Phillies recall fond memories of Fregosi
Larger-than-life former skipper led club to 1993 National League pennant
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Everybody knew when Jim Fregosi entered the room.
He was a big man with a big personality and a booming voice. He told great stories and never shied away from expressing his opinions -- on baseball or anything else. Nearly everybody who knew him seemed to make a connection, so the Phillies reacted accordingly Friday when they learned the manager of the 1993 National League champions died that morning following multiple strokes during a Major League Baseball alumni cruise six days earlier.
Fregosi was 71.
"These last couple days have been very difficult for the Phillies organization, the Phillies family and me on a personal basis," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, breaking down at one point. "Baseball lost a great person and a great baseball man today. Prayers go out to the family and Jimmy's many, many friends.
"Not many personalities like Jim Fregosi Sr. I'm indebted to him for a number of reasons personally. Jimmy gave me an opportunity to come back and play here in Philly. He's a special person. He'll always be in our hearts."
Fregosi's wife Joni, daughters Nikki, Lexy and Jennifer and sons Robert and Jim were at his bedside when he died.
"It's tough," said Larry Bowa, who was the third-base coach on the 1993 Phillies team. "This one caught a lot of people off guard."
"Shocked," Phillies president David Montgomery said. "I think that it is particularly true when you talk about Jim Fregosi as this larger-than-life character and [being so] 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. Jimmy's knowledge -- and he wasn't shy about letting you know about it -- on a number of subjects was amazing. The game of baseball had a huge loss today."
Fregosi played 18 seasons in the big leagues, which included six appearances on the American League All-Star team. He managed the Angels, White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays, and he spent the past 14 seasons as special assistant to the general manager with the Braves. The Phillies interviewed him in 2004 for their managerial vacancy, ultimately hiring Charlie Manuel. But there were people in the Phillies' front office who wanted Fregosi for the job.
But Fregosi will be remembered forever in Philadelphia as the manager of the wildly popular 1993 club. That team lost the World Series to the Blue Jays, but it remains one of the most popular professional sports teams in city history because of its raucous roster that included Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Mitch Williams, Pete Incaviglia and Curt Schilling, and made a last-to-first turnaround following a 92-loss season in '92.
The 1980 and 2008 Phillies teams won World Series, but the '93 team seems to have the best stories.
"I played a little golf and some cards with [Fregosi], and 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.
"He was a fun guy in addition to being a good manager. He kind of let the players do their own thing. He didn't have too many rules, and he had Darren Daulton and [Dave] Hollins kind of policing the clubhouse. I spent a few days in the trainer's room with the players having fried chicken and beer, so I'll never forget that team."
Bowa also shared a couple stories about Fregosi's time as the Phillies' manager from 1991-96.
"Vuke [John Vukovich] used to call him Jimmy Jackets," Bowa said. "Here in 1993, it was a hot summer. It would be like 100 degrees out there and [Fregosi] would have that big jacket on. Are you crazy, managing with that jacket on? He said, 'Hey, as long as we keep winning, I'm wearing this jacket all year.'
"He had a great relationship with [pitching coach] Johnny Podres. That was when the pitch count started coming into play. So if Schilling was pitching and maybe he didn't have his real good stuff early, you'd see Johnny over there -- [Schilling] would throw 10 pitches and [Podres] wouldn't click it.
"So Jimmy would say, 'How many pitches?' And [Podres would] say, 'He's got 60, he's good.' And it worked the other way, too. If [Podres] knew a guy didn't have good pitches, he'd throw a pitch and [Podres would] click that thing about 15 times. And [Fregosi would] say, 'How many does he got?' 'Well, he's up to 100. We better get him out of there.'
"They had a great relationship. And Jimmy knew what he was doing, believe me."
Amaro recalled the time his father, Ruben Amaro Sr., was trying to win a utility infielder's job with the California Angels in 1969. Fregosi was in the midst of a run of five-consecutive All-Star appearances with the Angels and had no fear of losing his job. But he liked to tell Amaro Jr. that once he saw his father take ground balls at shortstop to give him a rest during Spring Training, Fregosi said, "[Forget] that, I'm not taking another day off because that guy is going to take my job."
"That was pretty cool," Amaro said. "He's always told me that story about my dad."
There are hundreds of memorable Fregosi stories, one-liners and moments. It was not a stretch to picture baseball people around the country smiling and laughing as they recalled those stories Friday.
"He was very straightforward and honest with the guys," Amaro said. "He would jump Pete Incaviglia as fast as he would jump Ruben Amaro. It was very, very easy for him to do that. Yet at the same time he also tried to pump you up.
"He was always available. I think he had a really good feel from being on the field as long as he was. He had a really good feel for people, just a big personality, big ego, great to be around. He knew a lot about the game -- and would tell you he knew a lot about the game. But you loved that about him."