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The Fregosi Curse
2004-10-16 00:03
by Mike Carminati

One day on the late, great TV sitcom "The Munsters", Eddie presented Marilyn with a birthday gift, a big diamond ring he found in the attic. Grandpa took one look at the ring and instantly recognized it as the Fregosi Emerald, a jewel with a centuries-old Transylvanian curse on it. Herman, the enlightened monster that he was, placed the ring on his finger to disprove the curse.

Of course, wackiness ensued. Everything he touched went kaflooey from that point forward, and even after he believed in the curse, he couldn't remove it from his finger. Grandpa informed him that the only person who could remove the curse was a member of the Fregosi family, and the only surviving member was an automobile head in Detroit, who wouldn't acknowledge his family's past.

That was until he met Herman, who would cause men's toupees to flip on sight. Fregosi revealed his secret laboratory from which he had cursed the Edsel (big laugh). He whipped up an antidote, and voila, Herman was free.

In the last scene Eddie finds another ring that happens to be in their attic, the Nathanson Ruby, which Grandpa says makes the Fregosi Emerald look like a good luck charm. Herman accidentally swallows the ring in typical Herman fashion, and the show ends with Grandpa looking up Nathanson in a stack of phone books. Cut to credits.

Now, this little excursion into TV Land does have a point. The Phils interviewed former Indian manager and season-long Bowa understudy Charlie Manuel yesterday. And according to ESPN they have a whole litany of "previously owned" managers to interview:

The Phillies interviewed former Cubs manager Don Baylor on Tuesday. They'll interview former Boston manager Grady Little on Thursday, former Rockies and Tigers manager Buddy Bell on Oct. 25th and former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi on Oct. 26th.

Among the usual suspects, one name sticks out "former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi". Wait, aren't these the Phillies doing the interviewing? Why would they be interviewing a man they fired eight years ago?

Well, thank goodness Jabba the Conlin has an answer for that. He says that "A return to the dugout by one of the five Phillies managers to lead a team into a World Series since 1883 would be all Ed Wade needs to prove beyond doubt that he is not a slave to public opinion." Well, I guess Eddie Sawyer is dead, hmm…what the heck! Why not re-hire Bowa to prove he's no slave to public opinion.

Conlin says that even though "He's the local equivalent of the 'Young Frankenstein' scene where the name 'Count Dracula' causes horses to rear and whinny, small children to run in terror and adults to make the sign of the cross..." Nice try, Bill. However, that's "Fronkensteen." The name being invoked was Frau Blücher, Cloris Leachman's creep character who called Dr. Frankenstein her "boyfriend", not Dracula—different schtick altogether. Her name would cause horses to whinny amid lightning and thunder and all the special effects accoutrements, but sorry again, it had no affect on people. Also, it was a running theme throughout, not just in one scene.

I'm sorry to belabor the point of the "Blücher!" inaccuracies, but they point to the larger inaccuracies in Conlin's piece and indeed to the self-involved prism warping everything with its own perspective that is Conlin. But I digress.

According to Conlin, Fregosi was let go for a laundry list of reasons that were beyond his control:

"His former best pal, [then-Phils GM] Lee Thomas, hung him out to dry after the cash-starved, injured and talent-depleted Phils sagged to a 67-95 record in 1996."

"The sports-talk radio station had been burying him 24/7 ever since Game 6 of '93, when Mitch [Williams] threw the slide-step half-fastball that Joe Carter cranked in the SkyDome in the bottom of the ninth."

"There was a day in '94 when Jimbo was bantering with some of the beat writers in his office and somebody asked him about the relentless hammering he was taking from one host after another on WIP (610-AM). The manager described in the most scatological language possible that most listeners were from South Philly and had illicit relationships with their daughters and the station hosts had similar relationships with their mothers. One sports writer thought Jim had crossed an ethical line - even though everybody else considered the remark off-the-record guy talk - certainly not part of a news conference. The guy ran to one of the radio hosts with the quote and Fregosi might just as well have gone back to his Holiday Inn suite, packed and caught the next flight to Tampa."

So the GM let him down, sports radio was against him, and some touchy PC reporter outed his "off-the-record guy talk" to the masses. [Note: Both my parents came from South Philly. Arrrrrgggghhh!] Fregosi must have been a great manager until 1996. Well, he managed for five seasons in Philly and was only over .500 once, in 1993:

Avg (PCT)71.477.6.47918.7

Under Fregosi, the Phils were never in a real playoff race after the '93 World Series. As a matter of fact, on average they were almost 19 games behind the leader, and that includes the 1993 division-title year.

It's true that 1993 was a great year, but it was a lightning-in-a-bottle season. It's also true that the Phils had plenty of injuries, disappointing non-development by young players and free agent failures, but it's not like Fregosi gets a free pass for his otherwise abysmal record. The Phils had largely the same team in 1994 but were seven games under .500 when the season was ended early by a strike.

Fregosi served three lackluster seasons after 1993. But the Fregosi Curse is something more deeply rooted, more fundamental than just a few poor seasons. It's integral to the Phils history. It epitomizes how a lackluster franchise can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It's perhaps not ironic that the name of the TV show's emerald cam directly from Jim Fregosi when he was an All-Star for the Los Angeles/California Angels in the Sixties. The curse took on new meaning when Fregosi was traded to the Mets for a slew of young players including a 24-year-old pitcher named Nolan Ryan in one of the most famously lopsided trades of all time.

For Conlin and probably most fans the Fregosi Curse is entwined with Mitch Williams and the fateful pitch he threw to Joe Carter in the 1993 World Series, which Carter turned into a series-winning, walk-off home run. I, however, do not point to that incident as the genesis of the "curse". It was game four, won by Toronto 15-14, that made Fregosi infamous.

Going into the game, the Blue Jays led the series, two games to one. They split the first two games in Toronto, and the Phils suffered a pummeling in game three at home, 10-3. Trailing by one run, Blue Jays starter Todd Stottlemye employed a belly-flop slide into third to end the visitor's half of the first and seemed to have very close to knocking himself out. The Blue Jays seeming threw in the towel by sticking with the dazed pitcher even as the Phils broadened their lead to 6-3. The Blue jays charged back in the top of the third, 7-6, and the Phils tied it in the fourth. Al Leiter came in to relief Stottlemyre, he was left in in the fifth to absorb five runs in just one-third of an inning, 12-7. The Phils extended their lead to 14-9 in the sixth: Tony Castillo walked two to load the bases in the seventh, hit Dutch Daulton to force in a run, and was allowed to complete the inning. It seemed apparent that Toronto manager Cito Gaston had conceded the game perhaps three times. But Fregosi brought in Mitch Williams with a four-run lead in the ninth and he allowed five runs in two-thirds. Fregosi left him in even though it was apparent from the start that Williams had nothing left in the tank. Fregosi had outmanaged himself.

If that game wasn't bad enough. Fregosi repeated his mistake by calling for Williams in game six with the series on the line and a one-run lead.

How 1993 ended and what happened in the seasons to follow represent the unfulfilled promise that had its antecedents in the World Series-losing 1915 and 1950. Many of the Whiz Kids failed to develop leaving that singular season of excellence alone in Phils history like a beached whale. The 1915 club had two future Hall of Fame pitchers in Pete Alexander and Eppa Rixey, but when that team failed to repeat its level of success, they were allowed to find greener pastures elsewhere. And let’s not even mention the debacle of the 1964 season, OK?

Perhaps the worst thing to come out of the 1993 season was that the Phils tried to recapture that season's glory for the remainder of the Nineties and instead floundered. This is the true Fregosi Curse, I guess. By the way, I lend no credence to baseball's current fascination with team curses, but I do believe a team may be cursed with poor management as the Phils are. They can also be cursed with a fan base used to accepting less, as the Phils fans, who still think was actually a great player in his day, are. The one good thing about the Bowa era is that the Phils and their fans longer harkened back to 1993. Unfortunately, Bowa proved to be the Nathanson Ruby as the Phils instead harked back to their glory days of the late Seventies and early Eighties. They had been built to contend and instead imploded.

So now the Phillies are ready to returneth to the vomit of the 1993 season, Jim Fregosi. You can't teach an old dog of a team new tricks.

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