Glancing Back, and Remembering Fred Whitfield
Fred Whitfield was a power-hitting first baseman who had his best seasons with the Cleveland Indians in the early 1960s. Nicknamed “Wingy” for his less than powerful throwing arm, Whitfield combined with Tito Francona, Leon Wagner and Max Alvis to form the power connection at the heart of the Indians’ batting order.
Whitfield originally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1956. It took six minor league seasons for Whitfield to be promoted to the Cardinals’ roster, hitting .266 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 73 games with St. Louis in 1962. Following that rookie season, St. Louis traded Whitfield to Cleveland, where he had the chance to start at first base for the Tribe.
Whitfield hit .251 in 1963 with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs, dividing the Indians’ first base duties with Joe Adcock. When Adcock was traded over the winter to the Los Angeles Angels for Wagner, it looked like the door was opened to Whitfield for full-time first base duty. But it wasn’t to be.
In 1964, the Indians inserted Bob Chance at first, and he delivered a .279 rookie season with 75 RBIs. With fewer at-bats, Whitfield’s offensive numbers dropped to 10 home runs and 29 RBIs while he hit .270. Chance turned out to be a one-season wonder, and Whitfield won back his starting position at first base, hitting .293 in 1965 with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs. He followed up in 1966 with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs on a .241 batting average.
In 1967, the Indians acquired Tony Horton from the Boston Red Sox and again Whitfield was relegated to a back-up position, hitting only .218 with nine homers and 31 RBIs. In the off-season, Cleveland traded Whitfield with George Culver and Bob Raudman to the Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Harper. He saw limited action with the Reds over the next two seasons, hitting a combined .224 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs. Whitfield appeared in four games with the Montreal Expos in 1970 before being released and retiring at age 32.
Whitfield finished his nine-season major league career with a .253 batting average. His 108 home runs during the 1960s ranks his 60th among major league sluggers.