Jim Fregosi Profile: Chewing the Fat

On a cold winter weekend, Jim Fregosi and the Phillies brain trust weigh the troops, reflect on lost opportunities and get an early read on '96: Where the *&%!8 is Bowa?

MINI-CAMP BEGINS the next morning. By shortly after 7, all the coaches are in the locker room, all except Dave Cash, who shows up two hours late for his first day as a major-league coach.

Fregosi and hitting coach Denis Menke review some of their plans and projects. They start with right-fielder Mark Whiten. Like the Phillies, Whiten would like to recapture the spirit of ’93· That was the year he hit four home runs in one game and seemed to make the leap from enigma to superstar. Since then, however, he has been traded twice.

“What do you want to do with him?” asks Fregosi.

“Last year, he was all like this,” says Menke, demonstrating Whiten’s stance, elbows pinched and hands held high.

“That’s why he’s not a low-ball hitter anymore,” says Vukovich.

They also want to work with shortstop Kevin Stocker, who is coming off a disappointing season in which he lost his stroke and fractured his kneecap. Fregosi points out that they got him to make some adjustments last year. “Down in Houston,” says the manager, “he hit a home run and a double. Then he went back to the old way. I guess a home run and a double wasn’t good enough for him.”

This year, Fregosi wants Vukovich to chart every pitch thrown to his hitters—something coaches didn’t have to do in his day. “These guys,” he tells Vukovich, “will come up to you and ask, ‘What’s he throw?’ – and they hit against him five days ago. When I played, I remembered every pitch.”

“Eisenreich’s like that,” says Vukovich.

“Have you seen Jefferies?” asks Menke. “He looks great. He might pick up some speed this year.”

“He was a fat little shit last year,” says Fregosi.

“How’s his personality?” asks Knowles.

“Oh, he and I do fine,” says Menke.

Despite the early hour, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to shift to such topics as hunting (“I blew his fucking head off”), fishing (“Then Cash dove in after the rod”) and money (“In two years,” says Fregosi, “Motorola’s going to be a $150 stock”). Inevitably, the discussions of baseball and money collide.

“Did you see San Francisco gave $2 million to [former Phillie outfielder] Stan Javier?” asks Menke.

“Every time he hit a pop-up,” says Fregosi, “he’d come back to the dugout saying, ‘Goddamn it, Javie. Goddamn it, Javie.’ Fuck that.

“[California pitcher] Chuck Finley just got $r8 million today,” says Brummer.

“The owners gave the union a package on November 15th,” says Fregosi, “and they haven’t heard anything back. Not one word. The union sees the way they’re spending money, and they’re not going to do anything.”

“Did you see the Orioles let [infielder Bret] Barberie go?” asks Cash.

“Wait a second,” says Fregosi, who searches the room for a stationary object, “that fucker didn’t have enough range to cover this door. And Baltimore wonders why they didn’t win last year. Their three infielders, all three of them, didn’t have enough range to cover that refrigerator.” He stands up and straddles the refrigerator, bending at the waist like an infielder. “This is what Ripken would get. If they played in the National League, with turf, they wouldn’t catch a fucking ground ball.”

Originally called for 9, the workout is put off until 10 in the hope that GM Lee Thomas will arrive from Philadelphia in time. “This is just like spring training,” says Knowles. “I’m sitting here with nothing to do.”

Schilling sticks his head into Fregosi’s office. “C’mon,” he says. “I’m dying to throw.” All the other pitchers will throw later, but Fregosi reluctantly agrees to round up Brummer, who’ll catch, and Knowles, who’ll videotape. “C’mon,” the manager tells Knowles, “the baby wants special treatment.”

After last year’s shoulder surgery, Schilling, who is unlikely to be ready opening day, is ·eager but apprehensive. This will be the first time he throws in five months. Though he merely plays catch in the weight room, soft-tossing with Brummer from maybe 40 feet, the Phillies record his every move with two video cameras.

“I feel good,” he says, bubbling as if he’s just gotten a new bicycle. Like most of the other players, he is wearing the official gear of the Phillies mini-camp weekend: Tshirt, sweatshirt, shorts and even socks all emblazoned with the phrase Mitch Williams made famous when he inked it on the bill of his cap in ’93: NO FEAR. The shorts expose the tattoo Schilling sports on his left calf-a bulldog with a studded collar. They also reveal something of a paunch, but the coaches keep saying they’ve never seen him in better shape.

“Are you scared?” asks Fregosi.

“I was,” concedes Schilling. “The only thing that’s sore is my tricep. I guess that’s ’cause I have one now.”

“But you feel all right?”

“I feel great.”

The whole thing lasts five minutes . Relieved, Schilling skips out of the weight room. “Okay,” he says, joking, “see you guys in five weeks.”

“We’re going to work that tattoo off your leg,” says Fregosi.

Moments later, the players convene on a turf infield beyond the stadium’s rightfield wall. It is surrounded by palm trees but chilled by the cool air. The trainer leads them through a series of conditioning and agility drills that involve skipping and other non-macho acts and elicit uncomfortable giggles. “I thought I left this behind in Japan,” says Incaviglia.

The coaches gather around the batting cage to watch and laugh and try to keep warm. “Fucking Longmire’s so fucking out of gas,” says Fregosi. Before the month is out the Phillies will announce the move of Darren Daulton to left field, and Tony Longmire will sink a little deeper on the depth charts.

“Where’s Bowa?” asks a Phillies scout.

When the players take a five-minute break, a reporter from a local newspaper pulls Fregosi aside. Even today, with the media crush months away, with foolish optimism in the air, the manager gives pat, guarded answers:

“I caught a few fish, played a little golf.”

“We’re looking for pitching.”

“The only year we were healthy was 1993.”

“We thought Zeile would help our club more.”

The reporter asks where he fishes, and Fregosi talks about the golf-course ponds and the five-pound bass. He refuses to name the course.

After the conditioning drills, Cash and Vukovich throw batting practice in the cages, and, one by one, the pitchers toss gently from in front of a practice mound. It is a remarkable procession of the infirm: Schilling, Greene, West, Munoz, Mike Grace. The Phillies even drafted a pitcher this winter with a bad arm—B.J. Wallace, a former phenom who came up lame with the Expos. Their every toss is videotaped. Out in left field, Jefferies is by himself, hitting balls off a batting tee.

Fregosi and Knowles take special care with Wayne Gomes, a former number-one draft pick who pitched in Reading last year and possesses three sensational pitches. Though he has not had injuries, he does have the makings—a weight problem, an unathletic bearing and awkward pitching mechanics.

“I think he’s a little wild to be a closer,” says Cash.

“I’m used to that,” says Fregosi.