Recalling manager Fregosi
* Jim Fregosi, former Toronto Blue Jays manager, passed away Feb. 14, 2014 in Miami. He had legions of friends in the game. A few gathered to tell Fregosi stories and toast him Saturday at the Vee Bar Ranch Lodge in Laramie, Wyoming during WYO-Mania XII, Tracy Ringolsby’s annual event. This year it was entitled: “No. 11’s In Heaven.” An all-star shortstop who managed the California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and the Jays, had legions of friends in baseball. A look back to February ….
Originally published, Feb. 18
By Bob Elliott
He was a baseball lifer, an all-star shortstop, a manager and a scout.
And he was so much more.
More than anything, Jim Fregosi was a guy you liked to spend time with.
“You could be on the road seven straight days, walk into a park dragging, see him and everything was OK, suddenly it was like opening day, he was a breath of fresh air …” and then the scout could not speak any more.
He had cried at news his friend would be taken off life support on Friday.
Fregosi, 71, died at 2:36 am Saturday morning in Miami less than a week after suffering multiple strokes during a major league baseball alumni cruise two hours from the Cayman Islands.
Jim Fregosi, who managed the Blue Jays in 1999-2000, made us all laugh.
And at varying times the past few days, people in baseball were crying as news on the popular, larger-than-life Fregosi went from bad to worse.
“Jim was the internet before the internet,” said Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. “He knew everyone, spreading news, information and opinion – and at rapid speed.”
Colletti and Fregosi shared something in common. In the spring of 1994, Colletti spent spring training in Florida. He had been fired by Chicago Cubs general manager Larry Himes four days after Christmas — his only termination in 33 seasons.
“I was working for some teams part time and decided to spend time in Florida with friends,” said Colletti, who went to see quality baseball men like John Vukovich, Billy Connors and Don Zimmer. Walking into the Phillies camp at Clearwater, Vukovich, a Phillies coach, told Colletti: “Hey Dago, someone wants to see you upstairs on the roof.”
Colletti headed up and there was Fregosi, the Phillies manager, months after losing the World Series to the Blue Jays on Joe Carter’s homer.
“We knew of each other, both having worked in Chicago at the same time, but didn’t really know each other well,” said Colletti. “He gave me a hug and told me to sit and we spoke for nearly an hour. At the end of the conversation he said not to worry about the termination … saying “After all, the same guy that got you, had gotten me earlier with the White Sox.”
Colletti and Fregosi struck up a friendship that Colletti says “will last forever.” They worked together with the San Francisco Giants, when Fregosi was a pro scout.
“He was as good as there ever was,” Colletti said. “Three or four times a season, I’d see him at Dodger Stadium around 3:30 in the afternoon holding court on the loge level. We’d get our 1-on-1 time.”
And Fregosi would always ask about Colletti’s son, Lou, a scout with the Giants.
“He was always an encouragement, Jim Fregosi was a blessing to baseball people every day.”
ANGEL DAYS: Fregosi’s final at-bat was a walk in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, facing Randy Lerch in the top of the second in a 2-1 Pittsburgh Pirates win over the the Phillies at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia.
Two days later he was the new manager of the Angels.
He sent out a starting lineup of Bobby Grich, Carney Lansford, Lyman Bostock, Joe Rudi, Don Baylor, Ron Fairly, Ron Jackson, Terry Humphrey, Rance Mulliniks and Nolan Ryan … the Halos lost 6-1 to the Boston Red Sox.
Fregosi managed the Angels to the 1979 AL West title, the first post-season appearance in the team’s history.
Twin Cities’ brilliant ball scribe Patrick Reusse ripped Fregosi’s managing during the 1979 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles.
The next year, the Twins opened at home against the Angels. Tracy Ringolsby, who was covering the Halos then, called Reusse inviting him to join the Angels’ beat writers as Fregosi was taking the writers out for dinner. Initially Reusse said no, but eventually was talked into appearing at Charlie’s restaurant.
The arriving Reusse headed to a spot at the table far away from Fregosi.
“Oh, no,’’ Fregosi said to Reusse. “You’re up here beside me.”
It was a great dinner, with Fregosi dispensing wisdom and telling stories.
At the end of the dinner, Reusse said to Fregosi, “I guess this is when you want to call me an ass, right?”
Said Fregosi: “That’s right,” and he ripped into Patrick for about three minutes.
And then, “I had a friend for life,” Patrick said.
Fregosi liked the fact that Patrick showed and let him have his say.
Fregosi was fired 47 games into the 1981 season. His last game was a 3-1 loss to Dave Stieb at Exhibition Stadium.
The Angels headed to Chicago and took the field with Gene Mauch at the helm. They were edged 9-0.
THE MINORS: Fregosi was running a food brokerage firm in California when St. Louis Cardinals farm director Lee Thomas phoned asking him if he could go through the Cardinals’ minor-league system and give a report on Cards pitching prospects.
Then, Thomas phoned again asking Fregosi if he wanted to manage triple-A Louisville.
Thomas phoned Smith with news he could hire his former Angels teammate.
Smith: “What’s it going to cost me?”
Thomas: “A lot.”
Smith: “How much?”
Thomas: “Well, whatever we pay him you are going to have to match it … and he gets a car.”
Fregosi managed Louisville from 1983 until part way through 1986.
He pencilled names like Vince Coleman, Terry Pendleton and Andy Van Slyke into the lineup and got them ready to play for Cards Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, as St. Louis won the National League title in 1982, 1985 and 1987, and the 1982 World Series.
As well, Fregosi had position players like Jim Adduci, Steve Baker, Rod Booker, Glenn Brummer, Joe DeSa, Jeff Doyle, Curt Ford, Bob Geren, Randy Hunt, Tito Landrum, Mike LaValliere, Tom Lawless, Bill Lyons, John Morris, Tom Nieto, Jose Oquendo, Tom Pagnozzi, Joe Pettini, Bombo Rivera, Gene Roof, Orlando Sanchez, Rafael Santana, Jimmy Sexton, Jose Uribe and Dennis Werth.
And Herzog was happy when arms like Danny Cox, Ken Dayley and Todd Worrell arrived from Louisville. Fregosi also prepped Ralph Citarella, John Fulgham, Kevin Hagen, Ricky Horton, Jeff Keener, Kurt Kepshire, Greg Mathews, Dyar Miller, Rick Ownbey, Eric Rasmussen, Andy Rincon and Dave Von Ohlen for the majors.
In his three seasons at Louisville, he won a pair of American Association titles.
In the midst of his fourth season, the Chicago White Sox came calling.
THE WINDY CITY: Ken (Hawk) Harrelson fired Tony La Russa after a 26-38 start on June 20, interim manager Doug Rader was in charge for two games and Fregosi made his White Sox managerial debut on Sunday afternoon.
Harrelson lasted one year before returning to the broadcast booth and Fregosi found himself working for new GM Larry Himes.
“Jimmy fought for me to get the Chicago job,” Lee Thomas remembered.
After 77 wins in 1987 and 71 the next year, Fregosi was at home after the season. He was talking to Joe Goddard of the Chicago White Sox on the phone discussing his status for the following season when he looked out the window and saw a car pull up.
“Joe, Himes is here. I’ll call you back — after I’m fired.”
Later, he called Goddard back.
He’d been fired.
Meanwhile, Thomas was hired in 1988 as GM of the Phillies and hired Nick Leyva — since Fregosi was under contract.
FIGHTIN PHILS: Thomas fired Leyva 13 games into the 1991 season and in came Fregosi.
The Phillies won 78 games in 1991.
Buck Rodgers, Fregosi’s good pal, was fired 49 games into the 1991 season by Montreal Expos GM Dave Dombrowksi.
So every time a Montreal writer came into Fregosi’s Olympic Stadium office — which was every night before and after the game, nine times a season Fregosi would say to him:
“Get out of here, you got Buck Rodgers fired, not talking.”
Poor Daniel Clouthier of Le Journal de Montreal never budged because he had a job to do. “no, no manager Fregosi, I like Buck. Everyone like Buck.”
The Phillies won 70 in 1992 and each trip into Olympic Stadium, Fregosi would chirp the Montreal writers.
One night late in the season, Fregosi said the nightly briefing would have to end early … he was doing a call-in show with radio WOGL — now WPHT — in Philadelphia.
On the way to the elevator, Clouthier said to Paul Hagen, the legendary Phillies scribe and J.G. Taylor Spink award winner: “I don’t think manager Fregosi likes me.”
Hagen explained Fregosi was teasing.
Once seated in the press box, the light bulb went off. Hagen asked Clouthier if he wanted to get back at manager Fregosi?
Clouthier said yes.
Hagen pulled out his phone.
Talk show host: “OK, we have Daniel from Montreal on Line 2, go ahead Daniel?”
Clouthier: “Manager Fregosi, in the ninth inning last night, why did you not think to use a pinch hitter?”
Fregosi gave his reasoning.
Clouthier: “I thank you for your answer.”
Clouthier placed down the phone, turned to Hagen and exclaimed, “I got the tie.”
After the game, writers entered Fregosi’s office. Fregosi congratulated both Hagen and Clouthier, saying “you got me.”
He could give it out, but he could take it.
The Phillies became the story of the year in 1993. Mike Simpson, my boss, sent me to St. Louis in June for a four-game series. Not knowing that they’d be in the World Series, long before Juan Guzman uttered his “they look like truck drivers” comment, insulting a large number of hardworking men who form the backbone of transportation in North America.
The Phillies were an interesting group:
John Kruk looked like he had a mail box inside his shirt, and Pete Incaviglia could have been in one of Jack Tunney’s WWE cards.
Darren Daulton the tough as rail road spikes catcher.
Lenny Dykstra earned his nickname Nails.
Dave Hollins was a tad intense too.
Fregosi used to say Shilling was a horse the day he pitched … “a horse’s butt for the next four days.” We think he was joking.
“We had our differences of opinions and disagreements over the years,” said Thomas of their day-to-day working relationship. “He was a guy you could trust inexplicably. He gave the right information.”
Fregosi’s Phillies won 93 games in 1993 to win the NL East and beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS in six games.
That fall, the Toronto Sun staged a survey and since I finished first amongst readers I had go to a studio and pose for pictures with a wry smile … as ordered by editor Wayne Parrish.
Me: “Can’t I just get a raise and stay away from the bull?”
So my picture with the title Bob’s Your Uncle was on the side of buses and cabs as well as bus shelters.
As the World Series began I’d hear this high-pitched voice yell “Hello Cover Boy.” I’d turn and not be able to figure out who said it.
It wasn’t until about Game 4 that we found out it was Fregosi.
The Jays won on Joe Carter’s homer.
Both teams were below .500 in 1994, seated fourth when the work stoppage ended the season Aug. 12.
Larry (Baron) Shenk was the Phillies’ crack P.R. executive then. Once, before a trade announcement, they had lunch in the executive dining room at the Vet. Shenk brought up some questions he may get asked in the press conference. Fregosi slid his reading glasses to the end of his nose, looked me in the eye and said:
“Baron, I don’t need your coaching.”
Shenk responded “you’re right.”
In 1995, the Phillies were third. Fregosi went face-to-face with Jeff Juden in July that season. Fregosi took Juden out of the rotation, and Juden went into his office to ask why.
“I’ll tell you why I took you out of the rotation,” Fregosi said. “Because you’re the most unprofessional player I’ve ever seen, you big, fat, lazy piece of crap.”
Juden walked out without saying another word.
“Guess I struck a nerve,” Fregosi said.
The Phillies had 67 wins in 1996, finishing fifth.
That was the end of Fregosi’s run with the Phillies.
CITY BY THE BAY: Fregosi was hired by the Giants GM Brian Sabean where he worked with Colletti.
Sabean said Fregosi taught him a very valuable lesson about doing a better job scouting your own players. Sabean said the two years he had Freogsi as a special assistant made him a better GM as the Giants turned into a playoff team in that span.
We’d see him often scouting games at Dunedin as he lived in nearby Tarpon Springs.
In late February of 1999, during early workouts at the Bobby Mattick Complex (basically guys playing catch and taking batting practice) Fregosi traveled from his nearby home in Tarpon Springs to watch a Jays workout.
“Aren’t you two weeks early?” I asked.
Jays manager Tim Johnson was on the hot seat after his Vietnam comments to Pat Hentgen the previous year at Fenway. Johnson didn’t make the claims for any monetary gains or to get a plot at Arlington cemetery like some of those guys you see on 60 Minutes. He was trying to motivate Hentgen, but he was wrong.
HELLO T.O.: The Blue Jays played a night game in Tampa and Gord Ash returned to the manager’s office in Dunedin along with assistant GM Tim McCleary. They fired Johnson.
Fregosi was in uniform the next morning.
“You know how guys say they don’t read the papers?” he told reporters, “Well, I read every comma.”
That day he was hired Phillies coach John Vukovich told me “no one called me a piece of crap more than him … no one has asked me ‘how can you be so stupid?’ more than him … no one in the game did I learn more from him … and no man did I love more than him.”
In the first week of May in 1999, the Texas Rangers edged the Jays 4-3.
When he was finished with the interview, a young radio reporter asked Fregosi what he thought of Rangers reliever Jeff Zimmerman, who pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth.
“Why on earth would I care about Jeff bleepin Zimmerman?” Fregosi asked.
“Well, he’s Canadian,” said the reporter.
Fregosi grabbed the microphone and said, “The thing that most impressed me today about the Rangers was Zimmerman. He was dominant. He allowed a base hit to Mark Dalesandro and walked a guy in two innings in a one-run game. He’s going to be a key part of their season. I see an all-star game in his future.
Zimmerman pitched in the all-star game at Fenway Park that summer.
At Laguna Niguel, Calif. the Jays dealt Shawn Green to the Dodgers for Raul Mondesi — Green was not going to sign a long term deal with the Jays. Seeing Fregosi seated in a chair, Tommy Lasorda said, “Sorry, Jimmy, we stole your best player, but he was born to wear Dodger blue.”
Fregosi leapt from the chair and yelled, “The kid grew up in Tustin, half an hour from your park and was an Angels fan, he was standing on the tarp ready to jump on the field when Donnie Moore gave up the home run to Dave Henderson in 1986.”
Once, a visiting scout told me the reason Chris Carpenter was struggling was because Fregosi was not allowing the Jays’ right-hander to throw a certain pitch. After the game, I asked Carpenter about it. He said it wasn’t true. So did catchers Charlie O’Brien and Benito Santiago.
So, no story.
Now, to my knowledge, none of the three had left the clubhouse. I walked out past the manager’s office and heard Fregosi bellow: “Get in here and shut the door.” In I went … and he yelled, “Next time you have a question about pitch selection, ask me.”
After about a 10-second delay, I asked if he had the room bugged? And he laughed.
One Saturday afternoon something goofy happened. Larry Millson of the Globe an Mail and I were in his office and we asked if he’d ever seen anything that strange in all his years?
“I’ve been in this game since 1960. I once saw Dooley Womack make a diving shoe string catch in centre at Yankee Stadium with a man on third. He tumbled, spun around and fired the ball over the outfield fence,” said Fregosi.
Millson and I both said “Uh, no, Womack was a pitcher.”
“No, he wasn’t,” snapped Fregosi.
Upstairs we headed and checked baseball-reference, the web site which has prolonged the career of so many writers. In the 1980s, you’d go on a three-city road trip carrying guides from the three cities you were visiting and the team you covered. Now, baseball-reference is our umbilical cord. No heavy guides to carry.
Sure enough, Womack was a right-handed pitcher.
I asked if he ever saw a Yankee centre fielder come in with a man on third, make a diving catch, get turned around and throw the ball over the centre field fence.
“Naw,” said Stottlemyre, “but I did see Ross Moschitto make a heck of a catch, roll and come up throwing — only to stop because he was facing the centre field fence.”
So I told him the Fregosi story.
“Wow, you’ve got the goods on him,” Stottlemyre said.
So when he would give me grief (which was often), when he would tease (which was often), I would sometimes say: Dooley Womack.
Fregosi would cease and desist, dramatically look left and right, place his index finger in front of his mouth and say “shhhh.”
Jays GM Gord Ash brought World Series MVP Pat Borders back late in the 1999 season.
“So what do you know about Borders?” Fregosi asked me standing by the batting cage.
“Well, he can block balls in the dirt a ground hog couldn’t get too, he never says much to us, he’s a bad quote, all he did when was here was drink Mountain Dew and chew Levi Garrett loose leaf.”
I didn’t go to the scrum that night, but read in the next paper when Fregosi was asked about Borders: “Well, he can block balls in the dirt a ground hog couldn’t get too, he never says much to us, he’s a bad quote, all he did when was here was drink Mountain Dew and chew Levi Garrett loose leaf.”
Next day I walked in and told him I was going to charge him if he was going to use my lines.
“Ah, it wasn’t that good.”
“Well, why did you use it?”
“Take a hike.”
He loved a song by Freda Payne called Band of Gold, so one prankster of a writer had a copy made in Kansas City. He tried to get it played when Fregosi came out to home plate at the SkyDome. No go. Everything was scripted.
So, the tape was sent to Cleveland the final series of the 2000 season.
Fregosi took two steps out of the dugout and the sound operator hit a button:
“Now that you’re gone
All that’s left is a band of gold
All that’s left of the dreams I hold
Is a band of gold
And the memories of what love could be
If you were still here with me”
Fregosi phoned the writer that night and said “well, you got me.”
The next night he called me.
“I’m going to get fired tomorrow. Write it,” Fregosi said.
The next day, Paul Godfrey and Ash gave Fregosi the “we’re going in another direction” speech.
AFTER THE DUGOUT: Fregosi was mentioned often as a candidate to manage after his Jays days. He was the runner-up to Jimy Williams with the Houston Astros in 2002. He was the runner up to Felipe Alou when the Giants made a chance the next year.
Tracy Ringolsby comforted Fregosi by telling him Jack McKeon got another chance managing the Florida Marlins at age 73 … “he only had to wait 10 more years.”
Fregosi joined the Atlanta Braves where he worked for 13 seasons as special assistant to the GM.
With the uniform off, his wit was just as quick:
At one winter meeting gathering, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was holding court in a lobby group which included Fregosi and the conversation unfolded like this:
Lasorda: “You know Jimmy, I never remember facing you much.”
Fregosi: “No Tommy, that’s because I was in the majors … YOU were pitching in the minors.”
We called him the All-Knowing One — Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register gets credit for the nickname — behind his back when he managed the Jays, and as a friendship developed the last 10 years, a few of us said it to his face and he’d laugh and peer over his glasses and ask in his caustic way “and realistically what … do you know?”
In 2005, Fregosi was in to see the St. Louis Cardinals at the Rogers Centre. At the time, Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi and I had a nodding agreement.
I said nawding to him, he said nawding to me — outside of hello.
“I want to see you after the game in the hotel bar, centre field,” Fregosi said.
It was a command, not a request.
Arriving after the game, I asked “what was up?”
“Look, J.P. likes the game, you like the game. You need each other. Cut the crap. Just go up to him the next time you see him like nothing has happened,” Fregosi ordered. “I don’t like J.P. because he’s Italian, I like him because I’m Italian.”
I told him I was not discussing old issues with Ricciardi.
“You won’t have to,” Fregosi said. “I promise.”
Fregosi was not the Jays manager.
He was not working for the Jays.
He did not have a horse in the race or a vested interest. He was being a good guy.
So, next home stand I interviewed Riccardi for a story. Everything was fine.
A few days later, again, same thing.
A few days later, same thing.
Now the Yankees were in and I was asking Ricciardi about Bernie Williams and whether he had scouted him as a minor leaguer. He told me about a night at double-A Binghamton when Williams hit homers from each side of the plate. It was all good.
My point was Williams was the mainstay of the Yankees’ new dynasty, the only player who was established in 1996 when Derek Jeter was a rookie. So the two of us went around the diamond. We went:
But who was playing third?
Then, it started. Ricciardi asked “why did you write that in 2002? How come you didn’t write this? Why on earth did you write that about us firing scouts?” And on and on and on, we argued back and forth.
Upstairs, I called Fregosi (in Boston, I think), to say, “Hey Boutros Boutros-Ghali, you lost your seat at the UN Peace talks.”
Once on deadline, the office wanted a chart on Jays managers and their won-loss record since Cito Gaston was fired in 1997. I listed John Farrell, Gaston again, John Gibbons, Carlos Tosca, Buck Martinez, Fregosi and Tim Johnson. I wrote a short intro and filed it to the office.
After first deadline, I re-read the intro and noticed I’d left Fregosi’s name out. I told colleague Mike Rutsey, a disturber of Fregosi porportions, who travelled to the other end of the press box to tell Ringolsby in 3.9 seconds and Ringolsby speed dialed Fregosi. The correction was made for second edition. Yet the damage had been done. In a rush job listing managers in the copy, I had forgotten Fregosi.
Next time I saw Fregosi he introduced himself as if we’d never met and asked, “Were you sleeping those two years I managed in Toronto? You know we had winning records both years.”
Ringolsby e-mailed me a copy of the obit on Fregosi he wrote for MLB.com and added in, “Hey, at least I remembered that he managed Toronto.”
Fregosi would kick my butt when we would debate.
I never won. Never got the upper hand.
That is, until the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Before Team Canada played an exhibition game against the Brewers, Jim Fregosi Jr., a great scout with the Phillies and now with the Kansas City Royals, was there.
“What are you doing here? Canada only has one free agent?”
About four innings later, I tweeted:
“KC Royals have assigned Jim Fregosi Jr. to cover Canada during WBC #Bestscoutinfamily”
Heading down the right field corner after the game against the Brewers was over, I ran into Junior.
“Hey, I have to tell you a good one …”
“Heard all about it … about four guys following you on twitter saw it and they were all at the same game as my Dad, they were giving it to him pretty good … holding up their phones.”
A week later, I returned to Florida waiting for the counter punch.
The suspense built for about four or five days when I walked into the lunch room in Dunedin.
It could not have been worse. There was Fregosi. Arms folded, peering over his glasses. Usually scouts sit at a table of four or maybe eight.
There were 11 men gathered around the table.
I won the hash tag battle. He won the war … saying:
“You are the worst I have ever seen.
“You’ve really changed. I defend you, but everyone else says how you have gone downhill.
“You are a no good blankity-blank.
“Is this the first game you have seen all year?
“I see you did a real good job straightening out Team Canada. Was that a ball club or a hockey team?
“Why on earth do you even come to the game — your writing reflects that you were never even in the park.”
“I’m tired of you crapping on me to my friends.
“You mention me in your speech in Cooperstown and mispronounce my name? My word.”
And along about then, I managed to sneak in a hello.
Half the table was roaring, the other half was stunned.
And then he got rolling with the insults.
When it was over, a couple of guys asked if I was OK, would we ever patch things up? I said he was teasing.
Outside the lunch room, Fregosi was waiting to say, “You know I thought that tweet or whatever it’s called was pretty funny. And you might be right — my son is a damn good scout. But don’t you ever tell him I said so.”
You know that line about the acorn not falling far from the tree? Jr. shimmied down the bark.
George King, the talented New York Post writer, used to cover the Phillies. He was in a lobby bar one night after a game when Junior came over and said something like, “Look, I don’t want you ripping my father any more.”
King and Junior had never met.
Looking over Junior’s shoulder, King could see Fregosi sitting arms folded, smiling.
Fregosi was tweaking two.
CELEBRATION OF LIFE: The Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies will stage a celebration of life March 5 at Bright House Field in Clearwater.
Another celebration of life will be held March 15 at Devid McReynolds’ house in Scottsdale, Az.. It’s scout Yogi Young’s 60th birthday, but he decided it would better served as a tribute to Fregosi.
The family’s list of organizations, dear to Jim’s heart for those interested in making a memorial donations in Jim’s honor are:
Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.)
245 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10167
Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association
1631 Mesa Avenue, Suite B
Colorado Springs, CO 80906
Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation
5010 N. Parkway Calabasas, Suite 201
Calabasas, CA 91302
The Wounded Warriors Project
3343 Peachtree Rd. NE #M20
Atlanta, GA 30326
FREGOSI REACTION: How well was he respected?
You be the judge. We had four grown men break down in tears unable to talk.
From GMs and scouts …
“As a scout when you did Major League coverage a lot of us had a simple rule that we lived by year in an year out: whether you had major league coverage, minor league coverage, a mixture of both or amateurs and then pro leagues one rule was unique and easy to follow. You could go an entire year at times and not see a scout that was a friend for that entire year and at other times you would run into a Sal Butera or Dave Meyer five or six times a season. It depended on your schedule and the other scout. But, you could be about sure of one thing: Jim Fregosi would open the season in San Diego. Why? I have no idea, but I’m sure it had something to do with Jr and seeing family in the soCal area. This made it easy for the rest of us pro scouts. You absolutely NEEDED to start your year with Jim Fregosi in San Diego. Jim would hold court before and during the Padres game and it did not matter who the Padres were playing because you already knew that work was going to take a backseat to great Fregosi stories. And, Jim had no intention of telling the stories or of taking any scouts attention away from the game. Besides, most of us already knew that Clayton Kershaw was a pretty good LHP even before the game started. Once, you got Jim on a story you were trapped in Charlotte’s Web for nine innings and it was a good trap. He could tell these stories and make you feel involved and he never started or ended a story with anything bragging about his playing career.
“He also never told the stories with any of the “I played and you didn’t” stuff that comes off with bitterness at times and the bitterness is not needed. Jim did not have any of that with his stories. If the needle was needed about “stat guy” or “stop watch guy” or “radar gun guy” Fregosi was certainly ready to insert that needle and spin it around any time it was needed. Never in a mean spirited way. If one of the fans showed up and wanted Jim’s autograph he always satisfied the guy, and always seemed to make sure that fan also knew that he needed to get some of the other scouts that played in the big leagues autograph also. Even though most all of our ML careers paled in comparison to Jim Fregosi’s playing career. Playing/wise us guys that grew up in Orange County all wanted to be Jim Fregosi. It was not hard because Jim was the best player on the Angels and your choice came down to Bo Belinksy, Clyde Wright or Albie Pearson. Pearson was a good centre fielder, but was about 4-foot-11” and even us 5-foot-10 guys were bigger than that. Bo was more famous for off the field activities and we may have dreamed about Bo, but it was not as a LHP. Clyde was a good one to watch, but he and Fregosi seemed to be so tight that they were almost one in the same player. There is a classic picture in the Angels archives of the last pitch of Clyde Wright’s no hitter and Clyde is shown in the picture after the last pitch jumping in celebration while seeking Fregosi because that is the guy he wanted to celebrate his no hitter with. Every skinny or fat kid in Orange County could pop his bat in that downward warm up that Jim always did in the on deck circle or in the batter’s box preparing for a pitch. None of us 120-lb. kids knew why we were popping the bat, but Fregosi did it and that was good enough for all of us. Thanks for letting me have the opportunity to share on this wonderful and unique MLB classic and legend.” _ Eddie Bane, former Angels scouting director, Red Sox.
“Few people have been admired and loved by so many in our game as Jim Fregosi. He was a great baseball player, manager, and scout. My manager for two 3A American Association championships in 1984-85 in Louisville. I owe him a great deal for his part in my baseball career. Labeled a ‘players manager’ by front office people because he was all about his players, their well-being, and their success.
“He had very few rules. He knew how to win, how to manage 25 different personalities, and push the right buttons. He had a strong magnetic personality. With his entertaining baseball stories and sharp wit he could take over any conversation or room. If he was in a bar and you walked in, he would insist you sit with him and not touch your wallet. I hadn’t seen him but once or twice a year since leaving pro scouting, but I always loved the way his face lit up whenever he saw me or another one of his former players. He told me a few years ago during a Braves’ spring training game at Disney’s Wide World of Sports that his biggest reward in baseball was when one of his players would thank him for the impact he had had on their lives. That’s Jim Fregosi. Thank you Jim!” _ Gary Rajsich, Baltimore Orioles, scouting director.
“The story about Fregosi telling you to act like nothing had happened between you and JP rang true to me. Jimmy and I were teammates with the Rangers under Billy Martin. One night as our bus was arriving at the hotel in Chicago around 2 AM after a long flight, we got into a very loud argument. I screamed at him for the final several minutes and sat down. As we were getting off the bus Jackie Brown told me to watch out, he wondered if Jimmy might be mad enough at what I said to fight. That didn’t happen but for at least a week we said nothing to each other. It was very uncomfortable especially with the tight quarters we had in the old clubhouses. Then out of the blue one day as we walked past each other, Jimmy started a conversation with me as if we had never argued. The situation was never talked about and we simply continued to be friends and teammates. As the years went by I looked forward to renewing that friendship at ballparks throughout the league. Although he loved to “hold court,” unlike many story tellers, Jimmy was a great listener. He was funny, caring and a brilliant baseball man. I learned something from him every time we spoke. I, along with the entire baseball community will miss him dearly.” _ Tom Grieve, former Texas Rangers GM, Rangers broadcaster.
“The knowledge Jim Fregosi had and the ability to get any information you had about the Braves out of you made it sort of a cat and mouse game. I spend most of my days scouring the minor leagues and rarely saw Jim while on the road. Upon entering the media lounge I noticed Jim sitting in the corner and went over to say hello waiting for Dave Yoakum to arrive, one question after another led to me saying I had seen the entire Braves minor league system and him saying to me “we have some good ones don’t we?” I paused for a second and then asked him if he knew who they were. Pulling out a pencil and some paper he said you put your list down here and I’ll put mine down her, I scratched out probably 17 names and he looked to be doing the same thing, when we had both finished we set our pencils down and he said “I’ll show you my list if you show me yours so we can compare.” Well here comes the bait and switch. He had written down one name and had my list of all their prospects, saying thank you folding the paper and stuffing it into his pocket. The next year Baseball America published there top 30 prospects and all 17 I’d given him were on the list, You will always be loved by your peers if you can gain their respect. We will miss Jim my friend and there will always be a place in my heart remembering you with respect and love.” _ Bill Young, scout, Chicago White Sox.
“Jimmy loved deep sea fishing … well two years ago at Thanksgiving, I texted him to tell him I’d heard from Billy Scherrer (sheepishly), that he was spreading rumors about the giant Tarpon he caught, 35 miles off the coast of Clearwater, which was his alleged first real big one, and that he needed to stop these ridiculous BS fish tale rumors, then offering he and his family a Happy Thanksgiving, love & hugs.
“It wasn’t two minutes later that he sent a picture back of himself (big grin) and his guide and proudly displaying this gigantic Tarpon aside his big boat with the statement: “not only is he (fish) bigger than Billy, he’s way better looking to” Happy Thanksgiving Pauly.
“I totally lost it. He was a hero of mine, I just can’t fathom losing him like this, he just meant so much to me honestly, I learned so much from him about the game and life, and always had a great time … I was really looking forward to seeing him in a couple weeks … this one really does hurt … Thanks for caring and writing of him.” — Paul Riccarini, scout, Houston Astros.
“It was either instructional ball 1970 or 1971. I was managing the Brewer instructional club and we had a game against the Angels. Bob Clear big league coach for the Angels was running the Angels. He called me over. He had Jim Fregosi in uniform and sitting with him. He said Jim is here to get a feel about learning about development, scouting and managing. I was really impressed. Here is a big league star, who just days ago finished the season and here he is putting in time to learn even more. Needless to say Jim had many more years as a great player. Also a step further, as a scout here was a star player a big time ML manager, and Jim was always early at the park and working alongside all the scouts as just another guy doing his job. He was always ready for a laugh and an argument. Baseball will miss Jim Fregosi and all he brought to the game.” _ Sandy Johnson, former Diamondbacks, Rangers executive.
“Jim Fregosi was as good of a baseball man as they get! Never any bull, he was straight shooter with conviction, instincts and knowledge. I’ll really miss running into him at the ball park.” — Kevin Towers, Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I really liked and respected the man. He had a great presence, great background and was such a positive to the industry. He was dedicated and loyal to whomever he worked for. He was a proud man, a true man’s man. I always listen when he talked.” — Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners.
“I knew Jim from talking to him in the press room but I am sure there are a number of others to share experiences. I do know he was a competitor and it frustrated him when the game was not played the right way. I think he was under rated as a manager. He did enjoy talking baseball and was not afraid to give his opinion. It is sad that he left us early.” — Doug Melvin, Brewers GM.
“This is so sad. I talked to him last week, I looked at him as indestructible. If you saw him walk into a room … he could lighten it up quickly.” — Former Phillies GM Lee Thomas.
“Jim was someone everyone enjoyed being around. He was a very smart man with a good sense of humor and a tremendous love for his family. He will be thought of and missed by his many friends, both in and out of Major League Baseball. My wife, Doris, and I pass along our condolences to his family.” — Hall of Famer Pat Gillick, Phillies.
“Jim was a great baseball man and a special friend. He will always be fondly remembered for his handling of the Phillies 1993 team that made it to the World Series.” — Dallas Green, former manager Phillies.
“There’s been a lot of tears shed, What I most remember about his managing career is that after the Angels he went back to the minors with the express purpose of learning all that he could about pitching. He felt he needed to do that to be a better manager. Well, he really succeeded. In later years there was more than one time where players in the organization he was working for assumed he had been a pitcher during his playing career. He was that knowledgeable about pitching.
“I was looking through an old scrapbook and came across an article listing the all-league team our senior year at Serra High. The article listed four items for each player; NAME, SCHOOL, POSITION, BATTING AVERAGE. I was very fortunate to have made the team. Jim of course made it easily. As I looked over the list I noticed a truly unexpected thing. I had out hit Jim. I cut out the article, highlighted our comparative figures and filed it away. The next year I handed Jim a birthday card in April at the San Diego ball park. I had enclosed the clipping. He loved it and carried it around for a year showing people. Jimmy Jr. introduces me thusly to people, “This is Gary Hughes. He out hit my father in high school.” I do have to mention the fact that he got me in the inconsequential doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases categories. BUT NOT BATTING AVERAGE !!!” – Gary Hughes, Red Sox executive.
“I was sitting with Jim at Marlins Park in the press dining area a year or two ago and asked what kind of player was Gary Hughes (they were high school teammates). Jim looked at me with buggy eyes and said, ‘What kind of player was Gary Hughes? I played shortstop and he was the left fielder. I told him to lean against the left field wall!’ End of story.” _ Bill (Boomer) Beck, special assistant to the owner, Marlins.
“I faced him spring training, I was 18 yrs old and stuck him out in Palm Springs Calif., had struck out eight in four innings. Walking off the mound he said ‘don’t ever hit me with that gas!’ I didn’t even know what that meant. He laughed. upon entering park next day he walked in with these beautiful boots on, they were white Ostrich cowboy type he could really DRESS. I scouted with him — what a great guy! tough too. We will miss him and so will all of baseball!” _ Ed Farmer, White Sox announcer.
“It hit me pretty hard because he was a pleasure to be around. I can still can hear his voice in my head, I do miss him and feel a little cheated.” — Tim Wilken, scout, Chicago Cubs.
“Bob, thank you very much for the great article on Jim who as we all know was one of a kind both in baseball and outside of the game just a shame it had to come to end this way. He was the best and at the top of my all time list. This past week going over my past memories if I’m correct in my younger days and being from Pittsburgh, PA, the Pirates had a 3B with the name BOB ELLIOTT. I remember seeing him play some games and if correct his number was 8, may be wrong but this came to my mind.” _ Fred Uhlman, Pro Scout, Baltimore Orioles.
“I did always find Jim to be a very warm and genuine guy. He was quick with a joke and seemed to have a story for every occasion. I most appreciate how he made me and a lot of even younger or less experienced guys feel. There can be an edge or surliness to veteran baseball men but I never felt that from Jim. He’d ask your opinion and feelings on a player or situation, and whether he agreed or he didn’t, he’d have an example of someone or something that either validated or challenged your position. He made you think but at the same time, he’d make you laugh. I will miss him, as will the entire baseball community.” — Billy Eppler, scout New York Yankees.
“As you know he was a great story teller. In the media dining room at Sun Life Stadium and at the new Marlins Park, his table was always full, with chairs pulled up from other tables as well, as Jim would regale scouts, media staff people with his stories. Most ended with a good laugh. There was no one like him. Other scouts would gather for quiet conversation at various tables, but Jim’s table was always the center of attention. The game is going to miss him. He was a character, a personality, a baseball man and there are very few like him anymore. We have Jack McKeon, a national treasure. We’re blessed to have Jack.” _ Dave Van Horne, Florida Marlins broadcaster, Ford C. Frick winner and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame 2014 inductee.
“All my interaction with Jimmy was at the park, to sit and listen to his stories was priceless. As a younger scout I felt privileged to sit at the same table and that he remembered my name. He treated every usher or attendant with respect. Every time I saw him I knew I was in for a good laugh. And behind all the humor was a great evaluator.” — Steve Lyons, scout, San Diego Padres.
“Jim Fregosi was a equal opportunity destroyer and tenacious personality. But, what I admired so much from Jim was he had a great ML career as a player and and manager, was a very good scout … but he never “big leagued” me regardless of the surrounding titles. There was always a big heart behind that strong personality.” — Pat Murtaugh, scout, Diamondbacks.
“He was awesome … going to miss him so. A larger than life personality and man, he filled a room when he walked in. People like him make me glad I have spent 45 years in the game.” _ Chris Rice, Atlanta Braves.
“Joni and family … my thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time!” _ Shirley Cheek, Oldsmar, Fla.
From players ….
“Jimmy was the best manger I ever had the honor of playing for. He was a man who was happy every time in ever saw him. My career was less than spectacular, but would have even been more mediocre if not for Jim. The word that defines him best is trust! He trusted everyone to do their jobs. I was a manager’s nightmare, but Jim trusted that I would get the job done. He made all his players better because his trust gave us confidence. He would hand me the ball in the 9th and go up the tunnel and smoke and say let me know when it’s over. He trusted me. He once said that ‘Mitch doesn’t have an ulcer, but he is definitely a carrier.’ I loved Jimmy and his wife Joni. They both lived to be happy. I can’t express the sorrow I feel for Joni, and Jimmy’s 5 kids. He was like a father to me, and I was just a player. I can only imagine the kind of father he was to his own kids.” – Mitch Williams.
“My quick past success was only because of Jim Fregosi. It was almost unheard of for a kid to go from single A to AAA in one season – it was Jim Fregosi who believed and trusted in me and brought me straight to AAA. I can remember my first night in AAA I was 4-for-4 with 4 stolen bases and he said to me “one game does not make a season” and I told him I will do this every day for you as long as I am here. I thank Jim it was he who gave me the opportunity and that is how I got my start into the big league.” _ Vince Coleman.
THE WRITERS SAY: Fregosi was well liked by writers for his give and take and his storytelling ability.
Marty Noble, MLB.com: Fregosi was a proud, generous, and entertaining guy who appreciated the game and his place in it. He was great company at the bar, by the cage, in his office and whenever he found his way into the pressbox. The game can’t afford to lose Ralph Kiner and Fregosi, two of the great baseball storytellers, in the same 10 days. Death is guilty of piling on.
I didn’t get to know Jim as well as I would have liked until his time managing the Phillies. He was made for that team – or vice versa. I know Lenny Dykstra enjoyed playing for him. “He would have been one of us,” Dykstra said.
Fregosi and I found a common interest in oldies. He favored “Earth Angel” more than “In the Still of the Nite.” I forgave him that indiscretion, and we moved on to other 45s.
“He called me “Jukebox,” and I called him “Flip Side.”
Sometimes, we discussed baseball, too. I learned from him.
Though he was California-bred and I spent my first 11 years in the Bronx, I felt we had spent our childhoods in the same neighborhood. He had a gruffness that I enjoyed. It was part of his charm. He knew how to make a point, even without using his hands.
I admired his “cut-the-crap” manner. I sensed we voted for the same presidential candidates. We never shared a meal, but I’m sure that he preferred his pasta but loved a thick steak.
His time with the Mets – he was acquired in December, 1971 for Nolan Ryan and others – and my time covering them barely overlapped. Damn.
He didn’t prosper much in New York, and that made the trade appear more lopsided. But he didn’t allow that to stigmatize him. He knew he had been a quality player.
My hope is the society of the game will provide us someone akin to Fregosi; my fear is it won’t.
I’ll miss his cigar smoke.
“It’s such an empty feeling without him.” — Bob Nightengale, USA Today.
Mike Rutsey, Toronto Sun: The Jays were in New York, the writers trooped in and did our usual post-game scrum with Jim. Then we walked out and stood in a group by ourselves in an empty clubhouse, the players having gone for their post-game meal in the back room. Fregosi came out of his office, saw us huddled together like wet cattle and asked: “Who you waiting for?” We tell him we’re waiting on player so-and-so (I can’t remember who). Fregosi said: “Wait here, I’ll get him.” Seconds later Fregosi and the player appear and we interviewed him, Fregosi standing nearby. When we ended our grilling, Fregosi asked: ‘Anybody else?” We said how about so-and-so?” Fregosi says “Just a second” goes back and drags the next player out. It was a riot. The players were obviously stunned and sheepish that they could be dragged out by their boss to face the lowly press. But that’s the way Jim was. He was a big man and he cast a giant shadow. He was one of the best.”
FINALLY: Sympathies are extended to his wife, Joni, and five children: Jim Jr., Jennifer, Nicole, Robert and Lexi.
He was 101 things, including a music lover, tax expert, raconteur, soccer coach and political junkie.
Worldly as he was, he knew everyone at the park but the fill-in usher.
“I hear you really liked my pal Buck Rodgers when he managed in Montreal,” Fregosi said jabbing me in the shoulder with his right index finger Day One as the Jays manager in the spring of 1999. I nodded yes.
“Welllllll … you are going to love me.”
He was right.
George King: A Baseball Man You Wished Would Talk Forever
Tracy Ringolsby: Integrity Key to Fregosi’s success
Mark Gonzalez: Top talent evaluator left mark on game since debut in 1961
Bob Nightengale: Farewell to Fregosi
Bruce Weber: Former manager Fregosi passes
Tampa Bay Times: Obit