Apr 4, 2016

Former Italian / American Mets Player: Jim Fregosi (1972-1973)

James Louis Fregosi was born on April 4, 1942 in San Francisco, California. 

The six foot one right hand hitter was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 190. He was then drafted away by the newly formed Los Angeles Angels in the 1960 expansion draft.

In the first decade of the Angels existence, Fregosi was the team’s first star player & the teams most popular figure. 

Fregosi was one of the best all around short stops of the sixties, in a time where he position had many light hitters.

Fregosi won a Gold Glove in 1967 & was teamed up with second baseman Bobby Koop, to form one of the league’s best double play combos. In 1967 they became only the third middle infield duo to both win Gold Glove Awards. They would lead the AL in double plays turned twice. As for Fregosi, he led the league in games played three times & assists once time.

Along with all the good plays  chances, comes the errors at that position & Fregosi was in the Top three percent of the league in that category five times from 1963-1968.

As mentioned he was also a good hitter & one of the Angels earliest stars. In 1963, Fregosi hit .287 (ninth in the AL) came in second in the league in triples (12) and was fifth in hits (170) for the ninth place club.

In 1964 he made the first of six All-Star squads while batting .277 with 18 HRs 22 doubles a 369 on base % & 72 RBIs. That year he received his highest ranking for the MVP Award (13th), it must be noted he was considered in the top 30 votes eight straight years.

On July 28, 1964, he became the first Angels hitter to hit for the cycle, it came in a game against the AL New York team in a 3-1 victory. That game was won by picher; Dean Chance, the 1964 Cy Young Award Winner, another L.A. Angels early star player. Fregosi would hit for the cycle again four years later.

He remained consistent the next two years driving in over 65 runs, with 15 & 13 HRs respectively. In 1966 he played in every game, hitting 13 HRs with 7 RBIs & a career high 32 doubles. He would hit over thirty doubles twice & have twenty or more doubles seven times in his career.

In 1967 his HR total fell below double figures for the first time since becoming a regular player. But he hit for a career best .290 (seventh in the league) with a .349 on base % 9 HRs 23 doubles & 56 RBIs.

The next year he led the league in triples (13) but his average fell to just .244 as his all around productivity fell off just as moa hitters, in the '"Year of the Pitcher" (9 HRs 21 doubles & 49 RBIs). He also struck out over 100 times (101) for the third time in his career. He would post 1097 Ks in his career.

In 1969 he improved to .260 with 12 HRs, 22 doubles & 47 RBIs while playing in 161 games.

In 1970 he had his best season, with career highs in HRs (22) doubles (33) RBIs (82) & runs scored (95) while batting .278 with a .353 on base%.

That season the Angels finished third behind the Minnesota Twins & Oakland A's. It was the teams second straight season posting a third place finish, as they went 86-76.

In 1971 Fregosi missed some playing time when he was diagnosed with a tumor in his foot. In 107 games he hit .233 with 5 HRs 15 doubles & 33 RBIs.

Meanwhile, the New York the Mets were looking for a solution for their third base problems. The team was plagued with issues at the hot corner since their 1962 inaugural season. The organization still wasn’t sold on Wayne Garrett as it's solution., while the acquisitions of Joe Foy (1970) & Bob Aspromonte (1971) never worked out.

The Angels weren’t sure about Fregosi's health and certainly liked what they saw in he Mets young flame thrower Nolan Ryan. Ryan wasn't happy in New York & wasn't Gil Hodges most popular pitcher on a talented staff. Although he had some shining moments he was sill wild & had a lot of walks. The Mets needed power in their lineup, Manager Hodges was also perusing Montreal's Rusty Staub. He laid the ground work for a trade that would also bring him to New York for the 1972 season.

On December 10th 1971 a deal was worked ou, Jim Fregosi was sent to the New York Mets in exchange for Nolan Ryan Leroy Stanton, Frank Estrada, & Don Rose.

Fregosi left the California franchise as one of their best players up to that point in the teams history. He eventually had his uniform number retired there, & held the franchise record in triples (70) ranking high on the Angels all time list in games played, hits, doubles, & RBIs.

For the New York Mets it was to become known as one of the worst trades the organization would ever make. Nolan Ryan certainly wasn't happy in the big city of New York & even considered retiring if he wasn't traded. One can only imagine how the staff would have been with Ryan in his prime along with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman & Jon Matlack through the seventies.

Fregosi made his Mets wearing uniform #2, debuting as their 1972 Opening Day third baseman batting in the sixth position. On this somber rainy New York afternoon, the Mets retired Gil Hodges uniform #14 in pre game ceremony. That Spring, Hodges passed awa from a fatal heart attack, shocking the organization.

In his first Mets a bat, Fregosi dobled off the Pittsburgh Pirates; Doc Ellis driving in Rusty Staub with the season's first run. Tom Seaver led he Mets to a 4-0 rain shortened win ha day. A week later, Fregosi hit his first Mets HR in a 8-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium.

On April 26th he led Tom Seaver to his third straight victory & the team to a 5-1 win at San Diego hitting a three run HR off the Padres Bill Grief.

On May 7th he contributed to a five run Mets home 8th inning, hitting an RBI double & scoring on a Duffy Dyer double. In this game the Mets came from behind 6-0 to beat the Padres 7-6 in ten innings. Fregosi had a seven game hit streak in mid May & actually got his average up above the .300 mark for a short time. But soon he began to get sidelined by several injuries including a broken thumb.

One of his biggest days as a Met came on June 27th in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium. Fregosi hit a three run HR & drove in five runs leading the Mets to a 7-4 win. At the All Star break he was batting .238 with only five HRs, as the Mets were in second place 5 ½ games back of the Pirates. Between the injuries & batting slumps Freosi didn't hit any more HRs & drove in five more runs all year.

On the field he struggled at third base defensively, making 15 errors in 85 games (.935 fielding %). Overall in 101 games he hit a dismal .232 with 5 HRs, 15 doubles a .311 on base % & 32 RBIs, certainly not what the Met fans were expecting.

He soon heard the Shea boo birds and got pounded by the media, as did the organization, especially as Nolan Ryan kept throwing no hitters & striking out batters in Southern California.

Fregosi started out 1973 as the opening day third baseman once again, he stared out he year with three hits in the first two games & was batting .226 at the end of April. He drove in runs in three straight games in May, all Mets losses. He began to see less playing time  was batting under .200 at the end of May.

His stay wouldn’t last too much longer & he would be long gone before the Mets won the NL Pennant. After 45 games in he '73 season, he still didn’t have a HR, and was hitting just .238 with 11 RBIs. The Mets had enough, on July 11th 1973 Fregosi was sold to the Texas Rangers and Wayne Garrett took over third base having his best season at third base.

The Fregosi trade haunted the Mets for years and still does for long time fans like myself.

Supposedly the trade made the Mets brass to scared to even pull the trigger on a trade for slugger Jimmy Wynn after the 1973 pennant season. They badly needed another power hitter RBI man like "the toy cannon" Jimmy Wynn, but they did nothing. They did not want to part with any of their young pitching talent in fear of what happened with the Ryan trade.

Trivia:  Wynn went on to hit 32 HRs (third in the NL) in 1974 with 108 RBIs (4th in the NL) and heled lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series.


Fregosi was now in his early thirties and would play a third base, short stop as well as first base with the Rangers from 1973-1977. He saw the most action (77 games) in 1975 bating .262 with 7 HRs 33 RBIs for Billy Martin & Frank Lucchesi for the third place Rangers.

He was then was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Ed Kirkparick in June 1977.

By 198 his old boss, Angels owner; Gene Aury, wanted him for the teams manager. The Pirates released him, so he could pursue the opportunity.

 
In his 18-year playing career, Fregosi batted .265 with 1726 hits, 151 HRs, 706 RBI, 264 doubles, 715 walks a .338 on base % & 78 triples in 1902 games played.

At short stop he played 1396 games (70th all time)  turning 836 double plays (64th all time) with 4169 assists & 2397 put outs (both 73rd all time).


Retirement: In 1978 he became the California Angels' manager at just 36 years of age. Fregosi went 62-55 in 117 games at the helm, and tied with his old Texas Rangers team for second place behind the Kansas City Royals. 

In 1979 he led the Angels to a 88-74 record, winning the franchise’s first AL West title. They would go on o lose the ALCS to the Baltimore Orioles. After Nolan Ryan's departure from California at the end of the season, the club dropped back into sixth place in 1980. In the first half of the 1981 strike shortened season, Fregosi was eventually replaced by Gene Mauch.

In 1986 he got another chance to manage, this time with the Chicago White Sox, replacing Tony LaRussa. Fregosi led the Sox to three straight fifth place finishes & was released there after the 1988 season.

In 1991 he returned to managing, this time in the NL with the Philadelphia Phillies. After a sixth place 1992 season, he led the Phils to their first World Series berth since 1950. They won 97 regular season games, shocked the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS but lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series is six games.

Fregosi was always a target for the Philadelphia media in those Phillie days. He was especially criticized for relying too much on veteran players. After posting losing seasons through the next two seasons he was replaced by Terry Francona in 1997. His last managing job came with the 2000 Toronto Blue Jays.


After that Fregosi became a long time scout and most recently was special assistant to the GM for the Atlanta Braves.

In February 2014 he suffered a series of strokes while on an MLB alumni cruise. He was placed on life support in a Miami hospital. On February 13th he was taken off life support & passed away the next day, he was 71.


Honors: At Spring Training 2014, in Clearwater, Florida Fregosi & his family were honored by the Phillies. Former Phillies he managed; Mickey Morandini, John Kruk , Darren Daulton & Milt Thompson were on hand. Ten different baseball people that day wore uniforms to honor the organizations where Fregosi had played or managed.

Lee Thomas wore Fregosi's California Angels jersey while Roger McDowell donned a New York Mets uniform top and Pete Mackanin a Texas Rangers one.

Kent Tekulve (Pittsburgh Pirates), Bobby Knopp (Angels), Terry Pendleton (Louisville Redbirds), Greg Walker (Chicago White Sox), Gary Hughes (San Francisco Giants) and Gordon Ash (Toronto Blue Jays).

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