Sully Baseball Salutes Jim Fregosi

Jonathan Daniel - All Sport

Jonathan Daniel – All Sport

Jim Fregosi died last night. There has been an outpouring of emotion for the former, player and manager over the last few days that seem to confirm what people have been saying for years: Few people in baseball were as well liked and respected as Fregosi.

There was not much that Jim Fregosi did not do in his baseball life.  For 53 years, he was either a player, a manager, a scout and was a special assistant to the general manager in Atlanta when a stroke took his life this week.

By all accounts, the San Francisco native had an infectious personality and enthusiasm that made him a favorite teammate or manager wherever he went.

Along the way he had great successes and set backs. In a way, it is impossible to remember the highlights of Jim Fregosi without the lowlights.

Topps

Topps

He was an All Star with the Angels and had his number retired by the organization. But he flopped with the Mets as part of the notorious deal that sent Nolan Ryan from New York to California.

He had success with the Angels as a young manager, leading them to the 1979 AL West title. But could not match the success with the White Sox later.

As the manager of the Phillies, he took a scrappy and unkempt group to the post season in 1993 and pulled off one of the greatest upsets in baseball history when they toppled the mighty Braves for the pennant.

He never matched that success again, but left a legacy of class, intelligence and love for baseball behind him.

Fregosi showed loyalty to his players that sometimes paid off. Remember Kim Batiste made a critical error in Game 1 of the 1993 NLCS that tied the game in the 9th? Fregosi stuck with him and he hit the walk off single to end the game.

Sometimes it backfired as he stayed with Mitch Williams too long in the playoffs and World Series. But he never waivered in the post game interview in his loyalty to his players.

And maybe that is his main appeal and why is was loved. He was not a baseball God who walked on water. Jim Fregosi was someone we can all relate to. A man with peaks and valleys. He was a man with highlights we can only dream of and lowlights that were heart breaking, yet he handled himself the way we hope we all would.

Gracious in both victory and defeat, he was clearly a man who loved the game and what he gave to the game. And the game loved him back, even if that loved looked cruel.

Jim Fregosi lived a full life in baseball with dignity, humor and in a manner that did not make enemies but left many 25 man rosters in his wake respecting him to the end.

Baseball needs more Jim Fregosis. May he rest in peace.

In his honor, let’s all watch the pinnacle of his career: The clinching of the 1993 National League Pennant.

Sully Baseball Salutes Curt Schilling

Reuters

Reuters

Yesterday, Curt Schilling announced via a press release that he has been diagnosed with cancer. It is not clear what kind he has or how far along it is.

The news is a shock and nobody is sure how this will effect his work for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. But one thing we do know is that he is still alive now.

This is not an obituary nor a post about sorrow. Schilling and his unique, controversial and thrilling career should be celebrated and he should be appreciated while we still have him.

You can’t break down Schilling just by the numbers, but he was terrific statistically. He gave his team 200+ innings nine times, four times leading the league in complete games. He won a lot, he struck out a lot of batters. In fact his 3,116 punch outs rank 15th all time.

He never won the Cy Young Award but maybe that was because his teammate Randy Johnson kept taking it during his peak seasons.

According to Baseball Reference, the pitchers he is most similar to are Kevin Brown, Bob Welch and Orel Hershiser. And that makes sense because all three of those pitchers, like Schilling, had long careers with very high peaks.

But the player I think he resembles most is Reggie Jackson.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Like Curt, Reggie played for several different teams and yet always seemed to find his way into the post season. There were players with better numbers than Curt and Reggie, but few with their flair of the dramatic.

Reggie was a World Series MVP with two different franchises, the 1973 A’s and the 1977 Yankees.

Curt was the 1993 NLCS MVP with Philadelphia and the 2001 Co-MVP (with Johnson) of the World Series with the Diamondbacks. (Not to mention his heroics with the Red Sox.)

Like Reggie, he talked a big game and was brash. Whether it was referring to Yankee Stadium mystique and aura as stripper names or getting 50,000 New Yorkers to shut up, he didn’t care if he gave the other team bulletin board material.

If he was on your team, you loved him as a brash bad ass. If he was on the other team, you hated him and wanted him to lose. It is playing the villain and he relished that role, just as Reggie did a generation before.

The few times both failed on the big stage, the opposing fans relished it. Whether it was Bob Welch striking out Reggie in the 1978 World Series or the Yankees bombing Schilling in Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS, there was added venom in the stands when they cheered.

But guess what? When Reggie faced Welch again in the 1978 World Series, he homered. When Schilling got on the mound again in Yankees Stadium for Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, he dominated them.

Opposing fans might not have liked his style, but there was undeniable substance. Yankee fans who think that Schilling faked the blood on the sock in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS are missing the point. There can be footage of Schilling squeezing Heinz onto his ankle and that does not change the fact that he threw 7 innings, letting up a single run in an elimination game on the road.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

He pitched a complete game shutout in the 1993 World Series when the Phillies were on the verge of elimination (and coming off of a 15-14 loss the previous night.)

He began the 2001 post season with three complete game victories in the playoffs and started 3 World Series games, striking out 26 in 21 1/3 innings, walking just 2 and pitching to a 1.69 ERA.

His final game in the big leagues was winning Game 2 of the 2007 World Series against the Rockies.

Of course he was loud, opinionated and no doubt obnoxious to the opposition. I admit that I got tired of hearing about his political stances. Sure there were people who experienced schadenfreude when his video game company went under.

But there is no denying that he, like Reggie, made the game more exciting. It would be no fun to root for or against him if he was not good. And because he could back up his bravado, he gave three distinct pennant winning teams an undeniable sense of character.

Plus he knew and understood not only his role on the team but where he fit into the team’s history. When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, he made the point of hugging Johnny Pesky and reminding him of all the great things he did for the franchise.

Did he know a camera was on him when he said that? Of course he did. Reggie knew when the cameras were on as well. It was a show. They both knew it.

Get well Curt. You made baseball more fun. It was a thrill rooting for you and being in the stands for Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. The fans there could not wait to see you fail. You did not. They hated you for that and we loved you for it.

Quit your whining and embrace the new playoff format

Baseball had just had an amazing end to the season. A heart stopping race to the final day where nobody knew which way the post season would shape up.

One of the best teams in the game, or at least a consensus pick, would be on the outside looking in. And the balance seemed to tip from game to game.

It was the perfect exhibition of why the current playoff system worked!

And then they changed it. Added more teams. And fans couldn’t believe they were watering down the post season, especially after we just saw that the old system not only wasn’t broken but worked perfectly.

The new format would deny us such a great finale.

What year am I talking about?

Am I talking about the new one game Wild Card playoff to finish the year?

Or am I talking about the introduction of the Division Series right on the heels of the amazing NL West race in 1993, where the 103 Giants missed the playoffs completely?

Or am I talking about the beginning of Division play in 1969, when the furious American League race of 1967 had four teams going into the final weekend with a shot at the pennant before the Red Sox won it?

Take your pick.

It could be any of them. Whenever a new wrinkle is thrown into the playoff system, people will complain and act like the playoffs will never be the same and that undeserving teams will advance.

And those same people will then defend the system they used to bitch and moan about.

I think the new change is good.
It puts a premium on winning the Division and every year gives us a do or die shot at the playoffs which will probably mean starting a pair of aces.

And it means that 1/3 of the teams will technically be a playoff team.

Conspiracy theorists are saying this is a ploy to make sure the Red Sox and Yankees make it every year.

But this format would have given some small market teams a shot at October. The 2007 and 2010 Padres would have been in. The 2000 and 2005 Indians would have given fans some hope. The 1996 Expos would have played. Who knows? Maybe they would have advanced and save baseball in Quebec!

Either way, the change is here. And why be the person who complains? There will be more exciting baseball down the stretch AND in October.

And I guess we can’t have that.

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