Jim Fregosi, '93 Phillies manager, dies at 71

Posted: February 16, 2014

Jim Fregosi, 71, a baseball lifer who guided an eccentric Phillies team from last place to National League champions in 1993 and parlayed an all-star playing career into four managerial jobs and an influential scouting position, died Friday morning.

Mr. Fregosi suffered multiple strokes last week during a Major League Baseball alumni cruise and was airlifted from the Cayman Islands to a Miami hospital, where he was taken off life support Thursday.

"He had that special gift as a manager that made you want to get to the field and play your [butt] off for him," said Lenny Dykstra, one of his former players. "Jim Fregosi was the reason that 1993 was one of the most exciting years in Philadelphia sports history."

"The outpouring of support in recent days illustrates the vast respect that Jim earned in a great baseball life," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Mr. Fregosi is credited with finding a way to lead the rowdy, volatile 1993 roster to 97 victories before losing to Toronto in a six-game World Series. His loyalty to those veteran players and foresight to allow their self-policing is retold again and again as Philadelphia legend.

"It was a team that nobody expected to win," said Larry Bowa, the third-base coach in 1993. "That was almost like a miracle that he kept everybody together."

"He brought me my fondest memories of all-time in my 75 years of baseball, winning the pennant in 1993," Phillies chairman Bill Giles said. "I'll always remember him for that."

Mr. Fregosi spent 53 years in the game. In recent seasons, his interaction with Phillies officials occurred in the small cafeteria at Bright House Field during spring training in Clearwater, Fla. Mr. Fregosi, the Atlanta Braves' top scout for the last 13 years, held court with fellow scouts, executives, and reporters at a table in the middle of the room. Phillies president David Montgomery described Mr. Fregosi as "this larger-than-life character."

Mr. Fregosi inherited a moribund Phillies team in 1991. His predecessor, Nick Leyva, was fired 14 games into the season. The Phillies finished 20 games back in 1991 and 26 back in 1992. They were expected to accomplish as little in 1993 after the seemingly unexciting addition of Danny Jackson, Pete Incaviglia, Milt Thompson, Jim Eisenreich, and Larry Andersen.

But Mr. Fregosi installed Darren Daulton and Dave Hollins as clubhouse leaders. He permitted his manic team freedom. The results immediately took.

"We played harder in the spring games of '93 than any spring training I've ever seen," Giles said. "I remember Daulton and [John] Kruk and these guys, particularly when we played the Yankees, play like it was the seventh game of the World Series. I've never seen a team play as hard as they did in '93 and it set the tone for the season."

Mr. Fregosi was highly regarded for his biting honesty, dedication to the game, and unwavering loyalty. Bowa last saw Mr. Fregosi during the team's annual alumni weekend last summer, and said Mr. Fregosi remained steadfast that his strategy in using closer Mitch Williams instead of Roger Mason in the ninth inning of World Series Game 6 in 1993 was correct. Joe Carter's historic, series-ending home run fueled a generation of nightmares in Philadelphia.

"He trusted everyone to do their jobs," Williams said. "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 ninth and go up the tunnel and smoke and say, 'Let me know when it's over.' "

Mr. Fregosi was both loved and hated by the city's fans in the years following 1993. He privately criticized the listeners of a local sports-talk radio station using crude language and the 1994 rant was leaked to the station. The Phillies fired him following a dismal 67-95 season in 1996 when Mr. Fregosi engaged his general manager and longtime friend Lee Thomas in a public feud. The two men rekindled their friendship years later.

Mr. Fregosi was born April 4, 1942 in San Francisco and graduated from the same San Mateo, Calif., high school that later produced Barry Bonds, Lynn Swann, and Tom Brady.

He played 18 seasons for four teams - his best years with the California Angels - and made six all-star teams before turning 29. The New York Mets traded four players, including a young prospect named Nolan Ryan, to California for Mr. Fregosi in 1971.

"He was a very good player, but he never bragged about what he did," Bowa said. "The only thing he would say is, 'I don't know what the Mets were thinking about. I was done when they made that trade.' "

The Pittsburgh Pirates released him June 1, 1978, and Mr. Fregosi began managing the Angels the very next day. He led them to the American League West title in 1979. He managed four teams, none longer than the six seasons with the Phillies, and compiled a record of 1028-1094 in 15 years.

Following a two-year stint as manager in Toronto, Mr. Fregosi served as a special assistant to the general manager in Atlanta for 13 years and was a key voice in the Braves' decision-making until his death.

Mr. Fregosi is survived by his wife, Joni; three daughters, Nicole, Lexi, and Jennifer; and sons Robert and Jim Jr.


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb inquirer.com/phillieszone

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