Forever known as the man traded to the New York Mets for Nolan Ryan, Fregosi was the premier power-hitting shortstop in the AL during the 1960s and the first and only star of the expansion California Angels in the late 1960s. But after a disastrous trade brought him to Shea Stadium in December 1971 in exchange for four players — including Ryan, a future Hall of Famer — Fregosi faltered, hindered by injuries and an ill-timed shift to third base. Within two seasons the six-time All-Star had been sold to Texas.
During his playing days, Fregosi was known as a cheerleader and many observers had him pegged as a future manager. Indeed, after five forgettable seasons as a backup for the Rangers and a short stint with the Pirates, Fregosi retired as a player in 1978 to replace Dave Garcia as the Angels’ skipper. With Ryan as his ace, Fregosi led California to an 88-74 record and the first division title in franchise history the following year.
But the Angels’ success was short-lived. Without Ryan, who defected to Houston after the season, California’s pitching staff was unable to keep up the pace and the one-time AL West champs slid to sixth place in 1980. Fregosi was replaced by Gene Mauch the following May and didn’t get another chance to manage in majors until Tony LaRussa was fired by the White Sox in May 1986. But Fregosi never won more than 77 games in Chicago and was released at the end of the 1988 season.
Fregosi once described the typical aspirations for a manager as “when you’re fired you’ll leave the team in better shape than when you were hired.” He got his next chance with Philadelphia in 1991, thanks to longtime friend and former teammate Lee Thomas, who had become Phillies GM in 1988. Thomas fired incumbent Nick Leyva 13 games into the 1991 season and handed the job to Fregosi, who quickly led what had been a moribund franchise to the NL pennant just two years later. Built around blue-collar stars such as John Kruk, Darren Daulton, and Len Dykstra the Phillies won 97 games in 1993 before falling to Cito Gaston’s Toronto Blue Jays in a thrilling six-game series.
Unfortunately for Fregosi, the Phillies quickly fell back to the NL cellar and after a 67-95 finish in 1996 the team called on Terry Francona as the team’s new manager. Fregosi’s five-plus years at the helm marked the longest stint by a Philadelphia manager since Danny Ozark‘s tenure (1973-79) and his 431 wins ranked fourth on the Phillies’ all-time list.
Fregosi joined a select group of Angels — Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew, Gene Autry, and Jimmie Reese — when his number “11” was retired in August 1998. In March of 1999, Fregosi was hired away from San Francisco (where he had been serving as a special assistant to GM Brian Sabean) to replace Tim Johnson as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.