Friday, February 14, 2014

RIP Jim Fregosi (1942 - 2014)

I think that Jim Fregosi was the only White Sox manager I can ever recall being let go for philosophical differences. In November 1988, the White Sox fired Fregosi. Jim squeezed what he could from the talent that was on those clubs, but there was only so much that could be done with a team in a state of flux, where the biggest stories weren't about the individuals on the field or the team's performance, but the new cursive C they were wearing on their hats and a possible move to St. Petersburg, Florida.

Philosophical differences boiled down to then GM Larry Himes wanting to sell off all the high salaried veterans and build a farm system from the ground up and Fregosi wanting to keep a handful of veterans to have a shot at keeping in contention. Good or bad, the GM has the final say in a power struggle with the manager with Jerry Reinsdorf as the owner, so another quality manager was fired from the White Sox in the eighties.

The move cost the White Sox in the short term. A fluke in Fregosi's contract stated that just by showing up for spring 1988, his contract automatically kicked in for 1989 to the tune of $225,000, which was more than most players would end up making on the '89 team.

I can only speculate that the Harold Baines trade would have infuriated Fregosi in the middle of the 1989 season, since that was one of the high priced veteran players that Himes wanted to phase out. I can only further wonder if the 1990 season would have turned out differently with Fregosi in the manager's seat. Could the Sox have made the extra push to win the West over the Athletics? Only the deepest recesses of our imaginations would know.

Himes was fired after the 1990 season and went to the Cubs, where he stuck the White Sox with George Bell and failed to match the Braves offer to Greg Maddux, having spent the money on Randy Myers, José Guzmán, Dan Plesac and Candy Maldonado. Fregosi would go on to manage the Phillies and take them to the World Series, losing to Joe Carter and the Blue Jays.

Most places that Fregosi went, he left the teams in better shape than he found them. While relying on veterans a little too much, Fregosi was still able to squeeze out memorable performances from his players. I remember thinking the White Sox had an outside shot in 1987 and 1988. I thought the Fregosi-less Sox were going to finish in last place in 1989 and they did. I still remember how fun the 1993 Phillies seemed and how my entire family enjoyed watching that World Series.

Sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle, but Jim Fregosi did make a lasting impact on the organizations he played and managed for and baseball itself. Despite clashes with the White Sox then GM, in the statement about Fregosi's firing, Larry Himes said, "No reflection of Jim's managerial ability should be read in this course of action."

Even with their differences, Fregosi still earned respect. He certainly has mine.
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