Braves special assistant Jim Fregosi, a former All-Star shortstop and manager known for his gregarious personality and baseball acumen, died early Friday in a Miami hospital after suffering multiple strokes four days earlier.
Fregosi, 71, was taken off life support and sedated Thursday at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He was flown to Miami from Grand Cayman on Wednesday, after falling ill Sunday during a major league baseball alumni cruise from the Cayman Islands. Doctors had kept him in a Grand Cayman hospital for a few days to stabilize his condition.
Fregosi died at 2:36 a.m. Friday with his family by his side, son, Jim Fregosi Jr., told MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby.
After an 18-year playing career that included six All-Star seasons with the Angels, Fregosi managed parts of 15 seasons in the majors and had a 1,028-1,094 record with the Angels, White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays. He guided the Phillies to a 97-65 record and 1993 World Series berth after rallying from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Braves in three straight in the National League Championship Series.
Fregosi's outsized personality and sense of humor was a perfect fit for that colorful "Macho Row" Philadelphia team that featured catcher Darren Daulton, first baseman John Kruk, center fielder Lenny Dykstra and pitchers Curt Schilling and closer Mitch Williams. Phillies slugger Pete Incaviglia said at the time, "If you can't play for Jimmy, you can't play for anybody."
James Luis Fregosi was born April 4, 1942, in San Francisco, and raised in nearby San Mateo, where he was a four-sport high school star in football, basketball, baseball and track. He received multiple college football scholarship offers but opted to sign with the Red Sox for a $20,000 bonus.
After his first full minor league season, Fregosi was selected by Los Angeles Angels with the 31st pick in the 1960 expansion draft. He became the franchise's first star and is still regarded as one of the Angels' best players in club history.
He received American League MVP votes in eight consecutive seasons from 1963 through 1969 and made the All-Star team in each of the last five of those years. In 1967 he won a Gold Glove, batted .290 with a .349 on-base percentage, and was seventh in the MVP balloting. Detroit superstar Al Kaline once called him "the best shortstop in baseball."
Fregosi was a .265 career hitter with 78 triples, 151 homers and 706 RBIs in 1,902 games, including a league-leading 13 triples in 1968 and career-highs of 22 homers and 82 RBIs in 1970 -- serious power numbers at the time for a middle infielder.
After being slowed by injuries, he played mostly first base and third base in the last seven seasons of his career with the Mets, Rangers and Pirates. Fregosi was a Pirates backup in 1978 when he was released at the request of Angels owner Gene Autry, who wanted to fire mild-mannered manager Dave Garcia and replace him with the fiery Fregosi.
And that's what Autry did, turning over a veteran-laden team to a 36-year-old with no coaching or managing experience. Among the players on that Angels squad was Nolan Ryan, who'd been acquired by the Angels in one of the more lopsided trades of the decade: In 1971, a struggling Fregosi was dealt to the Mets in exchange for pitchers Ryan and Don Rose, outfielder Leroy Stanton, and catcher Francisco Estrada. At the time, Fregosi was 28 and beginning to fade, while Ryan was 25 and hadn't convinced the Mets that he'd ever be able to command his overpowering fastball.
In Fregosi's first full season as manager in 1979, the Angels won 88 games and the AL West title. Ryan left as a free agent after the season, the Angels slipped to 65 wins and sixth place in 1980, and Fregosi was fired after a 22-25 start in 1981.
Fregosi was fired by Phillies three years after their 1993 pennant win against the Braves. His last managerial job came with Toronto in 1999-2000, but he was a finalist for several more managerial openings in subsequent years. He was hired by the Braves in 2001, and spent the past 13 seasons as a special assistant to the general manager.
He was a top scout whose opinions carried a lot of weight in many Braves free agent and trade decisions.
As recently as late May 2013, the barrel-chested Fregosi was said to be a leading candidate for the Kansas City Royals managerial job if Ned Yost were fired. Yost was retained and the Royals got hot and finished with 86 wins, their best season in a quarter-century.
Fregosi's son, Jim Jr., joined the Royals' front office in October 2011 as a special assistant to general manager Dayton Moore, a former Braves assistant GM.