Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi dies at age 71

ASSOCIATED PRESS Jim Fregosi argues a play as Toronto manager in 2000.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Jim Fregosi argues a play as Toronto manager in 2000.
Posted: February 16, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - In 1992, Jim Fregosi's second year as manager, the Phillies lost 92 games. Only two teams in baseball had more losses.

Expectations, of course, were not high in 1993. No one outside the Phillies clubhouse believed the team would be any different from how they were in 1992.

Consider the forecast in Sports Illustrated's "Baseball Preview" issue that spring. That last two words are still etched in the brain of least one teenage baseball fan-turned-sports writer more than 2 decades later:

"Philadelphia's offseason acquisitions - pitcher Danny Jackson, rightfielder Pete Incaviglia- were not only insufficient; they were also infinitesimal. Inky? Dinky."

Seven months later, the Phillies capped one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history by playing in the fifth World Series the team's 111-year history. Fregosi was the captain of that ragtag team of misfits, turning a last-place team into pennant winner in the span of a year.

"Jim Fregosi was not only one of the most respected men in baseball, he was a great man," former centerfielder Lenny Dykstra said yesterday. "He had that special gift as a manager that made you want to get to the field and play your ass off for him. Jim Fregosi was the reason that 1993 was one of the most exciting years in Philadelphia sports history."

Early yesterday morning, after suffering a series of strokes, Fregosi died at age 71. His sudden death cast a somber mood through the Carpenter Complex on the second day of Phillies camp.

"This is a tough day for me," said Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa, who was Fregosi's third-base coach in '93. "He was a great person. A great person."

"Jimmy gave me an opportunity to come back and play here in Philly," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who played for Fregosi early in his career, said while choking back tears. "He's a special person. He'll always be in our hearts."

Fregosi had spent the last 13 years working as a special assistant to the general manager for the Atlanta Braves. But part of his job involved scouting opposing teams and Fregosi was a regular fixture at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., where his former Phillies family treated him as one of its own.

"I think the word for all of us in the organization is the word shocked," Phillies team president David Montgomery said. "I think that it is particularly true when you talk about Jim Fregosi, as this larger-than-life character and full of life.

"The amazing thing is that it has been since 1996 since he has been with the Phillies, and yet he has been a friend of so many of us. I had a phone conversation with John Schuerholz, of the Braves, and he said that was Jimmy Fregosi - everywhere he worked he kept in touch and was such a friend of so many people."

Fregosi's vibrant personality took over every room he entered, whether it was the clubhouse at Veterans Stadium, or in later years, the lunch room of a ballpark filled with scouts and media or a hotel lobby crowded with baseball officials during offseason meetings. He was loud and opinionated, and he'd bust a stranger's stones just as soon as he'd tease one of his players. But he was also honest, helpful and friendly.

Fregosi was beloved in the baseball community.

"Jimmy will be greatly missed," former Phillies GM Lee Thomas said. "He was bigger than life and baseball was a better game because of him."

"Jim's magnetism and larger that life personality drew people to him," said Ed Wade, the former Phillies GM and current special consultant in the front office. "Along with that outgoing spirit, Jim possessed a genuine sense of kindness and generosity. Today, we remember not only a good baseball man, but also a great human being."

"Jimmy was a very good friend of mine," former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I loved talking baseball with him because we shared a lot of the same philosophies about the game, especially when it came to managing, and we both care deeply about the Phillies. I'm going to miss him and our fishing trips together."

James Louis Fregosi was born in San Francisco on April 4, 1942. Although he is known in Philadelphia as a successful manager, Fregosi enjoyed a successful playing career after starring at Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., the same school that produced Barry Bonds, Gregg Jefferies and Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.

Fregosi, a shortstop, was a six-time All-Star with the Angels. He hit .265 in 18 seasons with the Angels, Rangers, Mets and Pirates.

Fregosi won a Gold Glove Award in 1967. In 1971, he was traded from the Angels to the Mets for four players, including righthander named Nolan Ryan.

"When asked how the Mets could have traded a young Nolan Ryan for him," former Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler recalled, "he would bellow, 'What were they thinking. Didn't they know I was done!' "

Fregosi etched his place in Philadelphia sports history 2 decades later.

Less than a month into the 1991 season, Fregosi was named the 47th manager in Phillies history. The Phillies lost 84 games that year, and 92 the next season. But when the team arrived to Clearwater in the spring of '93, there was a unified sense of purpose, despite the lack of expectations from outsiders.

"It started out the first or second day of spring training, players going out after practice and kind of making a pact that they were going to do everything possible to win," team chairman Bill Giles said. "We played harder in the spring games of '93 than any spring training I've ever seen. I remember [Darren] Daulton and [John] Kruk and those 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."

When the regular season began, the Phillies swept the Astros in Houston on the way to winning eight of their first nine games. The team went on to win 97 games, the National League East title and then capped the improbable season by toppling the heavily favored Atlanta Braves in the NL Championship Series.

"My fondest memory of all-time in my 75 years in baseball," Giles said.

The '93 Phillies were arguably the most popular team in Philly sports history. They were underdogs and castoffs who got their uniforms dirty on a nightly basis.

Like Manuel, who guided another Phillies team to a World Series 15 years later, Fregosi trusted his players to work every day but knew when to rein them in, too.

"Jimmy was the perfect manager for our team," Kruk said. "He knew exactly when to leave us alone and exactly when to jump our asses when it was needed . . . and along the way he became our friend."

"What a great leader," said Milt Thompson, one of four outfielders Fregosi employed in separate outfield platoons in 1993. "Jim led a group of guys who weren't supposed to do anything to a National League championship. He wasn't afraid to tell a player the truth and I respected him for that."

Daulton, the unofficial captain of the '93 team's sometimes-rowdy clubhouse, called Fregosi the "driving force" of the club.

" 'Fregos' was the best manager I've ever played for," Daulton said. "Our relationship was so special . . . and he was the one that taught me how to be a leader. [We] could relate to each other whether we were in the clubhouse or on the field."

The '93 team's celebrated run came to a sudden end when Joe Carter hit a walkoff home run in Game 6 of the World Series off Phillies closer Mitch Williams. In the days that followed, Fregosi was criticized for sticking with his sometimes-undependable closer.

But it can certainly be argued that if it wasn't for that loyally Fregosi showed to his players, it's doubtful the team would have had a winning season in the first place.

The one thing you learn is you're patient with your players - you never give up on them," Bowa said. "We had a lot of veterans. They got out of the gate slow. He stayed with them. To this day, the last time I saw him at alumni weekend, he said, 'If I had to do everything over again, I would do the same thing.' Mitch came in and gave up the home run. But Mitch got us there. Jimmy always let Mitch know that 'Even though we lost the World Series, the reason we were in the World Series was because of you.' He was very consistent with the players. He had everybody's respect."

In the 21 years since their unforgettable season together, the '93 Phillies have had to battle plenty of adversity and tragedies off the field.

Pitching coach Johnny Podres and bench coach John Vukovich also passed away.

John Kruk, Todd Pratt and Danny Jackson were diagnosed with cancer, and beat the disease. Daulton was diagnosed with brain cancer last spring and ace pitcher Curt Schilling underwent surgery for cancer earlier this week.

"It's tough," Bowa said.

Six months after the Phils celebrated the 20th anniversary of one of its most beloved teams, they mourned the loss of the father figure of that lovable family.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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