The world of Major League Baseball was saddened today to learn of the passing of the great Jim Fregosi. Fregosi spent over 50 years as a part of America’s grandest pastime. He was beloved by all who knew him, and respected as one of the great minds of the game. Fregosi’s love and passion of the game will forever label him as a true Angel among men.
Fregosi got his start in the majors at the young age of 19. He was originally a pick of the Boston Red Sox, but never played an inning for them. He was selected in the expansion draft in 1960 by the new franchise out west, the Anaheim Angels. Fregosi became an instant sensation for the new expansion team. He revolutionized the role of a shortstop, adding power and hitting prowess to a position that had until then been lacking it. In his eleven seasons with the Angels, Fregosi hit a whopping 546 runs while adding 115 homers on the way to batting .268. His defense was not too shabby either. While an Angel, Fregosi led the league in double plays turned in a year twice and won the Gold Glove in 1967. His dominance on both sides of the ball earned him six trips to the All-Star game.
Injuries plagued Fregosi at the end of his stint with the Angels, and he was traded to the Mets in 1971, for a then little known player named Nolan Ryan. Fregosi spent the next 8 seasons bouncing around the majors, battling injuries and eventually becoming a bench player. Though he played among some great men while with the Mets, Rangers, and Pirates, he remained an Angel at heart.
In 1978, a mere 20 games into his last season as a player, Fregosi was dealt the final blow. He injured his arm while the Pirates were playing a game in Cincinnati. Unsure of his future, he took a call from his old buddies the Angels. General Manager Buzzie Bavasi offered Fregosi the managing job for Anaheim. To the pure joy of all Angel fans, he took it.
The prodigal son returned to the Angels as one of the youngest managers in the game. At 36 years old, he gave the franchise where it all started for him their first taste of real success. He led a group of players that included Angel legends Don Baylor, Rod Carew, and Bobby Grich to the franchise’s first division title. Though they lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League championship series, it was a huge step forward for a team that was still in its infant stage. The Angels retired his number and placed them in their Hall of Fame in 1988 as a way of thanking him for all he had done.
Fregosi’s management style never meshes with Angel’s owner Gene Autry, and in 1981 he was fired. He went on to manage the White Sox, the Phillies, and the Blue Jays. The highlight of his management career came when he led a ragtag bunch of no names in Philadelphia to the National League pennant in 1993. Fregosi retired from managing in 2000. For the last fourteen years of his life he was one of the best talent scouts in the game.
Unfortunately, during a MLB alumni cruise on February 11, Fregosi suffered a fatal stroke. He was airlifted to Miami, but nothing could be done to save him. Fregosi was pulled off life support on Thursday and died on Valentine’s Day. His immediate family as well as his baseball family will forever mourn the loss of such a great man. Truly, Jim Fregosi was an Angel among men.
By Chris Chisam