(Originally published in the March 1996 issue of Philadelphia magazine.)
The first game is still months away, and the chain-link fence that separates the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring home from the surrounding pawnshops and junkyards and trailer parks is in desperate need of repair. Though the team’s first annual January mini-camp doesn’t open for 24 hours, coaches and players park, brace against the brisk Florida chill, and straggle into the clubhouse. It’s been three months since they’ve seen each other, three months since anyone’s had a reason to set an alarm clock.
The coaches gather in a small, windowless locker room tucked under the rightfield stands of Clearwater's Jack Russell Memorial Stadium. It has cinder-block walls, a drop ceiling, scant ventilation but just enough space for two rows of lockers and a boardroom-size folding table. As usual, manager Jim Fregosi sits at the head. The table is empty except for his elbows, his Kools and his lighter. Starting tomorrow, he will see what kind of shape his players are in and give them a chance to get to know each other (only ten remain from the team that played in the World Series two years ago). For now, someone throws a videotape into a VCR, and suddenly Fregosi comes face-to-face with the almost perfect season of 1993. On a Samsung TV bolted to a wall, he has a 3-0 lead in the ninth inning of Game Five against the Braves-but Mitch Williams is stretching in the bullpen.
"Is he done now?" Glenn Brummer, a minor-league coach, asks about the Wild Thing's current career.
"He was done then," says Fregosi.
DURING THE REGULAR season, Fregosi and his coaches watch lots of videotape, most of it broken down to eliminate extraneous footage, which allows them to review four or five games before a series. Today's show is recreational.
They watch Curt Schilling, Mitch Williams and defensive replacement Kim Batiste blow the lead. They watch Lenny Dykstra hit a home run that is stunning even two years later. And they watch Fregosi send 40-year-old Larry Andersen to the mound in the tenth to protect a onerun lead. Andersen was done then too, struggling valiantly to get by on a slider and a prayer. Nixon flies to right. Blauser strikes out. There's a shot of Fregosi in the dugout. "Have another drag, Jim," says Dave Cash, the former second baseman who will coach first this year. The manager picks up his Kools and now has two going, one in '93 and one in '96.
With power hitter Ron Gant coming up, Andersen takes some very deep breaths. "Larry's hyperventilating," says Fregosi. The first pitch is a hanging slider that, luckily for Andersen, hangs just a little too high for Gant to destroy. With two strikes, catcher Darren Daulton wiggles four fingers to signal a change-up. It will be, says Fregosi, the first time Andersen ever throws a forkball in a major-league game. Why would he do such a thing in the tenth inning of a playoff game? "He was out of ammunition."
The pitch freezes Gant and drops into the strike zone for the final out. "Ball game!" calls Brummer, who slaps hands with Fregosi. They watch as Schilling is named player of the game. He will be the first pitcher to win MVP of a postseason series without winning a game.
"The dumb manager kept taking him out," says Fregosi.
JIM FREGOSI IS one or the lucky few, a 53-year-old athlete who has not yet been outrun by fame. When the clubhouse man brings sandwiches, the coaches get generic tuna and ham; Fregosi gets an Italian hoagie that looks fresh from South Philly. He still makes big bucks ($5 oo,ooo a year through '98), and he is surrounded by people who laugh at his jokes, suffer his barbs, and swallow his secondhand smoke without complaint. "That fucker knows everything," says bench coach John Vukovich after Fregosi explains mutual funds.
One thing he does not know, however, is how to keep his team healthy. The Phillies are aging. Last year, many of them fell out of shape during the strike and then came back too quickly. Some of the injuries, especially those to the pitchers, may be the result of general manager Lee Thomas' bargain-basement shopping. Faced with a barren farm system when he arrived, Thomas stocked his staff with other teams' remainders. All have had great arms and all have had some problem—awkward pitching mechanics, an inability to lose weight—that has prompted another team to give up on them. A few have prospered briefly (Schilling, Tommy Greene, Bobby Munoz); others have just disappeared (Jose DeJesus, Ben Rivera, Jeff Juden); all have had injuries. Last year, the Phils started strong and then collapsed. "They all blew out," says Fregosi. Which is why the Phillies are holding a mini-camp on the first weekend in January, six weeks before spring training normally begins.
The next morning, Fregosi assembles the team, some 20 of its players, anyway, for the first time in 1996. The veterans—Dykstra, Daulton, Jefferies, the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head—sit against one wall of the locker room; the black players—Whiten, Webster, Battle—sit against another.
"This is a very important day," says Fregosi, and the room gets quiet. He welcomes the new players and tells them they will enjoy Philadelphia, where the fans care deeply and regard them with awe. "I wasn't happy with our performance last year," he says, "and we want to start doing something about that. This is the start." He talks about the new weight room, the new conditioning drills, the need to be in shape when spring training starts. "We have a good ballclub," he says. "I like this ballclub. When we're healthy, we can play with anybody.
"Is there any questions?"
As they file out, Fregosi grabs ahold of Tony Longmire. A young outfielder with a sweet swing, Longmire got an opportunity to play last year because of all the injuries and performed well—until he, too, went down. Surprisingly, he has shown up looking as if he's in his fourth month. "What are you trying to be," asks Fregosi, "a tight end?"
"YOU CATCH ANY fish over at your place yet," asks Brummer.
"No," says Cash, whose home abuts a golf course with a series of ponds, "but I saw a nine-foot alligator over there yesterday."
"Where?" asks Fregosi, whose home also flanks a course.
"At my house."
"Too close. If I can see him, he's too close."
Cash complains that it's been too cold of late to play golf.
"They allow blacks on your course?" asks Fregosi.
"They allow alligators," says Cash.
Brummer roots around, looking for another videotape. A suggestion is floated: Game Four of the World Series, the wild, rain-soaked, 15-14 heartbreaker against Toronto.
"No," says Fregosi.
Nervous smiles are exchanged.
"I don't want to watch Four," says the manager. "I've never watched that one." He has only watched games the Phillies won. The tape is found. The manager relents.
The coaches watch casually, leaving the room frequently and talking as much about fish as they do about baseball. But the images are arresting, and they keep coming back. Tommy Greene walks Todd Stottlemyre in the pitcher's first major-league at bat. "See how he's coming off the ball?" says Fregosi. "Tommy's so hyper."
Stottlemyre slides headfirst into third, bloodying his chin and knocking himself silly. "Who'd Stottlemyre sign with?" asks Fregosi. "He had a pretty good year last year." No one in the room knows.
Larry Bowa, Fregosi's third-base coach, is shown stomping up and down the line. "Where's he at?" asks Brummer. "Where's Bowa?" There is snickering in the room, but no one answers. Word has it that Bowa—aka Peewee—has decided that since he's not getting paid extra, he's not coming to the mini-camp. "He hasn't changed a bit," says one of the Phillies.
The camera shoots up the first-base line, and Cash points out the seats where he and Brummer watched the game together.
"Remember that bottle we had?" says Cash.
"We snuck in a fifth," says Brummer, laughing.
"This is all going in Philadelphia Magazine," says Fregosi.
"What are you going to have Cash do this year, Skip?" asks Brummer. Cash is replacing the seen-but-not-heard Mel Roberts.
"Pick up the Racing Form for me."
"What about first base?"
In the second inning, Dykstra hooks a home run down the right-field line.
"Whoot, there it is!" calls Brummer.
Toronto's Al Leiter starts throwing in the bullpen. "Did you see what he just got?" asks Fregosi incredulously. "Almost $9 million."
"HEY DUUUUUDE!" CALLS Fregosi.
Lenny Dykstra, who hasn’t seen a manager since last season, walks into the locker room after touring the new weight room. "Awesome," he says. "It's big league, man."
"We just watched your home run off Stottlemyre," says Fregosi.
"Oh, yeah," says Dykstra, "a little fucking slider."
"Forgot to slide, didn't it?"
"I hear Kruk's gonna maybe do some TV analysis or something for Fox," says Dykstra. "He might be good at that shit."
"Yeah, if he can stop saying fuck," says Fregosi.
Dykstra catches sight of Paul Molitor on the screen. "That fucker can hit," he says.
"The strike really hurt him last year."
"It hurt a lot of us," says Dykstra. "Who'd he end up with?"
"He went back to Milwaukee," says Fregosi.
Actually, it was Minnesota. These days, even the pros need a scorecard.
Dykstra leaves. Pete lncaviglia arrives. The outfielder, who spent last year in Japan, looks bigger than ever. He also looks to be in great shape. "Come here!" calls Fregosi, and they exchange a true bear hug. Incaviglia glances at the TV. "Well," he says, "this brings back some memories."
"How 'bout this fucking game?" asks Fregosi.
"You talk about a fucking nightmare," says Incaviglia. "You talk about pain. I'm running up and down the fucking runway. I didn't know if I was going to have to pinch-hit or not. I'm watching. We go ahead. I go back down. Then they go fucking ahead. Then I go fucking run back up and stretch again. Then they go ahead. Then we go ahead. Holy fuck!"
"About this time," says Cash, "me and Brummer are so drunk, we don't know what inning it is."
"I went through about 12 packs of cigarettes," says Incaviglia, who never did get into the game.
"How about this guy?" says Fregosi, pointing at Leiter.
"I know! " says Incaviglia. "How the fuck did he get $9 million?"
"The Marlins signed Kevin Brown, too," says Fregosi.
"You don't have to worry about him," says Incaviglia. "I played with him for three years. He has a great sinker, but he's a knucklehead. He'll be throwing a one-hitter in the eighth inning, give up a hit, come in and shatter a finger on the wall, just fall apart."
They talk about which teams have been spending money. In the National League, the Mets, Cardinals and Marlins may all have passed the Phillies in talent. The Braves, of course, are nowhere in sight.
While Leiter retires three in a row, Incaviglia talks about Japan. "Loneliest year of my life," he says.
"I bet Bowa $100 you'd hit 25 home runs over there," says Fregosi, who lost.
"Fuck, I only had 180 at bats," says Incaviglia. "And I got hit 21 times. The second game of the year, I took two off the kneecap. Missed three weeks. Then I got hit three consecutive games in the fuckin' elbow. And I didn't say nothing, and you know I'm getting pissed. They're telling me, Relax. Don't do anything. It's honorable to get hit. I said, Fuck that. I've been hit fucking 15 times. That ain't fuckin' honorable. I told them, I'm gonna go get somebody. Then he hit me right here, right in the cheekbone. I was lucky, 'cause it kind of clicked off the helmet. I thought it was broken. That was the 21st time I got hit, and I went and got the son-of-a-bitch." He broke the pitcher's nose and left the country. "They fined me $77,000."
Two minutes later, the coaches are still laughing.
INCAVIGLIA HAS A lot to catch up on. "Where the fuck is Johnny?" he asks, meaning Kruk.
"Lenny just told me he might do some shit for Fox," says Fregosi.
"Get the fuck out of here."
"Color work. You know, Fox just got the Game of the Week."
"Is he okay? Is the cancer all right?"
"I tried calling him in West Virginia."
"He doesn't return calls."
"I saw a clip when he walked off the field. Boy, did he look terrible. I thought maybe it was the uniform."
"No, he come into Philly last summer after he quit. I'm going to guarantee you, he's 300 pounds right now."
With Kruk gone, Fregosi needs a fourth for spades. "Maybe," Incaviglia suggests, "[Owner Bill] Giles will come down."
"Shit," says Fregosi, "he ain't making any money. He can't afford to play with us."
As drizzle turns to downpour on the TV, Dykstra hits his second homer. CBS flashes the list of players who've hit the most postseason homers in their careers. With nine, little Lenny is on the list with Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Jackson, et al. He'll hit number ten in Game Six.
"He's the next Mr. October," says Incaviglia.
"Who's the only pitcher to pitch in all seven games of a World Series?" asks Fregosi.
"Darold Knowles!" says Brummer as Knowles, a minor-league pitching coach with the Phillies, walks into the room.
"How 'bout this?" asks Fregosi. "Who spent a whole year in the big leagues and never hit a fair ball?" No one here needs to be told that the answer is "John Vukovich," who, as Mike Schmidt's caddy in 1981, batted once and struck out.
"Vukey coming down?" asks Incaviglia.
"He's here," says Fregosi.
"No," says the manager, while Cash and Brummer snicker. "Peewee's not coming."
"What? You fire him? You kill him?"
IN THE TOP of the sixth, David West takes the mound with a five-run lead. "I need 12 outs," says Fregosi.
On the first pitch West throws, Devon White hits a double. On the second, Roberto Alomar hits a single. Play-by-play man Sean Ryan notes that the first ten batters West has faced in World Series competition (dating back to his time with the Twins) have all reached base. Pitching coach Johnny Podres goes to the mound. "Look at him," says Fregosi. "'What the fuck are you doing? Throw the fucking ball."
Padres leaves, West gets an out, and Sean Ryan tells the world that the pitcher's World Series ERA has fallen to 162. The room fills with groans. "Can they be cruel or what?" says Fregosi.
Reverting to form, West pops Molitor in the shin. The sound of ball hitting bone brings moans from the coaches. "The only problem," says Fregosi, "is he stayed in the game."
While Ryan and McCarver discuss Fregosi's limited options, the camera catches the manager looking green and bending forward to deposit something on the floor of the dugout. "Was I spitting or throwing up?" asks Fregosi.
Remarkably, the inning ends with the Phillies still ahead. Wide-body West steps off the mound. "Westie's rounding into shape there, isn't he?" says Fregosi.
"I'll make you a bet right now," says Incaviglia. "How much do you think he weighs when he walks in here?"
"Oh, he's in good shape."
"Is he? Good. I'll tell you what, in '94, do you remember how hard he was throwing? People don't believe it, but he threw harder than anybody I saw that year."
With the Phillies up 14-9, Fregosi heads home. He will pick up his daughter from school and then go fishing with Knowles. While other anglers often drive all day to Lake Okeechobee and return empty-handed, Fregosi does most of his fishing in the ponds of his golf course, where he routinely reels in five- and six-pound bass. On the back of his own golf cart, he keeps his clubs on one side and a bucket of shiners on the other.
"Have you seen Fregosi's golf cart?" Cash asks Brummer. "You could live in that thing."
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.
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."