ALL-STAR GAME FLASHBACK : NOT STARRY-EYED : Fregosi Remembers Those American League Doldrums
Jim Fregosi would just as soon forget some of his memories of the All-Star game.
“Most of my memories are of National League hitters knocking the ball out of the park to beat us,” the former Angel shortstop and manager said.
All-Star games were a lesson in futility for Fregosi and his American League teammates in the 1960s. Fregosi played in the mid-season game six times during his 11 seasons with the Angels.
But Fregosi never played on a winning All-Star team.
“We played (three) extra-inning games,” he said. “All were decided by one run. That was back in the streak days of the National League. They had better individual talent at that time. They didn’t necessarily have better teams, but they had better players.”
The National League won eight consecutive games from 1963 to 1970.
Fregosi said pitching made the difference. He faced such National League stars as Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal.
“That was enough to give you indigestion for a month,” Fregosi said. “Then they would bring in the top relievers to work a couple of innings. The American League team always played hard, but the (National League) pitching was just so dominant.”
Fregosi, 47, will have a chance to test some of that pitching again when he plays in the Old-Timers’ Series All-Star game Sunday at Anaheim Stadium. He will join other former stars such as Gibson, Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Warren Spahn and Hank Aaron.
The old-timers’ game won’t be Fregosi’s first All-Star appearance at Anaheim Stadium.
One of the highlights of his 18-year playing career occurred in the 1967 All-Star game in Anaheim. He singled and laid down a sacrifice bunt in the 15-inning, 3-hour 41-minute marathon, the longest All-Star game in history.
“I pinch-hit in the bottom of the third and played the rest of the game,” Fregosi said. “I never really looked at it as a long game. It was a great one. Getting to play in front of my home crowd was quite a thrill.”
The All-Star game has always been something special for Fregosi. Although some players used the break to relax, he always took the games seriously.
“I remember I couldn’t get to sleep the night before my first All-Star game (in 1964),” he said. “I don’t know if it was nervous anticipation or fear, but I didn’t get any sleep.”
Fregosi said that playing in the game was a special honor because he was selected by his peers for five of his six appearances. Since 1970, fans have selected the starters and the managers pick pitchers and substitutes.
“It was quite a compliment to be picked by the other players,” he said. “The All-Star game is something I would never miss. It’s great that the fans are involved, but they need a two-fold system. The fans definitely should vote, but so should the players, coaches and managers who are more knowledgeable about the the guys who aren’t in the big (media) markets.”
Fregosi said players should treat the All-Star game as an opportunity--one that shouldn’t be passed up.
“I don’t understand why some players today would skip the game,” he said. “I have memories from those games that will last the rest of my life.”
Good memories, except for the losses.
In 1968, he played in the first All-Star game in a domed stadium, the Astrodome in Houston. He led off the game with a double, but never moved past third base. Willie Mays scored in the bottom of the first and the National League won, 1-0.
In Fregosi’s first All-Star appearance in 1964, he drove in a run in the top of the seventh to give the American League a 4-3 lead, but the National League rallied with four runs in the bottom of the ninth, including a three-run homer by Johnny Callison, and won, 7-4.
There were embarrassing moments, too. In the 1966 game, Willie McCovey hit a ground ball to Fregosi, who fielded the ball cleanly. His throw to first skipped into the dirt, forcing first baseman Harmon Killebrew to stretch to make the catch.
“Killebrew stretched and popped a hamstring,” Fregosi said. “When I came back to the dugout, the (American League) pitchers gave me a standing ovation because Killebrew would be out of the lineup for a while.”
Fregosi’s last All-Star game was in 1970. He was traded to the New York Mets the following year and never played in another.
He has dreamed of more than playing in the game. He also wants to manage an All-Star team.
He came close in 1979, guiding the Angels to the West Division title before losing to Baltimore in the championship series. A win would have put him in the World Series and made him manager of the American League team for the All-Star game the next season.
Fregosi hasn’t come close since. He was fired by the Angels in 1981, spent four seasons managing in the minor leagues and 2 1/2 years with the Chicago White Sox.
He now lives in Sarasota, Fla., and is still involved with baseball as a minor league instructor with the Philadelphia Phillies.
And he’s waiting for another shot at managing. He also hasn’t ruled out possibilities of a front-office job.
“That’s always been my goal--to win the AL, play in the World Series and then manage in the All-Star game the next year,” he said. “That is, if I get to keep my job long enough the next season to get to the All-Star break.”