By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
Over the years, many individuals have emerged from Gadsden and Etowah County to make his or her mark on the world of sports. These athletes have excelled in their chosen fields and gone on to glory in the college and professional ranks.
The Etowah County Sports Hall of Fame is an organization that was founded to archive the achievements of these local sports legends on the many fields of the sports world.
An individual is occasionally overlooked, however, and the years seem to forget about some of these great athletes. One such athlete was Hershell Baskin Freeman.
Born July 1, 1928 in Gadsden, Freeman gained fame as a major league professional baseball pitcher who appeared in 204 games. Freeman pitched all but three of these games in relief over six seasons (1952-1953; 1955-1958) for the Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. He later became a minor league manager.
Freeman attended J.L. Wagner Elementary School in East Gadsden and Gadsden High School, where he graduated in 1946. The 6’3, 220-pound Freeman threw and batted right-handed. He attended the University of Alabama for two years, where he was a member of Crimson Tide’s Southeastern Conference championship baseball team in 1947.
Freeman signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1948, spending five seasons in the team’s farm system before his recall in September of 1952. Even though he had pitched exclusively in relief for the Triple-A Louisville Colonels, Freeman was given a starting assignment in his fourth major league appearance on Sept. 26, 1952. Facing the Washington Senators at Fenway Park, Freeman hurled a complete game four-hitter in a 3–1 victory. It was Freeman’s only complete game in the major leagues.
Freeman failed to stick with the Red Sox, however, spending most of 1953 season and all of 1954 with Louisville. After only two appearances in relief for the 1955 Red Sox, he was placed on waivers at the May roster cut-down and claimed by the Cincinnati Reds.
When Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts asked Freeman why the Red Sox waived him, Freeman said Boston had not given him the pitching workload he needed to be effective.
“Brother,” Tebbetts replied, “you came to the right place.”
Tebbetts then used Freeman in relief for 54, 64 and 52 games during the 1955, ’56 and ‘57 seasons, and Freeman responded by compiling a won/lost record of 28-11 with 37 saves and an earned run average of 3.33.
In 1956, Freeman was second in the National League in games pitched and led the league in games finished as Cincinnati finished a strong third in the standings, only two games behind the pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers. Freeman finished 13th in the balloting for NL Most Valuable Player that season.
Freeman’s effectiveness diminished in each successive year, however, and in 1957 he allowed 14 home runs in 83 and two-third innings while seeing his ERA jump to 4.52. In early 1958, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for reliever Turk Lown. Freeman made only nine appearances with Chicago before being sent to the minor leagues in June.
All told, Freeman worked in 359 innings in the major leagues. He allowed 387 hits and 109 walks while striking out 158. His 37 career saves all came as a member of the Reds. Freeman stayed in baseball as a Cincinnati scout in 1960, and from 1961-1963 he managed in the mid- to lower-level minor leagues in the Reds’ farm system.
Following his baseball career, “Hersh” Freeman and his wife Linnie settled in Orlando, Fla., The couple had four children – Randy, Mike, Patty and Melinda. Freeman passed away on Jan. 19, 2004.