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Friday, February 14, 2014
Jim Fregosi's roots were with Sox

By Gordon Edes

On Dec. 14, 1960, in the American League offices located in the IBM building in New York City, the Washington Senators and Los Angeles Angels selected 56 players in the league's first-ever expansion draft.

The Red Sox lost eight players, including two 18-year-olds to the Angels: Fred Newman, a right-hander from Brookline, Mass., and shortstop Jim Fregosi, an 18-year-old from San Mateo, Calif. Boston Globe reporter Hy Hurwitz said the Sox had hoped to sneak Fregosi, who had signed out of Serra High School earlier that summer and batted .270 for Class D Alpine (Texas), through the draft, but Fregosi hit over .400 in the Pacific Winter League, which caught the Angels' attention, and they took him with the 35th pick overall.

"He was the last player we put on our list," Sox vice-president Dick O'Connell said at the time, "and we were sorry to see him grabbed."

The Angels paid $75,000 apiece for Newman and Fregosi. Both players made it to the big leagues, but it was Fregosi who would make the Sox regret they had exposed him to the draft instead of keeping him as part of a core group of young stars that would include Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Conigliaro, George Scott, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Lonborg and Reggie Smith. By 1964, at the age of 22, Fregosi was an All-Star, the first of six times in a span of seven seasons that he would be one.

Over that span, he would have a WAR (wins above replacement) of 44.7, the highest by far of any shortstop in the major leagues in the same period (Luis Aparicio was second at 29.3). His OPS of .751 ranked second only to Boston's Rico Petrocelli, and when adjusted for park factors, Fregosi had a higher OPS+ (119) than Petrocelli (115). He was the Angels' first big star.

But in an indirect yet significant way, Fregosi played his part when an Impossible Dream team that could have been his won the American League pennant in 1967. With four teams in contention entering the season's final weekend, Fregosi hit a two-out, two-run single that climaxed a six-run rally and lifted the Angels to an 8-5 win over the Tigers, knocking Detroit a half-game behind the Red Sox.

The Tigers had to sweep a doubleheader the next day to remain in contention. They won the first game, but with the Sox listening on the radio after they beat the Twins in their season finale, the Tigers lost the nightcap, 8-5. Fregosi had two hits, including an RBI double, was hit by a pitch, scored a run, and made the relay to first base on a season-ending, double-play grounder by Tigers second baseman Dick McAuliffe. That was only the second time all season McAuliffe hit into a double play; it was only one of five DPs he hit into over a span of four seasons.

Jim Fregosi would spend 53 years in baseball. He played, managed, scouted and served as a special assistant for the Atlanta Braves. Along the way, he made countless friends and earned the respect of all for his baseball acumen, which included being the first to recognize Curt Schilling as an ace, when his Phillies won the NL pennant in 1993. He was an outsized personality with a huge heart, and on Thursday at the age of 71, he died after suffering a stroke while on an MLB alumni cruise over the weekend. He will be deeply missed.