Yesterday, former Met Jim Fregosi passed away at the age of 71. Fregosi is known in Mets’ lore, but not for the most positive of reasons. On December 10th, 1971, the Mets acquired Fregosi from the Califonia Angels for Frank Estrada, Don Rose, Leroy Stanton, and a young pitcher named Nolan Ryan. Needless to say, the Mets got the short end of that deal. As a Met, Fregosi hit .233 with 5 home runs over 2 seasons. He was released mid-way through the 1973 campaign. As an Angel, Ryan went 138-121 over 8 seasons, and led the AL in strikeouts 9 times (with California and Texas), and the NL twice (with Houston). Ryan went on to throw 7 no hitters, and was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1999.
Fregosi is often seen as a symbol of mismanagement by the Mets. How could they get so shortchanged in a trade? If you think back to 1971, the Mets were loaded with pitching. They had Ryan, Tom Seaver, Gary Gentry, Jim McAndrew, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack on the way. The Mets needed offense at that time, and Fregosi had hit .278 with 22 home runs in 1970. The Mets were willing to trade Ryan, who, though he had flashes of brilliance, had struggled with his control while with the Mets. This had the team wondering about Ryan’s upside, and reasonably so.
I’d like to share a personal story about Jim Fregosi. In 2009, I went to see the Mets play in San Diego. On my birthday, I decided to be a big spender, and buy seats behind the plate. As I was sitting there in full Mets gear (with my daughter and niece), the man sitting next to me asked me how long I’d been a Mets fan. After I responded, he said, “You may be too young to remember this, but what did you think of the Ryan trade? You know, when they got that bum, Jim Fregosi.” I responded that in context, that trade seemed reasonable. And it wasn’t Fregosi’s fault that he was traded for Ryan, and people had maligned the guy for no reason. The man looked at me and said, “That’s nice to hear, because you’re talking to Jim Fregosi.” As it turned out, Fregosi was working as a scout for the Braves. We spent the entire game, talking about his time with the Mets, his time managing the Phillies to a World Series, and his thoughts on current teams and players. The insights I gleaned from him over three hours were incredible. He explained how scouts do their jobs, and showed me how he evaluates players. His stories were entertaining. The man was a true gentleman. After the game, he shook my hand and said, “Good luck, I think you’re in for some lean years in New York.” He was right.
Rest in peace, Jim Fregosi. You deserve a better place in the collective memories of Mets fans. And from a personal perspective, thank you for making my birthday in 2009 a truly memorable night.