* Jim Fregosi managed the Toronto Blue Jays for two years, but he could also play ... 18 years in all. ... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list
By Bob Elliott
I had a Jim Fregosi baseball card decades before I met the man.
When we began collecting the new set of Topps baseball cards, I was in grade 7 at Rideau Public School in Kingston.
A friend had two cards of Bo Belinsky and needed a Fregosi card.
I had two copies of a Fregosi card but needed a Belinsky.
My friend and I asked Sherry Browne, Mrs. Browne’s Lovely Daughter (like the Herman’s Hermit’s song), the cutest gal in class to look at each card and pick the cutest player.
We agreed that after her decision, the 2-for-1 deal would be completed one way or another.
Now, Belinsky had been linked to dating women such as Ann-Margret, Connie Stevens, Tina Louise and Mamie Van Doren.
He had been engaged to Van Doren.
He was a handsome playboy. He had pitched a no-hitter. If you had asked two kids in southern California, it might have been a 5-for-1 Fregosi cards for Belinsky trade -- at the time.
Sherry Browne picked Fregosi’s card as the more handsome of the two.
Man, he loved to hear me tell that story.
And when it was over he would not say a word.
He’d just fold his arms, sit back, smirk and gaze around at those hearing the story for the first time.
HIGH SCHOOL DAYS: Fregosi graduated Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif. in 1959. The list of former Serra student athletes reads like a who’s who of sports figures. Like wide receiver Lynn Swann, class of 1970, who starred with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL and was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame, and John Robinson, a former football coach at USC.
Fregosi still holds the CAL/WCAL long jump record in a league meet at 23’ 8” set in 1959. That was the Serra record for 10 years until Swann broke it. No one has done better in the league meet. He was an All-Star quarterback, shortstop and excelled at hoops -- one of the best all-round athletes from one of the top states when it comes to producing athletes.
So is Tim Cullen of the Washington Senators, and lefty Dan Serafini of the Minnesota Twins. There were four major leaguers in the Catholic Athletic League his senior year: Ernie Fazio, who played three years with the Houston Astros, Montreal Expos popular catcher John Bocabella, Cullen and Fregosi.
Gary Hughes, former scouting director of the Montreal Expos and assistant general manager of the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins, who was also an executive with the World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
And the private Catholic school 20 minutes outside of San Francisco, named after Father Junipero Serra, was where Barry Bonds went to high school.
During Bonds’ home run streak for the single-season record in 2001, I called Fregosi to double check on all athletes and coaches, who attended class at Serra.
“Barry Bonds is probably, I say probably, the second-best athlete ever to wear the uniform of the Serra Padres,” Fregosi told me on the phone from Phoenix.
“And, who was the best?” Fregosi asked.
Fregosi paused and answered: “Well, I was.”
Fregosi had not hit a line drive since 1978 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, yet he had not lost his touch at delivering a punch line.
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AN ANGEL: The Boston Red Sox signed Fregosi in 1960, and before the year was over he was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 1960 expansion draft.
But they always showed to play.
Oh yeah, he could play.
Fregosi had his first hit in an Angels uniform Sept. 27, 1961 off Dave Sisler in an 8-6 win over the Washington Senators. He came to bat after his good pal and future GM in Philadelphia -- Lee Thomas -- in a lineup which included the likes of Rocky Bridges, Chuck Tanner, Buck Rodgers, Earl Averill, Leon Wagner (Daddy Wags), Art Fowler and Albie Pearson. He was 19.
Bobby Knoop, who coached with the Jays under Fregosi, used to say he’d go out with Fregosi at nights ... but to chaperone Thomas, Rodgers and Fregosi.
“Yeah,” said Thomas, now with the Baltimore Orioles, “and we’d chaperone Dean Chance and Belinsky.”
His final hit -- the 1,408th of his career -- came Sept. 30, 1971, his second double of the game off Jim Kaat in a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins along with the likes of Sandy Alomar, Ken McMullen, Jeff Torborg and Rudy May.
He played with the Angels for 11 seasons was named an all-star six times and won a Gold Glove.
Fregosi was selected the No. 1 player in Angels history in a fan vote held in conjunction with baseball’s 100th anniversary. He holds the franchise record with 70 career triples, while several of his other records, career games (1,429), hits (1,408), doubles (219), runs (691) and RBIs (546), were broken by Brian Downing between 1986 and 1989.
Mike Silva’s New York Baseball Digest rated the best players ever selected in the expansion draft. He reviewed players taken in the 1960, 1961, 1968, 1976, 1992, and 1997 drafts to base his order on only players productive for the expansion team that selected them.
1. Fregosi – 11 seasons with the Angels, was selected to six All Star Games, and won a Gold Glove at short. During that time, he hit 115 homers, drove in 546 runs, had an OPS of .743, and OPS+ of 116.
2. Eric Young, Colorado selected from the Dodgers – A pretty good lead-off hitter with the Rockies winning a Silver Slugger and an all-star berth.
3. Jeff Conine, Florida selected from the Royals - A member of both Marlins World Series teams, hit 120 homers and drove in 553 runs. His 114 OPS+ is better than any of his Colorado competition.
4. Vinny Castilla, Colorado, from Atlanta – A good hit/no field shortstop in the Braves system moved to third and in nine seasons with Colorado he hit 239 homers, drove in 745 runs, with an OPS of .870.
5. Jim Clancy, Blue Jays selected from the Rangers - Won 128 games in 12 seasons for the Jays, including 16 in 1982 that earned him an All Star appearance. Although he compiled a losing record for his career, Clancy gave his teams innings, and would consistency win 12-15 games.
The Angels retired his uniform No. 11.
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IS NY BIG ENOUGH?: At the end of the 1971 season, the Angels dealt Fregosi to the New York Mets in a 4-for-1 deal for Frank Estrada (who had two at-bats with the Mets, none with the Angels), Don Rose (two innings with the Mets, 42 2/3 innings with the Angels), Leroy Stanton (21 at-bats with the Mets, 2,575 the next seven seasons) and Nolan Ryan (7-11, 3.42, 97 walks, 125 strikeouts in 131 2/3 innings with the Mets 295 wins, 254, 5,221 strikeouts the rest of his career). In all, Ryan won 324 times and struck out 5,714, leading the league in strikeouts 11 times and throwing seven no-hitters on his way to Cooperstown in 1999.
Why would the Mets have made such a deal?
Fregosi moved to third, hitting .232 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 101 games, two years after hitting 22 homers with the Angels.
Outfielder Ken Singleton first met Fregosi in spring training of 1972, what Singleton thought would be his second full year with the Mets. He was traded 10 days before opening day to the Montreal Expos along with Tim Foli and Mike Jorgensen for Rusty Staub.
“What struck me immediately about Jim was how he was so relaxed,” said Singleton, now a Yankees broadcaster. “He was somewhat serious during the exhibition games and I could see he had the confidence of a veteran player. Something I had yet to attain.
“Years after, we both had finished our playing careers and he was still the same. As relaxed as ever. Always ready for the next fun thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, Jim knew baseball and he knew who could play and who were the pretenders. He was a great source of information, whether it be for a funny story or serious baseball information. I will miss him, as will many others.”
Rich Sparago of the Mets blog Rising Apple wrote after Fregosi’s passing:
“In 2009, I went to see the Mets play in San Diego. On my birthday, I decided to be a big spender, and buy seats behind the plate.
“As I was sitting there in full Mets gear (with my daughter and niece), the man sitting next to me asked me how long I’d been a Mets fan? After I responded, he said, “You may be too young to remember, but what did you think of the Ryan trade? You know, when they got that bum, Jim Fregosi.”
“I responded that in context, that trade seemed reasonable. And it wasn’t Fregosi’s fault that he was traded for Ryan, and people had maligned the guy for no reason. The man looked at me and said, “That’s nice to hear, because you’re talking to Jim Fregosi.”
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DEEP IN THE HEART OF: In July of the 1973, Fregosi’s contract was purchased by the Texas Rangers from the Mets.
The legendary DFW ball scribe Randy Galloway, now of the Randy Galloway Show starring Randy Galloway with your host ... Randy Galloway wrote “the Rangers fell behind when a routine ground ball went between Fregosi’s legs.”
The next day Galloway entered the Rangers clubhouse.
“Fregosi motions me over, doesn’t look pleased ... I’m thinking ‘oh-oh,’” Galloway said.
Fregosi said “Look Galloway, I want you to know one thing ... at my age, there is no such thing as a routine ground ball, OK?”
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HARR ME BUCKO: The Rangers dealt Fregosi to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ed Kirkpatrick on June 15, 1977 and the next June he was released.
He was set free two days after his final hit -- a double off Hall of Famer Steve Carleton in a 6-1 Pirates loss to Philadelphia.
Fregosi played 18 seasons, hitting 264 doubles, 78 triples, 151 homers and 706 RBIs. He had a career .265 average with a .736 OPS in 1,902 games.
The number crunchers at baseball-reference compared his career to the likes of Dick McAuliffe, Shawon Dunston, Roy Smalley, Phil Garner, Leo Cardenas, Davey Lopes, Damion Easley, Granny Hamner, Don Money and Juan Samuel.
Amongst shortstops, he ranks 21st when it comes to JAWS leaders for Hall of Fame consideration.
Ahead of him are Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, George Davis, Robin Yount, Arky Vaughan, Ernie Banks, Ozzie Smith, Luke Appling, Barry Larkin, Bobby Wallace, Lou Boudreau, Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese and Joe Sewell.
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HEAVENLY ANGEL: Fregosi was not out of work for long. Gene Autry, The Cowboy, brought Fregosi back to the coast to manage the Angels the next day.