Yet it was extremely memorable for me thanks to being able to spend time with Jim Fregosi. And I mean considerable time.
When you’re on the beat, you are with the manager more than just about anyone during the season, and that includes wives and girlfriends. Fregosi, who took over Sox manager in mid-’86, was a trip. He is high on the list of my all-time favorite people to cover in the sports.
Fregosi was fun and entertaining, with a seemingly endless array of stories, baseball and otherwise. He also was extremely well read, which made him have strong opinions on just about everything.
Back then, writers still were allowed to fly on the charters. I used to go up front and talk to Fregosi. He used to call me “Baseball Ed,” because I always was asking questions about the game. He would teach me about baseball, politics or the stock market. It was quite an education.
Fregosi was fired after the ’88 season and I moved on to cover college football. However, our paths crossed again when I covered the Cubs season opener in Philadelphia in 1992. Fregosi, who managed the Phillies, was thrilled to see me and Dave van Dyck, who then was working for the Sun-Times. He quickly informed us that he had given up smoking.
Well, it turned out to be a rough day for Fregosi. Not only did the Phillies lose, his big star, Lenny Dykstra, got hit by a pitch and promptly went on the disabled list.
After the game, van Dyck and I were waiting for a cab when Fregosi drove up.
“Where are you going?” he said.
When he heard we were headed for the airport, he said, “Jump in, I’ll give you a ride.” He then joined us for a drink at the bar, where he immediately pulled out a cigarette.
“What happened? I thought you quit smoking?” I said.
“Screw that,” Fregosi said. “I just lost my best player in the first game of the season.”
Classic Fregosi. RIP, old friend.
Ross Newhan, who covered Fregosi when he was a young star with the Angels, recalled one of baseball’s unique characters at his site.
I hope it is not corny, on this Valentine’s Day, to say that he lived his baseball and family life with a big heart, and I am saddened (how trite is that?) to think I will not be bumping into him in Anaheim and other ballparks, no longer exchanging phone calls, often just to say hello or listen to his latest story.
He was good at that, telling stories from a vast storehouse, and enjoyed interacting with the baseball scribes, his and my early years being a different time in the game, fewer microphones and cameras, no cell phones and internet, an easier breeding ground for trust between players and the men who covered them.
Mark Gonzales in the Chicago Tribune had this passage in his obit:
“He was really larger than life,” said childhood friend and longtime baseball evaluator Gary Hughes after learning that Fregosi, 71, died Friday after suffering a stroke earlier this week during a cruise in the Caribbean.
Hughes, a special assistant with the Red Sox, knew Fregosi from more than just their days playing in a Babe Ruth League in Redwood City, Calif.
The affable and opinionated Fregosi touched many lives, from schoolmates that he would join for fishing expeditions in the Seattle area, to former teammates and executives, to concierge lounge workers at hotels that he would tip generously during scouting missions.
“He took care of a lot of people, and he never made a big deal about it,” Hughes said. “He was the life of the party. You never had to worry about what his opinion was.”