CLEARWATER — The news, no matter who you asked Thursday at Bright House Field, was not good.
Jim Fregosi, the former Phillies manager who led the team to the NL pennant in 1993, had a severe stroke this week during a Caribbean cruise. And as Philadelphia opened spring training, there was a palpable sadness among the many who know him.
This is when many Phillies employees renew their acquaintance with Fregosi. He lives in Tarpon Springs, is a regular at Rays games at the Trop and much of his spring scouting work in his role with the Braves is done inside the Phillies' Grapefruit League ballpark.
There were reports late Thursday that Fregosi had been taken off life support but was still alive. "It sounds very bad," team chairman Bill Giles said.
"It's unbelievable," Larry Bowa said. "I was shocked. This guy is a baseball lifer."
Bowa, in his first season as new manager Ryne Sandberg's bench coach, was Fregosi's third-base coach from 1991 through 1996, and he marveled at the way he handled the aging veterans who made a worst-to-first run all the way to the 1993 World Series.
"That might have been the most tremendous job ever," Bowa said. "So many of those guys were at the end of their careers, but something special evolved. He was a players' manager, and he let them police the clubhouse. He really trusted 'Dutch' (Darren Daulton) and Dave Hollins to take care of things, and they had so much respect for him, they did the job."
A spokeswoman for MSC Cruises said Fregosi, 71, became ill Tuesday as the MSC Divina was headed from Grand Cayman to Mexico. The ship returned to Grand Cayman, and Fregosi was later taken to a hospital in Miami.
Fregosi played in the majors from 1961 to 1978. His best seasons came with the Angels, where he was six-time All-Star. Along with his managerial stint with the Phillies, he led the 1979 California Angels to their first AL West title.
Lee Thomas, the general manager who hired Fregosi to replace Nick Leyva as Phillies manager after just 13 games in 1991, first met his longtime friend after being traded to the Angels early in the '61 season.
"We've been friends for more than 50 years," Thomas said from his home in St. Louis. "I just can't believe this. Jimmy is the most indestructible man I know."