Jim Fregosi, the former Phillies manager who led the team to the National League pennant in 1993, suffered a severe stroke earlier this week during a Caribbean cruise, and as the team opened spring training there was a palpable sadness among the many people who know him so well.
This is the time of year and the place where so many Phillies employees renew their acquaintance with Fregosi. He lives in this area and much of his spring-training scouting work in his role with the Atlanta Braves is done inside the Phillies' Grapefruit League ballpark.
"It sounds very bad," team chairman Bill Giles said as he ate lunch.
By nightfall, the news had worsened. Multiple sources said Fregosi, 71, had been removed from life support at a Miami hospital. Earlier, there were reports that he had died.
"It's unbelievable," Larry Bowa said. "I was shocked. This guy is a baseball lifer."
Bowa, in his first season as Ryne Sandberg's bench coach, was Fregosi's third-base coach from 1991 through 1996, and he marveled at the way he handled the aging veterans who made a worst-to-first run all the way to the World Series in 1993.
"That might have been the most tremendous job ever," Bowa said. "So many of those guys were at the end of their careers, but something special evolved. He was a players' manager, and he let them police the clubhouse. He really trusted Dutch [Darren Daulton] and Dave Hollins to take care of things, and they had so much respect for him, they did the job."
Lee Thomas, the general manager who hired Fregosi to replace Nick Leyva as Phillies manager after just 13 games in 1991, first met his longtime friend after being traded to the Los Angeles Angels early in the 1961 season.
"We've been friends for more than 50 years," Thomas said from his home in St. Louis. "I just can't believe this. Jimmy is the most indestructible man I know."
Thomas fired Fregosi at the end of the 1996 season, and the relationship between the two became badly strained during that season. Only in recent years had they patched things entirely and renewed the closeness they had felt as young teammates.
"We had some differences, especially in Philadelphia at the end," said Thomas, who now works as a special adviser to Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette. "We made up over that four or five years ago, and we never even talked about it anymore."
The two friends had an especially good time last August when the Phillies honored the 1993 team during their alumni weekend.
"What people don't realize is that Jimmy is still a force in baseball," Thomas said. "He's a big part of the Atlanta organization, and he can tell you about any player in the game."
The thought of not seeing Fregosi inside the lunch room at Bright House Field when spring-training games begin later this month was a jarring blow to Chris Wheeler, the longtime Phillies broadcaster.
"I was thinking about it as I sat in that room today," Wheeler said. "He'd sit at that table in the back and hold court. He'd attract people just because of the way he was. I'd go over there for the first time every spring after not seeing him and he'd give me [a hard time] and turn away. Then he'd look at me with that big smile and give me a hug."
Wheeler said he remembers so many things, too, especially from that magical 1993 season.
"One of the most vivid things I'll remember about him was the way he could draw the line with that bunch," Wheeler said. "He'd always be playing cards with the veteran guys, but when the bus got there, the card games stopped. . . . The mask came down, and he was their boss again. The fun was over, and it was time to go play baseball."