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Fregosi the perfect skipper for '93 Phils

Former Phillies manger Jim Fregosi watches during batting practice Saturday, Oct. 9, 1993 before the start of game 3 of the NLCS at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. (Ed Reinke/AP file)
Former Phillies manger Jim Fregosi watches during batting practice Saturday, Oct. 9, 1993 before the start of game 3 of the NLCS at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. (Ed Reinke/AP file)
What a crew he had. What a motley crew of untamed, unwashed, unkempt scruffians. Call the roll:

Lenny Dykstra, a.k.a. Pig Pen, who hit doubles and drank them with equal gusto.

Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, who, he happily confessed, pitched like a man whose hair was on fire.

John Kruk, author of I Ain't an Athlete, Lady . . .

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  • Darren Daulton, titular head of the infamous Macho Row. All of them wanted to be like Dutch.

    Those four, and more, made up one of Philadelphia's most revered teams of all time, the Phillies of 1993, champions of the National League.

    It took a strong hand to deal with such a wild bunch and, as it would turn out, the Fightin's had just such a leader in their manager, one James Louis Fregosi, the very definition of a man's man.

    Jim Fregosi died on Friday, from complications from a stroke. He was 71, and would agree, I think, that his was a full and rollicking good life. A man is fortunate if he finds a thing that makes him happy and fulfilled, and Jim Fregosi, who heart and soul was a baseball lifer, was granted 53 seasons of professional baseball, as player, manager, scout, and raconteur.

    Some of us marvel still at how, armed with whip and pistol, he would enter the Phillies clubhouse on a daily basis and extract from an aging group of veterans the best of what they had left to give.

    Shrewdly, he anointed Daulton the leader, and the rest could go to him with their woes. But he was the man in charge, the last court of appeals, and they all knew that, and it was never more obvious than in those ribald card games played before batting practice. They were in various stages of dress, the play was loud and profane, and the kibitzing even more so. You could overdose on the testosterone.

    Jim would lean back in his chair and prop his feet on the table, and then, like the alpha dog, claim his turf. There were no challengers. Fact is, they liked him, and respected him, and besides he was 6-feet-1, 200 pounds with a grip that could take an opponent to his knees, and on top of that he had been an all-star in The Show.

    But most of all they liked what he told the inquisitor who asked him what would be his rules as manager, and Jim replied: "If you don't have any rules, they can't break them."

    He rarely raised his voice, mostly because he didn't need to - a laser look, a set of his jaw, a raised eyebrow, that would suffice.

    You don't fool a player who's been around, and those '93 Fightin's knew they were a whole lot closer to the end than the beginning. They sensed this might be their last hurrah and they sensed, too, the manager had their backs. So they sacrificed and played a game of grinding simplicity - old-school ball, the manager would say.

    True to a baseball lifer's code, Jim religiously abided by superstitions, none more so than wearing a jacket, lined, during the game - even in August.

    When the debate would reach the boiling point, he had one trump card that he would break out at every opportunity: "You would understand this if you had ever played the game."

    And then he would sit back triumphantly.

    Right from the beginning he was one of those athletes who could pick up a ball, any ball, and play as though he had come right out of the womb passing, dribbling, or batting. He was all-state in football, basketball, and baseball in San Mateo, Calif. In the major leagues as a shortstop he showed range and a slick glove.

    Whenever we needed a comeback from one of his barbs we would ask, oh so casually: "So, Jim, who was it the Mets traded away to get you? Some rag arm pitcher name of Nolan Ryan, right?"

    To his everlasting credit he took this with aplomb. Well, most of the time.

    He hit .265 over 18 seasons in the majors. And with four teams as manager, won 1,028 games. And, as we were fond of mentioning from time to time, lost 1,094. That, too, he handled well.

    He was highly thought of in baseball's inner sanctum and widely considered at the top of their list of scouts. Baseball men sought him out for his knowledge and expertise. And why not? Fifty-three seasons in baseball? A man can't help but pick up a thing or two along the way.

    Too, Jim was a charmer. People liked him, people gravitated to him, he was a spinner of stories, the first to buy a round, and the last to leave - with echoes of laughter trailing after him.

    Bill Lyon For The Inquirer
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