Jim Fregosi, the Bay Area native who became the first star of an expansion franchise named the Los Angeles Angels and later managed them to their first division title, died Friday in a Miami hospital after suffering multiple strokes nearly a week earlier. He was 71.
He suffered the strokes last weekend while on an MLB alumni cruise in the Cayman Islands. He was removed from life support and sedated on Thursday afternoon and died about 12 hours later with his family at his bedside.
"He passed away at 2:36 a.m. (EST)," according to Jim Fregosi Jr. "Went in peace with no pain."
While he served as a special assistant to the general manager in the Atlanta Braves organization for the last 13 years, Fregosi is best known in baseball for his association with the Angels both as a player and as a manager.
His #11 is one of five numbers retired by the team, and in a poll of fans during baseball's 100th anniversary, Fregosi was voted the most popular player in franchise history.
Angels' hitting coach Don Baylor, who played for Fregosi said "He was a 'player's manager.' He knew when you needed a day off. He had the pulse of the club right away."
"He was up front with you, honest, he made it fun to play for him. He had the Angels on his chest, forehead, everywhere."
Fregosi played 18 years, hitting .265 with 151 home runs and 706 RBIs with the Angels, New York Mets, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates. He then managed for parts of 15 seasons with the Angels, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays, going 1,028-1,094 overall.
Growing up in San Mateo, Fregosi was a multi-sport athlete who actually set the state high school record in the broad jump. He also was a top-notch quarterback and shortstop at Serra High.
In 1960, Fregosi signed a free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox, but never saw the major league field for the club, as the Angels selected him in the 35th round of the expansion draft in December of 1960.
He quickly became the offensive star of a team that struggled mightily during its first decade of existence. While the Angels largely found themselves in the bottom half of the 10-team American League during the 1960s, Fregosi was the All-Star that fans could identify with.
His best season with the Halos was in 1970, when he hit .278 with 33 doubles, 22 home runs and 82 RBI in 158 games.
After the 1971 season, Fregosi became the answer to a trivia question when he was dealt to the New York Mets in exchange for four players, one of which was a 24-year-old righty named Nolan Ryan.
Fregosi never duplicated his numbers after leaving the Angels, and he played another six-plus seasons before retiring in June of 1978.
The day after he retired, owner Gene Autry brought home the then 36-year-old franchise hero to manage the team, taking over for Dave Garcia.
Fregosi then led the team to a second-place finish in the division behind Kansas City and kept them together mentally in the final week when outfielder Lyman Bostock was murdered in Gary, Ind. on September 23.
The following season, with newcomers Dan Ford and Rod Carew added to a core that included Ryan, Baylor, Frank Tanana and Bobby Grich, Fregosi led the team to its first division title in club history before losing the ALCS in four games to the Baltimore Orioles.
However, the loss of Ryan in free agency, a big drop-off in production from players like Ford and subpar seasons from others led to the Angels going 65-95 in 1980 and finishing sixth in the division behind the eventual AL champion Royals.
The Angels got off to an equally sluggish start in 1981, and Fregosi was replaced by Gene Mauch just before the 1981 players' strike.
Following three years out of the dugout, Fregosi was hired by the Chicago White Sox, where he managed through the end of the 1988 season. Three years later, the Philadelphia Phillies came calling, and Fregosi led them to the 1993 World Series, where they lost in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Toronto would turn out to be Fregosi's last stint as a manager, leading the team to third-place finishes in the AL East in 1998 and 1999.