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Jim Fregosi dies at 71; first star player in Angels history

Fregosi also was the manager who guided the Angels to their first AL West championship in 1979. He later managed the White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays, leading Philadelphia to the NL pennant in 1993.

February 14, 2014|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Manager Jim Fregosi is shown after the Angels won the American League West Division Championship in 1979.
Manager Jim Fregosi is shown after the Angels won the American League West… (Los Angeles Times )

Jim Fregosi, the first star player in Angels franchise history and the manager who guided them to their first American League West championship in 1979, died early Friday in a Miami hospital after suffering a stroke in the Cayman Islands. He was 71.

His death was announced by the Angels, who retired his No. 11 jersey and inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 1998.


FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this article said the Angels retired Jim Fregosi's jersey in 1988. It was retired in 1998.

Fregosi, a six-time All-Star, was stricken during a Major League Baseball Players Alumni cruise last weekend. He was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Wednesday and removed from life support on Thursday.

"We all knew Jim well; we're taking it hard," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said Friday. "He not only put our organization on the map with the championship in 1979, he planted a lot of seeds in our organization that are still alive and well. He was a great baseball man and a better person. We're definitely going to miss him."

Don Baylor's first day as the Angels' new hitting coach was a sad one as the former Angels slugger, who won AL most valuable player honors for that 1979 club, recalled his former manager and longtime friend.

"You never like to use the term 'players' manager,' but he was one," Baylor said. "He knew when you needed a day off. He had the pulse of the club right away. He was up front with you, honest. He made it fun to play. He had 'Angels' written on his chest, his forehead, everywhere."

Fregosi spent the last 13 years as a highly regarded scout for the Atlanta Braves, and his robust personality and treasure trove of stories made him a favorite among players, coaches, fellow scouts and media members in stadiums across the country.

"His personality was infectious, his love of the game legendary, and his knowledge endless," the Angels said in a statement. "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."

Atlanta General Manager Frank Wren said Fregosi "was involved in every player decision we made. He had so much insight, so much understanding of players and how to put teams together. He was a real valuable member of the team and just a wonderful guy."

Fregosi received one of scouting's greatest honors, the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award, at the 2011 Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner in Los Angeles.

James Louis Fregosi was born in San Francisco on April 4, 1942, and was a four-sport star at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, where he earned 11 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track.

Originally signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1960, he was selected by the Angels in the 1960 expansion draft and made his major league debut in September 1961, when he was 19.

Fregosi quickly established himself as one of baseball's best defensive shortstops, teaming with second baseman Bobby Knoop to form one of the game's top double-play combinations. He led the AL in double plays twice and won the 1967 Gold Glove Award.

In 11 seasons with the Angels, Fregosi hit .268 with 115 home runs and 546 runs batted in.

Fregosi was traded to the New York Mets in the famous 1971 five-player deal that brought future Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan to Anaheim.

He moved to third base because the Mets had a respected shortstop in Bud Harrelson. But he was sidelined by several injuries, including a broken thumb in 1972, and hit just .233 with five homers and 43 RBIs in 146 games in New York.

Fregosi was sold to Texas in 1973 and spent most of his five seasons with the Rangers as a backup before being traded to Pittsburgh in June 1977.

Fregosi was enjoying an off-day with teammates in Cincinnati, "eating ribs and chicken and having a beer," as he later recalled, when he got a call from then-Angels GM Buzzie Bavasi in June 1978 offering him a job as manager. He was 36.

"There was no doubt in anyone's mind that he would manage," said Knoop, the Angels' special assignment infield coach. "He would have played as long as he could, but if that career ended at 23, he would have managed then. He had a tremendous passion for and understanding of the game."

It was clear from the beginning that Fregosi the manager would be a favorite among players. At a news conference to announce his hiring, he was asked if he would have any team rules such as a curfew on the road.

"You know what the easiest thing is?" Fregosi responded. "If you don't have any rules, they can't break them."

The players responded, going 88-74 and winning the franchise's first division title in 1979 with stars such as Baylor, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Brian Downing, Ryan and Dave Frost. The Angels lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL championship series.

Fregosi was fired during the strike-shortened 1981 season. He went on to manage the White Sox (1986-88), the Philadelphia Phillies (1991-96) and the Toronto Blue Jays (1999-2000) and led the Phillies to the National League pennant in 1993.

Fregosi had a 1,028-1,095 record in 15 years as a major league manager, including a 237-249 mark in his three seasons (1979-81) in Anaheim.

Fregosi is survived by his second wife, Joni; his sons Jim Jr., a special assistant to the GM of the Kansas City Royals, and Robbie; and his daughters Jennifer, Nicole and Lexy.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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