By Mitch Chortkoff
When Jim Fregosi died last week I was jolted into a trip down memory lane.
I was fresh out of college in 1963 and had an ambition to become a sportswriter.
I sent out resumes and received a call from Bud Furillo, sports editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. We set up an interview.
He seemed to like the articles I had included from the college newspaper but he was a no-nonsense kind of guy.
"I have a position for you but I know it isn't what you want," he said, "You'd be putting together the sports section for our first edition. The hours would be midnight to 8 am."
I didn't respond immediately, so he added "I'll get you off of it as soon as I can."
"How long? I asked.
"I can't say, but probably something like six months," he answered.
I took the job, didn't mind the work but had trouble sleeping. I'd go home, have breakfast, sleep an hour or two and wake up because everyone else in the apartment complex was making noise as they began their day.
After 10 months I was still trying to make it work when Furillo arrived soon after midnight and threw something at me. If I hadn't reacted I'd have been hit in the head but I was able to snatch the missile.
It was a book of parking passes for Angels games.
"I'm making a change on the Angels beat,' he said. "If you want to become a baseball writer take a flight to Baltimore tomorrow. That's where the Angels will be playing this weekend."
It was a big break and the next day I happily boarded a plane to Baltimore.
When you're the new guy in any group the people tend to size you up. As for big league ballplayers, many had struggled in the low minors before reaching the majors and, frankly, they weren't eager to accept a new sportswriter who was so young.
But it helped me a lot when Jim Fregosi, the Angels' best player, helped me find my way.
Fregosi, the shortstop, was the first star player in the Angels' franchise, which had been created in the 1960 expansion draft.
I learned a lot from him. He was a true professional, approaching his job with intensity every day even when injured. He also had an upbeat personality.
His passion for the game was inspiring. He eventually earned a place in the Angels' Hall of Fame and his number 11 was retired.
At 36, he became the Angels' manager and directed their first appearance in the playoffs. Later he managed the Phillies to a division championship.
"He had your back,' said second baseman Bobby Knoop, Fregosi's double play partner.
Not even star players often spend their entire careers with one team. So, inevitably, the Angels traded Fregosi. He went to the New York Mets for four players. One was a 25-year-old pitcher named Nolan Ryan who hadn't yet conquered control problems. But he became a Hall of Famer.
Many years later, after Fregosi had become a scout for the Atlanta Braves, we talked in the Anaheim Stadium press box.
"I had a long playing career and was named an all-star six times, but all some people remember is I was traded for Nolan Ryan," he said, shaking his head.
Another night he was there and Ross Newhan, the phenomenal baseball writer for the Los Angeles Times, had been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Fregosi and I teased Newhan, asking if he'd still talk to us now that he was a big shot. It was a moment I'll cherish.
In time I had an opportunity to cover the Lakers, and that became my specialty. But when a ballplayer such as Fregosi passes on the memories flow back.
So, farewell to Jim Fregosi and a heartfelt thank you. My friend, you were quite special.