Fregosi, former player, manager and scout, dies at 71
Six-time All-Star for Angels spent 53 years in baseball, led Phillies to 1993 pennant
Jim Fregosi, a six-time All-Star shortstop who spent 53 years in professional baseball as a player, manager and scout, died early Friday morning, six days after suffering multiple strokes during a Major League Baseball alumni cruise.
"He passed away at 2:36 a.m. [ET]," Jim Fregosi Jr., the oldest son of the 71-year-old Fregosi, said. "Went in peace with no pain."
At Fregosi's bedside when he passed away were his wife, Joni; daughters Nikki, Lexy and Jennifer; and sons Robert and Jim. Fregosi had been taken off life-support systems slightly more than 12 hours earlier. He was airlifted from the Cayman Islands to Miami on Wednesday night after doctors had stabilized his condition.
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jim Fregosi, who contributed to the success of our clubs for 53 years as an All-Star player with the Angels, a pennant-winning manager with the Phillies, a trusted scout with the Braves and many other capacities," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "The outpouring of support in recent days illustrates the vast respect that Jim earned in a great baseball life. The many clubs that he touched are in mourning today."
Known for his strong scouting skills, Fregosi was a special assistant to the general manager for the Braves the past 13 seasons. Prior to that, he managed four teams -- the Angels, White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays -- and was a player for 18 seasons, including 11 with the Halos. Fregosi also worked for the Cardinals and Giants during his long career.
"There is not a baseball organization at work today that doesn't reflect on what's it going to be like here in Spring Training or during the season when we don't see Jimmy sitting in the press room or on the bench or being around a batting cage with his arms folded across his chest telling stories and regaling everybody about the wonders of baseball and the joy of baseball and how much he loved it," Braves president John Schuerholz said. "We're going to miss that.
"This guy had a personality and a love for the game of baseball and a love for what he did in life and the people in his life that he loved and admired. He filled the room. That is the best way I can describe this man. He's a dear friend of mine. It's a tough loss."
Originally signed by the Red Sox in 1960, Fregosi broke into the Major Leagues in September 1961, at age 19, nine months after the Angels had taken him in the Expansion Draft. He became the Halos' starting shortstop in 1963 and was an American League All-Star the following season and then in five straight seasons from 1966-70. Fregosi won a Gold Glove in 1967 and led the league in triples in 1968 with 13.
Fregosi batted .268 with 115 home runs and 546 RBIs in 1,429 games for the Los Angeles/California Angels. Part of one of the game's best double-play combinations with three-time Gold Glove second baseman Bobby Knoop, Fregosi was the franchise's first star and was selected the No. 1 player in team history in a fan vote held in conjunction with baseball's 100th anniversary in 1969. His uniform No. 11 was retired in 1998.
"His honesty, his loyalty, his passion for the game; he didn't have any tattoos, but he'd cover your back," Knoop said.
Fregosi often said his biggest claim to fame actually was that he was on the wrong end of one of the most famous trades in baseball history -- the one in December 1971 that sent him to the Mets for a group of players that included a hard-throwing young pitcher named Nolan Ryan. The Mets made Fregosi a third baseman, and his production fell, while Ryan, who had won only 29 games in his first four seasons, played another 22 seasons and finished with 5,714 strikeouts -- the all-time career record -- and 324 wins.
The Mets traded Fregosi a year and a half later to the Rangers, for whom he played parts of five seasons. He finished his playing career with the Pirates in June 1978, and the next day, he was hired to manage the Angels, reuniting with longtime friend Gene Autry, the Angels' original owner. Fregosi managed Anaheim to the 1979 AL West title, the first postseason appearance in the team's history.
"The Angels organization joins the rest of the Major League Baseball community in mourning the loss today of Jim Fregosi," the team said in a release. "His contributions and passion for the Angels, both as a player and manager, have served as the standard for others within our organization through the years. Jim was one of Mr. Autry's all-time favorite players, and a man who remained in the hearts and memories of long-time Angel fans.
"Jim's induction into the Angels Hall of Fame and the retiring of his uniform No. 11 were among the prouder moments in club history. His personality was infectious, his love of the game legendary, and his knowledge endless. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Joni, and members of the Fregosi family."
Let go as manager midway through the 1981 season, Fregosi moved on to manage the White Sox from 1986-88, then the Phillies beginning early in 1991. He spent six years with the Phils, leading them to the 1993 World Series, which they lost to the Blue Jays.
That Phillies team -- led by Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Curt Schilling and Mitch Williams -- won 97 games and beat the Braves in six games in the National League Championship Series. It was the fifth pennant in the history of what was then a 111-year-old franchise.
"The thing about Jim is he was your friend, but there [was] a line that you [didn't] cross when he [was] the manager and everyone knew the line," said left-hander Danny Jackson, who won 12 games for the '93 Phils. "He was the best manager I played for. I will never forget him and what he gave me in the short period of time we were together."
Said Phillies president David Montgomery: "Everyone in the Phillies organization is deeply saddened about the news of Jim's passing. We, and so many others in the game, have lost a dear friend. He'll be remembered for his vibrant personality, wisdom and love of the game. Our deepest sympathy is extended to his widow, Joni, daughters Nikki, Lexy and Jennifer and sons Robert and Jim."
Fregosi, who finished his managerial career with Toronto in 1999-2000, was an all-star shortstop and quarterback at Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., and he set the California Interscholastic Federation broad jump record. His high school teammates included former big league third baseman Tim Cullen and Gary Hughes, currently a special assistant for the Red Sox who has also been the scouting director for the Marlins and Montreal Expos.
Jim Fregosi Jr., who played in the Cardinals' Minor League system and has been a longtime scout, is currently a special assistant to Royals GM Dayton Moore.