Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Jim Fregosi. Fregosi was signed by Boston Red Sox out of Junipero Serra High School in 1960, but was left unprotected and was the 35th selection of the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft of that same year. As a 19-year old he got 29 plate appearances with the big league club and then got part time duty as a 20-year old and hit .291/.356/.406. In 1963 he was the full time shortstop and hit .287/.325/.422. In 1964 he made his first of six All-Star games and on July 28 of that year he became the first Angel to hit for they cycle. He was one of if not the best hitting shortstop of that time.
In 1971 doctors discovered a tumor in Fregosi’s foot. This limited him to 107 games and his numbers dipped to .233/.317/.326. In the offseason the Angels traded their star with an uncertain future to the New York Mets for Frank Estrada, Don Rose, Leroy Stanton . . . and Nolan Ryan. As was typical for the Mets over the years, they made the wrong move. The injury bug bothered Fregosi during his time in New York and a year and a half later he was sent packing to Texas. He played better for the Rangers (111 OPS+), but was doing that as a corner infielder as opposed to a shortstop. On June 15, 1977 the Rangers sent Fregosi to Pittsburgh for Ed Kirkpatrick. The Pirates were in contention in the NL East, but fell short. Not because of Fregosi (who only got 71 plate appearances but sported a 141 OPS+), and not because the Pirates didn’t play well (they went 64-42 the rest of the way – that works out to 98 wins over 162 games), but because the Phillies went 70-33 during that same time frame, winning the division by five games over the Pirates. In 1978 the Pirates released Fregosi to give him the opportunity to pursue managerial positions, most notably the California Angels.
Later in 1978 Fregosi took over for the fired Dave Garcia as Angels manager. He guided them to a 62-54 record (87-75 overall), five games behind the Royals. The following season he led California to their first division title in franchise history, but were beaten in four games by the Orioles in the ALCS. They dropped off badly in 1980. In 1981 he was fired 47 games into the season. He returned to the big league managerial ranks in 1986 for two and a half bland seasons with the White Sox, then in 1991 he was hired to manage the Phillies. In 1993 Philly improved by 27 wins from 1992 to win their first division title in 10 years. In the NLCS they faced the 104-win Atlanta Braves. With the series tied 2-2 and Game 5 tied 3-3 in the tenth, Lenny Dykstra’s homerun off of Mark Wohlers proved to be the difference and in Game 6 Greg Maddux couldn’t get out of the sixth and the Phillies won the pennant in a shocking upset. The World Series was famously ended by Joe Carter’s homerun off of Mitch Williams.
It would also prove to be Fregosi’s last shining moment as a manger. Criticized for his perceived lack of ability to develop young players and instead depend on veterans, the Phillies slipped each of the next three years and Fregosi was gone. He did manage Toronto in 1999 and 2000, but couldn’t get the Blue Jays over the top and was done.
In February of 2014 Fregosi was on a cruise as a part of an MLB Alumni event. While on the ship he suffered multiple strokes. He was stabilized and was rushed to a local hospital in the Cayman Islands and subsequently moved to Miami. His conditioned and on Valentine’s Day he died. He was 71 years old.
He was a classic “what if” story of injuries taking their toll. So much of sports is luck. He was a good hitting shortstop, but in an era that was difficult on hitters. In his best seasons (1963-70) he hit .271/.341/.409. If you normalize those numbers to a more neutral run scoring environment, they would be equivalent to hitting .287/.361/.435.
And then there are the injuries. Here is another shortstop’s stats for the ages as Fregosi’s best years:
Not too different from Fregosi’s stats, right? That player is in the Hall of Fame. Why? Well, this player played 1,292 games during that stretch, and then proceeded to play 1,751 games afterwards. Fregosi played 1,253 games during his best stretch, but only 580 afterwards. That’s why Fregosi fell short and Cal Ripken has his plaque in Cooperstown.
Fregosi falls short of the Hall (by my HOFR formula he’s at 54.06, short of my level of 60.00), but he should be remembered for his top years as an elite player in his time.