A Look Back at Jim Fregosi

Jim Fregosi's number 11 was retired by the Anaheim Angels in 1998.
Jim Fregosi’s number 11 was retired by the Anaheim Angels in 1998.

By Will Martin

Lucky is the person who is able to live a life filled with dreams, aspirations, passion, support, and good people who help mold you along the way.

The impact may be over time, a mere moment, or at a chance gathering under the weirdest of circumstances.

Years ago the lesson once imparted to me was that: There are NO ordinary moments.

This would come to be a source of enlightenment in my high school years when in the course of four years and three high schools would be attended from New Jersey to Illinois to California.

Nothing lasts forever and the clock was always running. Way too fast for my liking!

Here in North Texas there is a resurgence going on at the Hill in Park Cities with the re-emergence of SMU Basketball ranked in the Top 25. That has not happened in 29 years. March 12th to be precise. March 1985 would also prove to be a random moment with a person who needed gas.

Anaheim, California after 10 in the evening. One mile from Anaheim Stadium three years removed from high school. One week after having turned 21. In between doing the restaurant thing and pumping gas one block from home for a Chevron store it was about that time to read the meters and reset the pumps before starting a new set of rounds for gas consumption by the customers.

There was a self serve and a full serve. For some reason after ten pm fun always began when people would drive into full serve thinking they could do it alone. On this night there would be an incident of that.

It was a warm March night as an old 70’s kind of vehicle in white-I want to say a Cutlass or a Ford-rumbled in. In addition to parking in Full Serve we were unable to use credit card machines.

The driver of this vehicle was none too pleased when he was unable to use his credit card. His mood was somewhat surly upon exiting his vehicle. It was then up to me to explain that a gas station attendant was to do the pumping, not he himself.

‘Fine! Go for it!’ barked the somewhat agitated driver whom I now recognized yet I stayed quiet and said nothing, yet.

‘And while you’re at it all I have is a 100 so you better be able to make change!’ smirked the driver in a white tee shirt, hair slicked back and still not displaying a smile.

‘Not a problem, sir. How’s junior doing by the way?’ I asked.

‘He’s doing well as far as I know. You know my son?’

‘Know him? If I said I saw him almost daily at school my senior year in Orange County would that qualify as a yes?’ said the gas pumper (me).

‘Indeed it would!’ said the driver now cracking a smile.

‘And while we’re at it why couldn’t Baltimore have left Don Stanhouse out to face one more batter in that Game 2 six years ago? You’d be tied 9-9 and maybe forcing a Game 5 in Baltimore!’

Now this driver who entered my gas station fuming began chuckling looked quizzically at me and said, ‘You remember that?’

My response should surprise no one. ‘As sure as your birthday is April 4th. The day Hank tied Babe 11 years ago!’

‘Jesus Christ kid, you’re wasting your time here. You ARE a fan!’ Said the driver.

‘Indeed I am Jim Fregosi. Indeed I am.’

That conversation indeed happened between myself and Jim Fregosi the week of March 20th 1985 at a Chevron gas station of Katella and Haster streets in between Anaheim Stadium and Disneyland almost 29 years ago. We shook hands and that was that!

While getting out of school early that calendar year of 1982 (and getting the GED five months later) my senior year of high school was spent at El Modena in Orange.

Among some of my classmates were a young man with a great football future before an ankle break as a USC Trojan (at Michigan State in 1987)-Rex Moore. The son of Righteous Brother Bill Medley (Darren) who was quite the drummer and yes Jim Fregosi Jr. were all classmates of mine.

The last time I spoke with Jim Jr. was October of 1992. A high school football game with Tustin and Orange was going on. Jim Fregosi Jr. and Rowdy Mott were at the game and both were gracious enough to go live with me at halftime of a 6-0 Orange victory.

Jim Fregosi  passed away early this day after a set of strokes earlier in the week. He was 71.

The answer to a long forgotten trivia question: Who was the Angels player traded for Nolan Ryan back around 1971? How ironic that Jim Fregosi would then proceed to manage Nolan one decade later.

The 1979 Orioles were a team loaded with talent. Had Game 2 of the playoffs not started off so poorly for the Halos-a 9-1 deficit that was narrowed to 9-8-still a defeat…Game 5 in Baltimore could have been interesting.

Instead it was Game 4 and the Doug DeCinces show in an 8-0 whitewash of California. The 1979 Angels were a team that truly the demeanor of the Angels skipper. He had playing stints in Pittsburgh, New York, one of the originals with the LA/CA Angels, and Texas. Also managerial stops in Anaheim, Chicago (White Sox), Philadelphia, and Toronto. A 1993 World Series visit with the Phillies came up a bit short. That was an amazing team with stars young and old.

Larry Bowa coached under Fregosi in the 90s. He laments his loss and his managerial style.

“It’s unbelievable,” Larry Bowa said. “I was shocked. This guy is a baseball lifer.”

About that 1993 run from worst to first?

“That might have been the most tremendous job ever,” Bowa said. “So many of those guys were at the end of their careers, but something special evolved. He was a players’ manager, and he let them police the clubhouse. He really trusted Dutch [Darren Daulton] and Dave Hollins to take care of things, and they had so much respect for him, they did the job.”

His last 13 years were spent advising with the Atlanta Braves. Son Jim Jr. does the same with the Kansas City Royals.

Come to think of it, my classmates at El Modena. Jim Jr., Rowdy Mott (Whose dad coached for the longest time there for the Vanguards), even Darren Gallena reminded me of the ‘old school’ approach Jim senior had for the game.

A fighter, a warrior, a competitor and an absolute great baseball mind. One final memory I have of Jim Fregosi was in June of 1980. The Angels that year were decimated in injuries and were on their way to a 6th place finish. A three game series was about to begin with the Yankees.

That Friday night there was a call that didn’t go the way that Fregosi would have liked. Saturday was a Game Of The Week feature on NBC. During the lineup exchanges¬†an ump brought up something and there was Fregosi getting physically restrained and ejected before the game even began!

Having seen that scowl I know how intimidating that could be. The year I moved to the OC from Illinois was Jim’s last with the Halos (1981).

When telling this news to a friend of mine the friend said, ‘Sad. Time marches on and you never know when you’ll get that tap on the shoulder. Live each like it’s your last. If you do it right you’ll be remembered by everyone-including God.’

Well said Pat Obenshain…Well said.

Condolences to the Fregosi family.