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The Braves are remembered for playing some great baseball in the early 1990’s but they also had a good time in the clubhouse and one of the ringleaders was reliever Marvin Freeman.
A skinny 6-foot-7, “Starvin Marvin’’ Freeman loosened everyone up, though he admits he couldn’t top teammate Greg Maddux, whose humor stretched the boundaries, sometime beyond the discretion of a family newspaper. Freeman, though, willingly admits he could almost be as crude as the Hall of Fame pitcher.
“He,’’ Freeman said, “did something that I still love to talk about today.’’
Freeman, always a popular figure from an early age, was born in Chicago. He played at Chicago Vocational High School, where as the team’s No. 1 starter he helped lead a turnaround that saw the program go from 3-20 to 60-3 in his last three seasons. In 1981, he was drafted in the ninth round by Montreal but opted instead to go to Jackson State University.
After three seasons, he was selected in the second round of the 1984 draft by Philadelphia. The Phillies had just used their first-round pick that day on pitcher Pete Smith, who would also end up on the same staff in Atlanta.
It took Freeman 2 1/2 years to reach the majors, called up to the major league club for the last two weeks of the 1986 season. In his second major league start, Freeman beat the Mets on the same day his daughter was born back in Chicago.
But he wouldn’t stick with Philadelphia, bouncing between the minors and majors before pitching a no-hitter for the Triple-A Maine club in 1990 against the Richmond Braves.
A few days later, the Braves traded reliever Joe Boever for Freeman and he finished the season in Atlanta, appearing in nine games as a reliever and allowing just three runs in 15 2/3 innings.
In the worst-to-first season of 1991, Freeman was hurt late in the year, but not before he became a big part of the Braves bullpen, appearing in 34 games (2.92 ERA). Going to the bullpen and pitching more frequently, Freeman began experiencing arm and elbow problems. He appeared in 58 games in 1992 before struggling in three postseason appearances. In 1993, he dropped to only 21 games, was released and was picked up by Colorado.
Badly needing pitching help in a hitters’ ballpark, Freeman was a godsend for the Rockies, going 10-2 in the strike-shortened season of 1994. He was also was on the mound for the Rockies’ first-ever win over the Braves, breaking a 16-game losing streak and beating Tom Glavine. His 2.80 ERA still stands as a Colorado season record today.
But a bad elbow bothered Freeman in 1995. He registered a 8.53 ERA in the first month and he finished the season on the disabled list. The next season wasn’t much better. He went 6-4 in the first half of the season and made headlines late in the year with a stunt he pulled on controversial radio host Jim Rome. By August, he was placed on waivers, picked up by the Chicago White Sox and made just one start.
He tried to come back the next season with Toronto and broke camp with Class AAA team, making only one start before retiring. He came out of retirement a few months later with Toronto but lasted only a few weeks before calling it quits for good.
Freeman appeared in 221 major league games (78 starts), going 35-28 with a 4.46 ERA. He finished with 383 strikeouts in 593 2/3 innings.
After baseball, he went into high school coaching where he eventually coached his son, who is playing at Southern University.
Where he lives: Freeman, 53, lives outside Chicago in Olympic Fields with his wive of 32 years, Arnetta. They have two children, daughter Paris and son Justin.
What he does: Freeman has a sports academy where he tutors young pitchers. He is also pitching coordinator for the Chicago White Sox Charities which sponsors teams from ages 12 to 17. He calls himself a pitching coach mercenary.
On going to college instead of straight to pro baseball: “I wasn’t ready at 18. I hadn’t been out of Chicago except for a few family vacations down South. I needed to get that home sickness out of me, which I did in college. I will say it was nice leaving college and going to the pros as far as the umpiring. There was so much home cooking by the umpires in college and that makes a big difference for a pitcher.’’
On being traded to the Braves: “I think they wanted to get rid of Boever and I was going up and down from the minors to the majors. So I think it worked out good for both of us. I had just pitched a no-hitter against Richmond and I think the Braves saw something in me.’’
On the nickname “Starving Marvin”: “When I was coming out of Jackson State, one of the scouts saw me and said I had a great arm but it looked like I was starving. I think there was a chain of “Starving Marvin’s’’ up there and the nickname just stuck.’’
On his first two seasons in Atlanta: “When I got off the plane, I knew there was sunshine in baseball. They told me I was going to be relieving, so I knew what I was going to do on a consistent basis. I remember being there early in 1991 and there wasn’t a lot of people in the stands and Terry Pendleton telling all of us we had to win and they would come and they sure did. I had back surgery at the end of 1991, so I couldn’t pitch in the playoffs but it was a ton of fun.’’
On his arm troubles in 1993: “I struggled but what I like to remember is going to Chicago and all my relatives were there and my aunts came from Michigan and I pitched six scoreless innings. Then I was left off the postseason roster so (a TV station) gave me a camera and mic and I became a reporter and did what you do.’’
On his success in Colorado in 1994: “I tried to take everything I learned from Greg Maddux to Colorado and be a carbon copy of him. I would say it worked and I think my ERA still stands as a record there.’’
On the Jim Rome episode in 1996: “I had just had a bad game against the Padres the day before and he was doing his show in the right field bleachers and I was running in the outfield. The Padres fans were yelling ‘cheaters,’ which had something to do with the fact that our guys had hit a lot of homers in our park in Colorado because of the altitude. So they invited me to come up and be on the show and to get me to say some bad things about the Rockies. I always say Rome was an instigator and when I went on the show, I started crying which Brad Clontz did a great job of when he was with the Braves. I think I just dropped the mic, took my headphones off and left. I had gotten the final word.’’
On being a clubhouse funnyman: “I just wanted everyone to relax in the clubhouse. That was what it was all about. There is a lot of pressure on the field and you have to find a way to relieve some of it. We certainly did that in Atlanta.”