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Gallagher made a believer out of Jim Fregosi

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Dave Gallagher defined the blue-collar, lunch pail toting types that populate spring training every year. He did not have the one dominant skill that made heads turn during batting or fielding practice, but quietly got the job done with his steady play across the board. In 1988, Gallagher entered the Chicago White Sox camp with one last chance to make it in professional baseball; he just needed a believer. He found one in manager Jim Fregosi, but his conversion did not come easily.

“He believed in me in the time that I needed it,” said Gallagher via telephone from his home in New Jersey about Fregosi who passed away Friday morning in Miami due to complications from a stroke he suffered earlier in the week.

By the time Gallagher reached the White Sox, his baseball career was on life support. He had the type of résumé that scouts had long written off. He was a career minor leaguer of eight seasons, who hit a paltry .111 in a 15 game trial with the Cleveland Indians in 1987. Scouts weren’t the only ones to turn away Gallagher’s prospects, he passed on himself too, quitting before the end of the 1987 AAA season after a trade to the Seattle Mariners organization. Only after a chance encounter with White Sox scout Ed Ford while working at a baseball camp, was Gallagher convinced to put his energies back into the game.

Gallagher flew to Florida to meet with the White Sox brass, who offered him a non-roster invite to their 1988 spring training. Teams often hand out these invites to see if they can find a buried treasure or bolster the reserves in their minor league system. After being told by general manager Larry Himes on the first day of spring training that he, along with the rest of the non-roster invitees, were in the latter category, Gallagher felt he had to do something drastic to ensure he was noticed. He headed straight to Fregosi’s door.

“I told him, ‘You don’t know me from anybody, but I’d really appreciate it if you could take me to every possible game,” he said. “I’m towards the end of my run and if I don’t make it, I’m done. I don’t care if you take me and I don’t play; I just want you to see me.’”

Gallagher did everything but beg Fregosi for an opportunity, but he could not get a commitment from his new boss.

“He said, ‘I can’t promise you that. Everybody would want that.’ My reply was, ‘Not everybody asked.’ So I closed the door and walked out.”

While Fregosi’s response lacked the affirmation he sought, Gallagher felt that he had at least separated himself from the rest of the unknowns.

“I thought, man, he may love me or hate me, but at least he knows who I am.”

After a strong showing in spring training, Gallagher finally had the full attention of his manager. He was called into Fregosi’s office three days prior to breaking camp to be told that the team was trying to trade outfielder Gary Redus, and that his fortunes with the club hinged on that deal.

“He wasn’t traded, so I went down to Triple-A for one month,” he said.

Gallagher responded by hitting .336 with Vancouver and was recalled in the middle of May. Immediately his call-up paid dividends. On his second day with the White Sox, he hit a home run in the 11th inning to beat the Toronto Blue Jays. His quick witted manager remarked, “He’s been here two days, it’s about time he hit one.”

It was this type of humor that Gallagher felt Fregosi used to take some of the pressure off of his players.

“There was a game in Texas and I’m about to lead off,” he said. “I walk past him to get to the on-deck circle and he’s got his arms crossed and he said, ‘C’mon Gallagher, do something, will ya?’ That was his humor … his way of relaxing you. I said, ‘I will carry us today on our shoulders.’ That was my relationship with him; he threw a sarcastic comment at me and I threw it back.”

Not known for his power, Gallagher deposited an early offering flying into the stands for a home run. He now had more ammunition to continue their exchange.

“When I circled the bases and came back in, he was staring at me. I said to him, ‘Why wouldn’t you ask me to do that more often?’”

For that entire 1988 season, it seemed whatever Fregosi asked of Gallagher, he delivered. He batted .303 in 101 games, committed zero errors in the outfield, and finished 5th in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Still, Gallagher had his doubters within the organization.

“I hit every day with our batting coach Cal Emery,” Gallagher said. “He told me, ‘David, they don’t think you can do it.’ He was trying to tell me not to let up. They didn’t think I could sustain it, that I didn’t have the skill set to continue doing what I was doing. It crushed me.”

Deep down Gallagher knew that Fregosi, while pleased with his play, was also skeptical of his ability to maintain his performance over his entire rookie campaign. The way Fregosi kept whatever questions he had about Gallagher’s abilities in house, spoke volumes about him as a professional.

“He never said it publicly,” Gallagher said. “He never made a statement in the press that would have really hurt my career. He kept it under his hat; he kept it in the meetings. What a professional he was, he could have killed me right there and knocked me out if he went public with that kind of statement.”

Fregosi never did knock out Gallagher; in fact, he became one of his biggest advocates. Fregosi was fired as the White Sox’s manager after the 1988 season, but knew if he had the chance to manage again, that he had the perfect role for Gallagher. Seven years later, while Fregosi was managing the Philadelphia Phillies, that opportunity arrived. At 34, Gallagher was no longer a minor leaguer trying to make it, but now an established veteran who was valued for his versatility on the field and leadership in the clubhouse. His old manager gave him another year under the sun.

“I think he saw me years later with the Phillies in 1995 as an excellent complementary type player,” he said.

Gallagher played that 1995 season as a reserve outfielder and pinch-hitter. He rewarded Fregosi by batting .318, and played flawless defense in the outfield. Grateful for another year in the big leagues, this reunion cemented their kinship.

“The relationship with Jim," he said, "I don’t know if I ever had that kind of a relationship with anybody. I admired a man who didn’t think I could do it, but didn’t say anything publicly. He gave me a shot to empty my pockets to try and play and see if I could do this, and I did it.”

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