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 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 in 1998.
Fregosi, who spent the last 13 years as a highly regarded scout for the Atlanta Braves, 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.
"This is really shocking, very sad news," Atlanta General Manager Frank Wren said. "Jim 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, one who always brightened up your day because he loved the game, he loved life."
Fregosi, who was a special assistant to Wren, received one of scouting’s greatest honors, the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award, at the 2011 Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner in Los Angeles.
"Every scout loved him â he was a legend in the game," said Dennis Gilbert, the Chicago White Sox executive and founder of the scouts foundation. "He was a hero for scouts, a really good friend, and as a kid, he was my favorite player growing up. He was the heart and soul of those Angels clubs."
Fregosi was born in San Francisco on April 4, 1942, and was a three-sport star at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, where he was all-league in football, basketball and baseball.
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 and made the All-Star team six times.
Fregosi was traded to the New York Mets in December 1971 in the famous 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. Only 36 at the time, Fregosi called his wife, Jan.
"I said I hurt my arm in the game last night, and I’ll be coming home," Fregosi said in 1978. "She said, ‘Coming home?’ I said, "Yeah, my arm is bad. I think I’ll come home and probably manage the Angels.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m coming home to manage the Angels.’ And she started crying."
Fregosi, who finished his playing career with a .265 average, 151 homers and 706 RBI in 18 years, said that he got the inspiration to manage from Bill Rigney, who managed the Angels from 1961 to 1969, the first nine years of their existence. "Just talking with him about baseball, I got very interested in managing," Fregosi said.
It was clear from the beginning that Fregosi 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.
Jim Fregosi was a ballplayer's ballplayer, then a manager's manager, and most recently a scout's scout. Respected in all areas of the game.
"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 their first division title in 1979 with stars such as Don Baylor, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Brian Downing, Ryan and Dave Frost. The Angels lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL championship series.
Fregosi, who didn’t see eye-to-eye with then-Angels Owner Gene Autry, 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 wife, Joni; his sons Jim Jr. and Robbie and his daughters Jennifer, Nicole and Lexy.