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?

IN THE LOCKER ROOM, the coaches chew on sandwiches and first impressions. Fregosi attacks his hoagie. Fifteen minutes later, Darold Knowles comes in from his own workout and towels off. Now 54, he is fit and trim, his hair a courtly gray. “You can tell who’s single,” says Fregosi. “Knowlsie’s out there working, trying to look good. Tell us the truth, Knowlsie, do you get laid more now than when you were married?”

Not even close,” says Knowles.

Fregosi asks if he is targeting older women or younger, and Knowles smiles.

“What do you talk about?” asks the manager.

“We don’t talk.”

Already showered and gone, Jefferies telephones. He tells Brummer he’s forgotten his wedding ring and asks him to retrieve it from the valuables box. Eyes wide, the coaches pass the ring around the table. They weigh it in their palms, measuring its heft as if it were a prize tomato. The sheer size prompts Brummer to suggest, “At least he’s telling people he’s married.”

“You don’t have to wear it on your ring finger,” says Knowles. “It don’t look like a wedding band anyway.”

They estimate the carats and the cost. Cash counts the diamonds: ” … six, seven, eight with four rows. That’s 32.”

FOR A BRIEF MOMENT early on the second morning, the sun is ablaze in the east at the same time a brilliant full moon sets in the west. Neither is visible from the windowless bunker where Fregosi and his crew are already killing time. When spring training starts in February, they will arrive most mornings by 6, but on this day, early in January, there is little to do. Game Four rolls with the Phillies up, 14-9.

Vukovich stuffs a wad of tobacco in his cheek and walks out of the room. “I’m tired of this fucking game,” he says.

“Hey, we’re five outs away,” calls Fregosi.

What follows may be the most devastating play of the Series, a ground ball to third. This time, Fregosi has left Batiste on the bench. Dave Hollins retreats awkwardly and then waves as the ball scoots by him. “That,” says Fregosi, “is a routine play.”

On comes Mitch, and the collapse continues. Fregosi says he did not spend a lot of time replaying this game, and he has not spent a lot of time wondering whether he should have iced Mitch and stuck with Roger Mason. Not in this game and not in the decisive Game Six, either. “There were four times during that year where I left Mason in for a third inning,” says Fregosi, “and he gave up home runs to lose games for us.” Schilling walks into the room, and says he doesn’t feel sore at all. It is, however the first time in five months that he’s b:en up before I I. When he pitches a day game on the road, Schilling sets an alarm, has his wife phone and leaves multiple wake-up calls staggered every I 5 minutes.

“Have you ever won a day game?” Fregosi asks.

“I can’t remember one.”

The last out comes on a fly to center. “And the Toronto Blue Jays have won the highest scoring game in postseason history,” announces Sean Ryan. “We’ll have more in a moment.”

“Turn that shit off,” says Fregosi.

JEFFERIES STOPS BY to pick up his ring. Then the players head out for a repeat of the previous day’s workout. Fregosi spends most of his time with Lee Thomas. At one point, Thomas runs back into the clubhouse to look up Ricky Bottalico’s ’95 numbers. He returns to report that in his rookie year, Bottalico pitched 87 innings in 62 games and the league batted just .164 against him. “What a fucking arm this guy’s got,” says Fregosi.

One player seems to take to the work with particular zeal, wearing no sweatshirt and with no apparent concern for the cold. He also stands out in his first spring with the Phillies because he’s tall, dark and muscular.

“Where’s Mark Whiten from?” asks Cash.

“He’s from here,” says Fregosi.

“I thought maybe he was from Minnesota or something,” says Cash, who’s got his hands in his pockets and his shoulders pulled up around his ears.

“Boy, he’s got a fucking body on him,” says Fregosi.

”I’ll tell you who’s unbelievable—Dutch Daulton,” says Vukovich. “The shape he’s in, and he did it all himself.”

“After nine knee operations,” says Fregosi, “he knows what to do.”

Eventually, everyone moves into the weight room. It’s a big, high-ceilinged, rectangular building stocked with state-of-the-art equipment. Against one long wall are the treadmills and stationary bikes that the pitchers immediately take over.

“How’s your hose, dude?” lncaviglia asks Bobby Munoz.

The pitcher, another erstwhile flamethrower, pulls up his shirt to reveal scars on both his elbow and his wrist.

“That’s that Tommy John shit, right?” says Incaviglia.

Munoz nods. He has not yet been cleared to throw a ball.

“Did you get any more tattoos?”

Munoz pulls his shirt down, revealing an elaborate network of needlework engulfing his left shoulder.

Holy Christ!” says Incaviglia.

Filling the other long wall is a floor-to-ceiling mirror. Almost all of the equipment is positioned so the players can study their own images as they pump. For the morning, the trainer has set up 15 stations—lateral raises, front raises, body squats, bicep and tricep drills-where each player will work for 30 seconds before moving on.

Dykstra walks up to the mirror. Wearing plaid shorts and a goofy generic baseball cap and boasting a far less pumped physique than he once carried, he does not much resemble the next Mr. October. Now 33, trying to come back from a bad back, a serious knee injury and the indignity of being moved to left field, he leans his scruffy face to within an inch of the mirror and stares for several long moments, poking this and pulling that, taking a fresh look at what time has wrought.

When the workout concludes, shortly before 11, one of the trainers tells Fregosi his troops are looking good. “If I had two more starting pitchers I’d be doing good,” says Fregosi.

“We’re working on it,” says Thomas.

THE DOOR TO the bunker opens and in walks Lee Elia. Born in Olney, Elia managed the Phillies briefly—until Lee Thomas fired him. He is now Lou Piniella’s bench coach in Seattle. He is also a delightful storyteller, with a lot of friends among the Phillies. For close to two hours, he and Fregosi sit at opposite ends of the table blowing smoke.

They talk about a general manager who’s getting a reputation for chasing women. “He used to be such a straight arrow,” says Fregosi. They talk about which teams are spending money on free agents, and they exchange informal scouting reports. Fregosi asks what Elia thinks of Wally Joyner (“He’s a good hitter, but we got him out”), Vince Coleman (“He’s done. He can’t catch a fly ball”) and Kevin Brown.

“Great stuff,” says Elia. “But he’s a mess in the clubhouse.”

“Where is he?” asks Lee Thomas, who didn’t used to have trouble keeping track of his rivals’ pitching rotations.

“Florida,” says Fregosi.

Elia warms up with a couple of classics about a long-retired pitcher named Allen Ripley. One involves the time Ripley and his wife destroyed a hotel room, leaving a table embedded, legs first, in one of the walls. The other concerns an off-day workout when Mrs. Ripley didn’t believe Mr. Ripley was really going to the ballpark. So she went with him. There was indeed a practice, and she stayed for the whole thing. After watching her husband throw, she told him, “I could hit that shit.”

“Get a bat,” he responded.

His first two pitches were fastballs for strikes. On the third, as he often did when looking for a strikeout, Ripley dropped down and threw from the side—a pitch designed to intimidate a right-handed batter. Mrs. Ripley lined the ball to right. “That,” Elia quotes Ripley, “is when I knew it was over.”

The feet go up, and the coaches settle in; the fish will be there. Someone asks Elia about his fishing boat. “I haven’t been on that boat since Lee boxed me,” says Elia. Thomas buries his chin in his chest and the room erupts in nervous laughter.

Next come a series of Piniella stories. The time he refused to remove pitcher Andy Benes from a game even though he was losing 8-o and couldn’t stop walking people: “I’m going to let him fry,” said Piniella. The time he went to kick a batting helmet in a dugout and pulled a Charlie Brown, his feet flying skyward before the big crash and then utter silence: “Go ahead,” Piniella told his team, “you cocksuckers can laugh.” And the time he ripped a TV from a wall bracket, slam-dunked it, and then caught sight of himself in a mirror. Elia stands up to demonstrate how Piniella stopped mid-tirade to straighten his hair, his expression shifting from full fury to pure satisfaction.

Then Elia tells what happened this winter when first baseman Tino Martinez, after getting traded from Seattle to New York, sat down to negotiate with George Steinbrenner. Martinez and his agent, says Elia, walked in hoping for $10 million; they walked out with $20 million. At first, Martinez had to struggle not to laugh; then he almost panicked, trying to get his agent to stop making demands (all of which were met) so he could sign the damn contract. “Tino,” says Elia, “was getting nauseous.”

Vukovich walks over to the refrigerator. He is wearing long black leggings that bear a perilous resemblance to tights.

“Those pants keep you warm, Vuke?” asks Elia.

“He’s becoming a faggot,” says Fregosi.

“Where’s your earring?” asks Elia.

When Thomas makes a crack about Vukovich’s hitting, the coach protests: “I can’t come back at you,” he says. “You’ve got a title.”

“Don’t let that stop you,” says the GM.

“Okay, how the fuck do you know? You never saw me hit.”

“You’re right,” says Thomas. “I missed your one at bat.”

“Aww, man. And it’s not even February.”