REMEMBERING RON SANTOContinue reading.
Remembering Jim Fregosi
The baseball world is mourning the passing of Jim Fregosi, perhaps the consummate “old school’’ lifer who started as one of the game’s best—and youngest—shortstops of his era and went on to succeed as a broadcaster, manager and front office advisor.
I’m mourning that man, too—but also a man who knew how to handle the evolving nature of the game as he continued to succeed in it.
And a caring man, too.
Fregosi was the first manager I would be around daily when I started covering baseball regularly in 1987. He had become the White Sox manager at mid-season the year before succeeding fired Tony La Russa. It was his first major league managerial job since 1981 when he was let go at mid-season by the California Angels.
I made sure to introduce myself, knowing women sportswriters still were somewhat of a rarity.
“I’m going to be covering your team,’’ I said. We exchanged the usual pleasantries before he looked directly at me and said, “if anyone gives you a hard time, you come directly to me.’’
I got to know him more the following winter during a several-day bus trip through the Midwest the teams used to take to stoke fan interest for the coming season.
I remember one conversation in particular. I asked him why he had passed on other major league jobs while he was managing the St. Louis Cardinals’ Class AAA team in Louisville.
His answer was more business-like that “jock.’’
He liked his job, he said, and he had met his future second wife, Joni, in Louisville. That was her home.
But as a Cardinals employee, he also was part of Anheuser Busch Company’s pension plan.
It was a good one, too, so he wasn’t about to forego building years toward vesting for just any job.
The Sox offer came at the right time in his life. This team had a mix of proven veterans like Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines with young, promising talent like Ron Kittle, Daryl Boston, Bobby Thigpen, Ozzie Guillen and Ken Williams.
We had our share of “moments’’ when questions got asked and responses were cryptic in losing times, and he was never shy about giving his opinion.
But it was always within bounds.
Fregosi had spent time as a broadcaster, and that probably helped him see the “other side’’
Every time I’d see him in the years after he left the Sox was special.
When he was managing the Philadelphia Phillies, I told he messed up my “predictions’’ of 1992 by waiting until 1993 to win the National League pennant.
When he managed the Toronto Blue Jays, I joked he should get kicked out of a game to let his coach, ex-Sox manager Terry Bevington, get a chance to manage again—to which he rolled his eyes.
And in the last decade while he worked as a special assistant for Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren, I looked forward to his scouting visits to U.S. Cellular Field and Wrigley Field and his press box “lectures.’’
Each time he would greet me with a hug and “how’s your health?’’ He was one of the first to call me in the fall of 1996 when he learned I had gone through some health issues. The colleague who told him said he immediately asked for my phone number and called on the spot.
I would ask him about his health, and about his family–especially his kids.
That was when he would beam.
He was proud of all five of them, but in recent years he would tell me how he was taking his youngest daughter, Nikki, to visit colleges.
He’d whip out pictures of her—a beautiful girl who already had done modeling work. But she also was a top-notch student. They were visiting Ivy League schools and medical schools, he told me.
“She wants to study microbiology,’’ he said, joking how she took after her mother in all regards.
She is in medical school now after getting a degree in microbiology and cell science. Of course she is a success. She had the genes—and also the love and support of a caring dad.