While it is not true that batters splash on shark repellent before going up to hit against David Frost of the California Angels, not many choose to dig in against him at the plate. At 6 ft. 6 in. and 230 pounds, this David is built more like Goliath.
With Nolan Ryan now toiling for Houston at a reported $1 million per season, Frost has become the Angels' stopper, a kind of right-handed mountain with spikes.
He throws a fastball, a slider, a curve, and -- I hate to say this, because you're going to think it's another load of California propaganda -- a palm ball.
As described by Angels' pitching coach Larry Sherry, the palm ball is actually a change of pace designed to upset the hitter's timing. When properly thrown, it becomes a member of the butterfly family. Most hitters find it as hard to drive into the outfield as smoke.
Last year, with this superior assortment of riches, Frost won 16 games for California, exactly the same number as Ryan and at perhaps one-third the price.
Included in David's total were 239 innings pitched, 12 complete games, and the lowest earned-run average on the club. Our hero was particularly strong down the stretch, winning 8 to 10 decisions between July 31 and Sept. 23, when the pennant race was at its hottest.
This season he picked up right where he left off, winning his first two starts -- a 10-2 opening day decision over Cleveland and a 10-inning, four-hit, 2-1 victory over Minnesota in his second outing.
Two years ago when California was desperate for a catcher, the Angels acquired Frost in a deal that brought backstop Brian Downing and fellow pitcher Chris Knapp to Anaheim from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Bobby Bonds and two other players.
Knapp had started exactly 32 games for the White Sox in parts of three seasons. Frost, the proud possessor of one major league victory, was just 510 shy of Cy Young's lifetime total. Thus Downing was the only known quantity in the deal.
It was a trade that, in retrospect, made General Manager Buzzie Bavasi look like a man who had found a way to turn lead into gold. But at the precise moment it was made, Bavasi became perhaps the most unpopular man in southern Carolina.
Although Frost divided his playing time between Salt Lake City and California in 1978, he did manage to win five games for the Angels late in the season with a crackling fastball and 30 strikeouts in just 80 innings of pitching. proven five-man rotation, was a trip to the bullpen. But when injuries reduced the rotation to a series of question marks, David got his chance on the front line.
At first, because of control problems, Frost seemed in danger of buying himself a ticket back to the minors. In fact, it wasn't until Sherry went back and looked at some old films of Frost that he noticed a radical difference in his delivery.
Basically what Sherry did was shorten up Frost's stride and compact his motion. Although results under those sorts of conditions usually take time, David achieved them overnight.
"Frost has a lot of maturity or he wouldn't have been able to take what we gave him and make it work so quickly," Sherry explained. "He was as good a pressure pitcher as we had last year, and he has the mental toughness not to run scared with men on base.
"Maybe the best thing about David's delivery is his motion, which is sneaky fast. He fools a lot of hitters with his speed. And the way he throws his palm ball now -- well, it looks just like his fastball until it jumps at the hitter and ruins his timing."
Frost is also smart enough to know that he and Ryan are two different pitchers -- that for him, mixing things up against the hitters makes a lot more sense than trying to bust the ball by them every time.
Regardless of how well the Angels play this year, their chances of successfully defencing their American League West title without another strong effort from Frost are practically nonexistent!