by Martín Abresch
A mainstay in Baltimore's rotation for two decades, Steven Fry was a groundball pitcher with impeccable control. He finished his career as one of the winningest pitchers in history.
As a teenager, Fry got a cup of coffee with the New York Gothams in 1883. Though he only pitched 13 innings for the team—and pitched those poorly—he would later credit veteran Erwin Morse for teaching him a changeup. That New York team won the Association Championship. Next season, New York shipped him off to Detroit. Detroit benched him, then shipped him off to Baltimore a few months later.
Fry spent 21 years pitching for Baltimore. In the late 1880s, Baltimore was building a team to compete for the American Base Ball Association title, which was being dominated by the clubs from Cincinnati and Brooklyn. They were led at the plate by Hall of Fame second baseman Tom Guthrie and on the mound by Graham Thomas. Thomas famously strove to keep the ball down and in play—in over 4,000 innings of work he allowed fewer than 30 home runs—and he passed on this mindset to the young Fry.
In 1886, a legendary partnership was born. Fry went 21-16 with a 2.93 ERA; Thomas went 30-14 with a 2.17 ERA. From 1886 to 1896, the two starters combined to win 422 games for Baltimore.
The team's fortunes improved accordingly. In 1888 and 1889, Baltimore narrowly missed winning the Association Championship, finishing one game back each year. In 1891 they had their best season yet. Center fielder Bimm Sawyers beat out teammate John Ross for the batting title, .343 to .335. Doug Salmon hit 12 home runs and drove in 97. Tom Guthrie led the league with 115 stolen bases. Graham Thomas won 16 games before an injury ended his season in July, but Bill Bates stepped up and won 29 games. For his part, Fry won 32 games, tying Royal Ricketts for the league lead, and finishing third with a 2.30 ERA.
In the World Series against Chicago, Baltimore took an early lead, three games to two, before Chicago rattled off three straight wins. Fry started four of the eight games: up against Hall of Fame Haymaker Duster Mundy, he won just one of his four starts. Unfortunately for Fry, this would be the only World Series in which he would pitch. Unfortunately for Baltimore, it would be 60 years before a team from Charm City reached the World Series again.
After the 1892 season, the Association folded and Baltimore joined the National Base Ball League. In 1893, Steven Fry injured his shoulder, ending his season in June. Graham Thomas picked up the slack and put together a brilliant season, winning 28 games and leading the league with a 2.92 ERA, but it wasn't enough. Baltimore finished the season just two games behind Philadelphia, and Crabber fans were left wondering what might have been.
Fry continued to keep the ball low and in the zone. His groundball rate regularly ranked among the highest in baseball, and his walk rate regularly ranked among the lowest. In 1896, he equalled his career high by winning 32 games.
Guthrie retired after the 1895 season, and Fry's rotation partner Thomas finally hung them up after 1896. Baltimore changed the name of the club from Crabbers to Lords, and Lord Fry was the club's veteran leader.
New blood in the form of shortstop Marion Gilbert and pitcher Fritz Condon led to a resurgence in Baltimore competitiveness in the late 1890s. But, once again, an ill-timed injury sunk the team's chances. In June of 1899, Fry celebrated his 300th career victory. Less than one month later, his season ended. Baltimore finished in second place, four games back of Philadelphia.
Despite injuries, Fry continued to pitch into the 20th century. In 1903, he pitched over 300 innings and went 18-15 with a 2.71 ERA. He went 10-7 in 1904, but injuries ended his career in 1905 at the age of 39.
Steven Fry ranks eighth in career wins with 358. He struck out 2,293 batters, and has a 3.07 career ERA. He once led the league in wins (1891). He won Player of the Week two times and Pitcher of the Month three times.
In 1953, Steven Fry was elected to the Hall of Fame.