Baseball lifer Jim Fregosi died early this morning after being taken off life support, days after suffering a stroke on an MLB alumni cruise. One of the best shortstops of his era, Fregosi went on to spend more than two decades as a manager and coach and remained a scout right up until his death at age 71.
It's often forgotten just how good a player Fregosi was. A star for the early and mediocre Los Angeles (later California) Angels, he made six all-star teams based mainly on his offense in an era when shortstops couldn't hit for squat. But a series of injuries took their toll, and after being sent to the Mets in the Nolan Ryan deal Fregosi was relegated to mostly backup duty. He finished his 18-year career with a triple-slash of .265/.338/.398., equating to an outstanding 113 OPS+.
But it's as a manager that Fregosi will be best remembered, particularly for his six years in Philadelphia. Though he skippered the Angels (leading them to the franchise's first playoff appearance at the tender age of 36), White Sox, and Blue Jays as well, Fregosi's crowning achievement was guiding the volatile 1993 Phillies to within two games of a championship.
Fregosi was the perfect man for a talented team that was perpetually threatening to come apart at the seams. Even with a roster containing Darren Daulton, Mitch Williams, John Kruk, and Lenny Dykstra, Fregosi might have been the biggest personality of all, and was more than willing to make himself a media target to take the heat off his players.
He never lost that heat. Chris Jones recalls covering the 2000 Blue Jays, Fregosi's last season as a manager:
His management style was based partly on deflection. He would say or do something ridiculous to distract the beat guys from what the players were failing to do on the field. That way we'd overlook Homer Bush's three-error game or the fact that Brad Fullmer was going to murder somebody.
One night, after a terrible game, Fregosi was sitting behind his desk, naked, except for the white towel wrapped around his belly. He was smoking a cigarette. We all kind of traipsed in there, ready for Fregosi's big act. I sat on the low couch in front of the desk. The first couple of questions were lobs, and Fregosi batted them back, building up steam. Then I asked a question — it was about Escobar's off-speed pitches, which weren't fooling anybody — and Fregosi rose up from behind his desk like a great blubbery tsunami.
He was hollering at me for my general idiocy, smoke pouring out of every hole in his body. He began taking short steps toward me, where I remained trapped on the couch. He was throwing his arms around and now he was screaming at the top of his lungs. And then his towel fell off, and Fregosi's dick was swinging maybe two feet in front of my face. It was the closest I'd been to another man's junk. It was not a happy moment for me.
And it went on, interminable, on and on and on, as Fregosi continued to scorch me, his crotch inching closer and closer to my face. He never made contact, but it was like being threatened with facial assault by a short, fat garden hose. My only comfort, and it was a cold one, was that he'd just come out of the shower.
Finally, the tirade ended, and Fregosi picked up his towel and went back behind his desk.
After his stroke, Fregosi was airlifted to a Miami hospital, where he died surrounded by his wife and five children. "Went in peace with no pain," his son said.