as well as he did. ~ Who know? All I know is that ~ years later ~ I may have picked up a lingering brush with some of them that still lingered, even this late in the game.

The date was August 20, 2004. I had driven to Orange, Texas for the 90th birthday party of Buddy Hancken at this large facility the family had retained to welcome all of us who wanted to be there on this special day for one of baseball’s nicest people.

I had just walked over to speak privately with Buddy at what appeared to be a good time when the phone rang and he answered it directly. ~ You could almost see the energy that poured both ways as they went on for quite a while, exchanging laughs, happy animated speech, and emotional hugs via the phone. I later learned from Buddy that he had just been told to wait there by the phone for someone who had to reach him, but could not make it in person. It had been a surprise call for Buddy too, but one that leaked of love and good will for anyone in the general vicinity.

“Wow!” Buddy exclaimed, as he finally got off the line.

“That was James Garner calling,” Buddy added. “Wasn’t that nice of him to call today!”

“Nice, Buddy?” I asked, as I quickly threw in an extra hug, while adding: “How could he forget you?”

May They All Rest in Peace ….

Joe E. Brown passed away on July 6, 1973 at the age of 80.

Buddy Hancken passed away on February 17, 2007 at the age of 92.

Jack Bumgarner passed away on September 11, 2011 at the age of 84.

James Garner passed away on July 19, 2014 at the age of 86.

Bob Friend passed away on February 3, 2019 at the age of 88.

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The following is a link to the New York Times Obituary for Bob Friend;

Thank you, Paul Rogers, too for sending this information our way:

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For those of you with further interest in Joe E. Brown’s baseball movies and Buddy Hancken’s colorful contact with Hollywood types on the west coast, you may also enjoy this column of ours from several years back. Here’s the link:

https://bill37mccurdy.com/2012/05/02/joe-e-brown-was-a-baseball-man/

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “Bob Friend’s Curious Waco Start”

  1. bobcopus Says:

    Great story Bill. Enjoyed it 🙂

  2. Maxwell Kates Says:

    Tune in next week for another episode of Maverick – well done, Bill.

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