Celebrating Jim Fregosi's life

* The baseball community came together for a celebration of life for the late Jim Fregosi, and hundreds came out to remember the man who spent 53 years in the game. The table Fregosi sat at in the lunch room at Bright House Field was covered by a black table cloth, chairs were removed as a rose and a picture were placed atop as a tribute. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list


Recalling manager Fregosi .... Remembering Fregosi the player

By Bob Elliott

CLEARWATER -- They came to praise Jim Fregosi.

They came to say goodbye to their pal, tell stories and share some laughs.

“There is closure now,” said Buck Rodgers.

Rodgers came to Wednesday’s celebration of life for the late Fregosi, as did hundreds of other baseball people who came across the man during Fregosi’s 53 years in the game.

Fregosi died Feb. 13 in Miami after suffering a stroke while on a Major League Baseball alumni cruise.

“He’d see me coming and say loud enough for the next area code to hear, ‘Buck Rodgers, the most overrated catcher in history, if you could throw we’d have won a few games, then he became the most overrated manager,’ ... then he’d stick out his hand and say 'how are you buddy?'” said Rodgers.

“You know right know Jimmy is on a soap box looking down and saying ‘these are the only people you could find? Those scouts behind home plate, I’ll tell you how to scout.’”

Fregosi managed the Blue Jays in 1999-2000 and for the final 12 seasons worked for the Atlanta Braves, who played the Phillies Wednesday.

Atlanta general manager Frank Wren placed Fregosi’s hat in Seat 1, Row 8, Section 111.

Fregosi’s seat.

“We’re here to celebrate his life in a joyful manner because his family, his friends in baseball and his love for the game drove this man through his life, and love of people,” Braves president John Schuerholz told the crowd of 6,808 in pre-game ceremonies as he thanked fans for coming, saying: “Thousands more would have been here if we had the room. Jim loved life, filling every room he was in with passion and love.”

As he spoke, 11 members of the Fregosi family lined up along the third base line, while 10 men wearing Fregosi’s retro uniforms from the teams he worked for were along the first base line.

“Jim loved life but cared more about all of ours. He filled many rooms with his presence, but many more with his love,” said Schuerholz. “He taught me how to listen. Of course, when Jim spoke, I had no choice but to listen.”

Schuerholz told of a plaque Fregosi gave him last year which read:

Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grace in a well-preserved body but to slide in sideways shouting, “HOLY COW, WHAT A RIDE!”

“Jim demonstrated every day that it’s far better to be passionate than to be passive,” said Schuerholz. “He had very strong opinions, which he easily and comfortably and readily shared with all of us. When someone needed lifting up, Jim was there to lift them up. He was a dear, dear friend to me, and to many of us. And he left us with so many great memories we can cherish for the rest of our lives.”

Then a touching video was shown on the scoreboard in left centre, showing Fregosi as a young player with the Angels, the Pirates, managing the Angels, the White Sox and the Phillies.

A clip was shown of closer Mitch Williams striking out Bill Pecota to eliminate the Braves in six games and put them into the 1993 World Series against the Blue Jays.

Then Williams did a fake interview with Fregosi.

“What’s it like to manage Mitch Williams, skip?”

Fregosi stuck out his tongue, coughed and grabbed his heart.

All the while Frank Sinatra’s song 'Winners' was playing.

And then a clip was shown of Fregosi managing the Phillies, arms moving dramatically.

A few in the scouts section dabbed their eyes.

Sinatra sang Joe Raposo’s lyrics:

“Here’s to the winners, lift up the glasses

Here’s to the glory still to be

Here’s to the battle, whatever it’s for

To ask the best of ourselves then give much more

Here’s to the heroes, those who move mountains

Here’s to the mountains they make us see

Here’s to the miracles they make us see.

Here’s to all brothers, here’s to all people

Here’s to the winners all of us can be.”

And then there was a moment of silence.

A scout arrived in the press box in the top of the first.

“I can’t take it down there,” he said.

“Too hot?”

“No, too emotional, I’ll watch from here. I didn’t come for the damn game anyway. I came to remember Jimmy.”

Here’s to Jim Fregosi, a winner.

Fregosi was 71 when he died.

The same age as his mother, father and sister when they passed, according to former Angels teammate Rick Reichardt, who made the drive from Gainesville, Fla.


* * *

Clyde Wright, 73 and Rodgers, 75, flew in from California.

Bobby Knoop, 75, flew in from Phoenix.

They were Los Angeles Angels teammates in the 1960s and are still pals today.

“We’re quite the combo,” said Wright. “I drove, Buck printed off directions from St. Pete’s, but he can’t see to read. So Bobby was the navigator.”

The old line when Knoop was the chaperone when Lee Thomas, Wright, Rodgers and Fregosi went out at night with the Angels.

“We tried to look after Bo Belinsky and Dean Chance,” said Thomas.

Knoop said if you asked someone what Fregosi’s main attribute was people might list 10-to-15 different ones.

“For me,” said Knoop, going to his tissue, “it was his compassion for his fellow man. He may have spoken loudly, may have been caustic, but above all he had compassion.”

A table in the Bright House Field lunch room where Fregosi often held court has been covered by a black cloth rather than the usual red or white.

The chairs have been removed.

Alone on the table sits a framed portrait of Fregosi and a red rose.

Knoop went for a look at the tribute to his old double play partner and then went to his pack of tissues.

So did others seeing it for the first time.

Wright recalls pitching winter ball for Fregosi in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

“I give up a few runs and he comes out to hook me,” said Wright. “I say why not take out Bernie Carbo -- his error cost me two runs. I was angry. Jimmy was angry. We go into his office after the game and we start grabbing each other.

“Next, we’re wrestling around the desk, banging into things.”

Wright was summoned to manager Fregosi’s office the next day.

Was he about to be sent home?


The manager had one question: “Hey Clyde ... are you as sore as I am? I’m sore all over.”

No matter the insult, no matter the issue, it was soon forgotten with Fregosi.


* * *

Gord Ash, the GM who hired Fregosi to manage the Blue Jays in 1999 after firing Tim Johnson, wore a Toronto No. 7 during pre-game ceremonies. Although Fregosi wore No. 11 everywhere he went.

The Jays figured Roy Halladay would represent them. However, Halladay spent the first two weeks working with Phillies pitchers after retiring as a Blue Jay at the winter meetings.

“This is a uniform that has never been seen before,” joked Ash. “Jimmy always wore his jacket.”

In July of 2000, the Jays returned home from a trip to Seattle where Esteban Loaiza pitched a 7-2 win over the Mariners. It was Fregosi’s 1,000th win as a manager. Ash presented Fregosi with a plaque.

“He was genuinely surprised and touched,” said Ash. “I still have the picture.”

Former Jays scout Ben McClure, now with the Brewers, said he called Phillies GM Ruben Amaro and suggested naming the lunch room at Bright House Field the Jim Fregosi Memorial Press Room.


* * *

New York Yankee scout Rick Williams was 10 years old in 1967. He was with his father, Dick, Hall of Fame manager in the Fenway Park clubhouse on the final day of the season.

The Red Sox needed to win that day and they needed the Detroit Tigers to lose to the Angels in order to clinch the AL title.

After the Red Sox edged Minnesota, 5-3, they listened on the clubhouse radio as the Angels took an 8-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Bill Freehan led off with a double. Don Wert walked, and now the tying run was at the plate.

An out later, lead-off man Dick McAuliffe, who had hit into one double play all year, came up.

“He hit a ground ball to Bobby Knoop, Jim Fregosi turned the double play to end it and the Red Sox clubhouse -- Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Lonborg, George Scott, Rico Petrocelli, Reggie Smith and Tony Conigliaro and everyone -- went crazy.”

Williams would see Fregosi at a park and get him to re-tell the story. Fregosi, re-living his days at short, Williams being 10 years old again for a few moments with his father beaming.


* * *

After pitching three years in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants, Wright was in Dunedin trying to catch on with the Jays in 1979.

“(Pitching coach) Bob Miller told me they were going to go with young guys,” said Wright. “I said OK, you’re going to lose 100 anyway. Your outfielders don’t even come in the dugout during spring games -- they sit in the bullpen down the line unless they are due up.

“They came to Anaheim and had about 88 losses. I phoned Miller and asked him to ask Roy Hartsfield if I could pitch.”

Manager Hartsfield declined.

The Jays lost 109 in 1979.

Wright said his nephews call him “Uncle Si” after the character on Duck Dynasty TV show.

Fregosi would have howled at that story and the nickname.

Or when Wright returned to the press room with a Hooter’s gal on each arm ... “this is Britney, this is Priscilla.”

The Phillies have Hooter’s girls serving as ball girls down the left and right field lines.


* * *

A post-game reception run by the Phillies’ Susan Ingersoll Papaneri drew a crowd of 300.

“It was all baseball people, no texting,” said one scout surveying the crowd underneath the tent.

At the far end, a continuous slide show of Fregosi and his family ran on a loop.

“I can’t stop watching it,” said Baltimore Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich, who played for Fregosi.

Slides of Fregosi and other Phillies at the 1994 all-star game, his 50th birthday party, hamming it up at Disney wearing Mickey Mouse ears, with Billy Koch in Blue Jays uniforms and fishing.

More slides of him at Veteran’s Stadium, of Jim, Jr., kids day at the park, father and son seated in the scout section (pop making faces behind the son) and fishing.

Video of him going into the hole at shortstop to make a play at short, gesturing wildly as he so often did, holding and kissing a baby, kissing a grandma at an autograph signing and him hitting a triple against Oakland -- oh, how we wished he was still here. I would have turned and said “now, that ball was up there a long time, that has to be caught. It landed at the edge of the track.” And he would chew me out.

Slides of the day he was born, April 4, 1942, wearing a bow tie in high school, playing football, running track and arguing with umpire Ken Kaiser.

Him kissing Phillies coach John Vukovich, him hugging Vukovich (someone behind me saying “they’re together now,” Vukovich died in 2007 at age 59), sitting with Phillies scout Charlie Kerfeld, wearing a Fred Flintstone Halloween costume and fishing.

Video of him giving radio host Chris Wheeler heck, making Wheeler’s life miserable and breaking up laughing, tackling Wheeler and tackling him to the carpet at the Vet and leaving the dugout in a Blue Jays uniform, pointing to his shoes as the Philly Fanatic dropped to his knees and kissing Fregosi’s shoes. And fishing.

There were dozens of family photos with his loving wife, Joni.

“It’s like we were invited into the Fregosi family’s life,” said Blue Jays Dennis Holmberg, who is will manage at class-A Bluefield this season.


* * *

Whether it was a lunch room in Clearwater, the press lounge at the Rogers Centre, San Diego, Atlanta or New York, Fregosi could draw a crowd.

And he did on this night.

General managers Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees, Dan Jennings, Miami Marlins, Sandy Alderson, New York Mets, Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves, Ruben Amaro, Phillies and Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals, who flew in from Phoenix, were all present.

Scouts and executives from the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Oakland A’s Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks were on hand to pay their respects.

So Fregosi batted 27-for-30 in his final plate appearance.

“Jimmy brought all these people together,” said Schuerholz on his way to the Braves front-office bus back to Lake Buena Vista.

Former Phillies Dave Hollins, John Kruk, Milt Thompson, Randy Ready, Robert Person, Davey Cash and Daulton attended.

Mel Didier, senior advisor, Perry Minasian, director of pro scouting, Sal Butera, longest serving scout, Ken Carson, former director of Florida operations, crack P.R. vice president Jay Stenhouse, Heather Connolly of baseball operations and Holmberg represented the Jays.

Former Jays employees included Hall of Famer Pat Gillick, Phillies, Bob Engle, Dodgers, Dave Yokum, White Sox, Rocket Wheeler, manager class-A Myrtle Beach, Braves, Fran Brown, Gillick’s former executive assistant, Ben McClure, Brewers scout and Ash.


* * *

Willie Lozado spent part of the 1984 season with the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1985 he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as a six-year minor-league free agent and wound up at triple-A Louisville.

Lozado was playing three days a week and was unhappy.

He knocked on Fregosi’s door. He asked for more playing time, saying he needed to play every day to get back to the big leagues.

“Let me think about it,” Fregosi told Lozado.

The next day Lozado arrived and Fregosi handed his papers: he’d been sent to double-A Arkansas.

As Lozado began to protest, Fregosi raised his hands and said “hey you wanted to play every day.”


* * *

One night after a loss in Lousville, a starter knocked on the door. Vince Coleman, who had skipped double-A and was playing in the outfield, had allowed a ball to go through his legs costing the starter a win.

“Skip, I can’t pitch with that kid in the outfield.”


“Yep, when I’m on the mound, he doesn’t play, OK?”

“No problem.”

Five games later the same starter arrived at the park, looked at the starting lineup and someone else was starting.

“Skip, what’s the deal? It’s my day to start. I’m not hurt.”

“Oh, no, you don’t want to pitch when Vince Coleman is in the outfield ... well Vince Coleman is going to play every day, you lost your start.”


* * *

This has been a rough spring ... something funny happening and thinking to myself “I have to remember to tell Fregosi ...” and then remembering he’s gone.

Or walking into every media lunch room before a game hoping he’s at this game and not another -- and remembering I’d never see him.

The other day at Dunedin, Fregosi’s former third baseman Dave Hollins from 1993 sat down and asked how things were going.

“Not good.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Now, that is a long speech for Hollins.

He went longer.

“His son Jimmy told me 10 days ago that his dad would be ticked if guys were hanging their heads and moping,” said Hollins. “He’d kick us in the butt and say ‘Time to work.’ That’s the way he was. Hearing that from Junior helped me put it in perspective. It doesn’t take away the loss, but it helps.”

That was a good message from a good man about a great man.

In a clip in the video, you could hear Fregosi’s voice for a final time.

“No matter where I go, no matter what city, a Phillies fan will come up and say 'thank you for 1993,'” said Fregosi.

A lot of people in the yard and at the reception were thankful their paths crossed with Fregosi.

Thank you.



The lineup

Joni Fregosi, children Nikki, Lexi and Robby, who threw out the first pitch.

Jim Fregosi, Jr. wife Mary, children Jim III, Katelyn and Joey.

Jennifer (Fregosi) Picker and daughter, Hope.


Representing teams Fregosi played, managed and scouted with men wearing

Angels No. 11 (1961-71, player), Lee Thomas, Baltimore Orioles scout.

Mets No. 2 (1972-73, player), Roger McDowell, Atlanta Braves pitching coach.

Rangers No. 17 (1973-76, player), Pete Mackanin, Phillies coach.

Pirates No. 29 (1977-78, player), Kent Tekulve, Pirate broadcaster.

Angels No. 11 (1978-81, manager) Bobby Knopp, Angels scout.

Triple-A Louisville (1983-86, manager), Terry Pendleton, Braves coach.

White Sox, (1987-88, manager) Greg Walker Braves hitting coach.

Phillies (1991-96, manager) Darren Daulton.

Giants, (1996-99, scout) Gary Hughes, former Sera HS teammate, Boston Red Sox scout.

Blue Jays (1999-2000, manager) Gord Ash, Brewers assistant general manager.

- Follow Bob Elliott on Twitter @elliottbaseball


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