Jim Fregosi

Jim Fregosi as an Angels player in 1968. (Associated Press / February 14, 2014)

The news that Jim Fregosi died today brought sadness.

He was one of the franchise’s first stars, a catalyst in the 1970 chase for the American League West championship. He got the franchise that banner nearly a decade later, when he managed the Angels to their first division title.

Death is personal, and this one was hard for me.

We weren’t close. I enjoyed the handful of times I interviewed him, but I couldn't say we had any sort of relationship, at least from his perspective.

But Jim Fregosi made me a sportswriter.

I’m not sure he would be proud of this.

The transformation was completed the day in 1978 when I walked into the team’s clubhouse and approached him.

“And what the [expletive] do you want?” Fregosi asked me.

I grew up an Angels fan ... a big one. I inherited the love for the game from my father. And if you were an Angels fan pre-Nolan Ryan, who else would you gravitate toward but Fregosi?

Who else did we have for so many years? He was there, year-in and year-out.

The summer of 1970, when I was 12, was a great one for Angels fans. Alex Johnson was chasing the batting title. Clyde Wright threw a no-hitter and went on to win 22 games. The team was 3½ games behind first-place Minnesota on Sept. 3.

Fregosi was the glue. He seemed tough. Low-grade-beef tough.

Sure, the Angels went on a nine-game losing streak and faded. It gave me a reference point when writing about future Angels collapses in 1982, 1986, 1995.

There were more lessons.

The 1979 title was a watershed moment, but 1978 was vintage Fregosi as a manager. A late-season series in Texas brought complaints about the heat. So Fregosi wore his jacket during every game. Later, I understood manager mind games and motivation techniques better because of this.

The defining moment came earlier in that 1978 season. I was working for a small paper in South Orange County and was sent to do a story on pitcher Dave LaRoche, who lived in our circulation area.

It was my first visit to a big league clubhouse. I saw Fregosi talking to a couple of other writers and bounced over.

He paused, looked at me and said those words: “And what the [expletive] do you want?”

I still hear them, and smile.

He was helpful with the story, but I walked away knowing this job was no place for a fan.

Years later, I was sent to do a feature on Fregosi, then the Philadelphia Phillies manager. I shared that story with him. He laughed, and said, “Your answer should have been, ‘I’m here to talk with you [expletive].' ”

Jim never stopped teaching me to be a sportswriter.

I’ll miss that.

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