If Jim Fregosi played for the Los Angeles Dodgers instead of the Los Angeles Angels, the city would cast his footprint or his gloveprint or something in cement outside of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. He would be paid better than walking-around money to go to Las Vegas and play straight man for Milton Berle, and he would be endorsing everything under the smog. For Jim Fregosi, just 22 years old, is generally acknowledged as the best young player in the American League.
Fregosi, a shortstop, can run, field, throw, think, hit for average and hit for power. He is also what Californians dearly love their athletes to be—a fellow Californian, personable and good-looking. Fregosi is not only good-looking enough for most fans, and particularly for Janet Bennett Fregosi, a beautiful brunette who was "sort of" his high school sweetheart, but Jim is even good-looking enough for MGM, which is interested in him despite the fact that he is an Angel, not a Dodger.
Generally, though, Fregosi operates in relative anonymity with the Angels, the poor haloed trash of Los Angeles who share the stadium at Chavez Ravine—but only a few of the fans and none of the parking fees. Not having a piece of the parked cars in L.A. is like getting in on Idaho without the potatoes. Predictably, then, the Angels have cast about for new quarters, and bonds for a new stadium in Anaheim, Greater Disneyland, are likely to be placed on sale soon.
If the Angels had a few more Fregosis perhaps they would not have to move. Last year, his first full one, he hit .287, eighth best in the league and best among the shortstops. He is the only shortstop in the league hitting third in the lineup, and though he has been hampered by a hamstring muscle pull this year he is still hitting .340, fifth best in the league. He is also fast. He was second in the league in triples last year, has four already this season and five stolen bases to boot. Fregosi is one of those rare shortstops who can hit for distance—four HRs this season—and though not exactly exuding finesse afield, he gets to the balls and he has an outstanding arm.
In brief, in a league become saturated with good shortstops, Fregosi may already be the best of the lot—Kubek, Versalles, Aparicio and so on. But then, he has been surprising people all along. A four-sport, 11-letter man at Serra High School in San Mateo, he enrolled at Menlo College in 1959 with the idea of prepping for some big-time college football competition. Over the summer, though, Red Sox Scout Charlie Wallgren and about $25,000 convinced Fregosi to go into baseball.
The Red Sox sent him to Class D Alpine, Texas his first season, 1960, where by midseason he was distinguishing himself with a .175 batting average and a tendency to throw balls all over Texas. He finished at .267, but that was not enough to convince the Sox that they should protect him from the expansion draft. Fregosi then embarrassed them by going back to San Mateo and the winter Peninsula League where he suddenly blossomed.
About this time the Angels were formed, and Bill Rigney, their manager, saw Fregosi play at San Mateo. So did George Genovese, a Giant farm manager. Rigney had long been connected with the Giants, and the club was not unwilling to help Rigney's needy Angels of the other league. Genovese's report—still in the Giant files—waxed casually ecstatic, concluding: "This boy has a chance to go all the way." For $75,000, the Angels took a chance.
Not even Genovese, though, had Fregosi completely tabbed. "Hits with occasional power," he wrote, "but is not a power hitter." But then, not even Fregosi himself had any idea that at 6 feet and 170 pounds he had not stopped growing. Today he is 6 feet 2, 195, and as far as Fregosi knows, he is not through yet. "That's what's killing me. Whoever heard of a 6-foot-4, 220-pound shortstop?" The prospect of playing another position does not unnerve him, but he knows well that shortstops who can hit home runs are in low supply and high tax brackets.
Literally as well as figuratively, Fregosi swings one of the biggest bats in baseball: 36 inches and 36 ounces. He chokes it up about two inches for better bat control. Fregosi used to swing a nice average little 34-31. He decided to go to the monster bat in midseason last year. Since then he has hit .319, but the supreme compliment to Fregosi the hitter is that each team in the league pitches him differently. Pitchers—regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, or team—pass the word around on hitters faster than Walter Winchell. When they cannot come to a consensus, they are up against a real hitter.
One thing that nobody ever had any doubts about was Fregosi's arm. The question was how to harness it. He made 53 errors—mostly throwing—at Dallas- Fort Worth in 1961, and last year he estimates that 22 or 23 of his 27 errors came on throws. It was a pleasant joke at the Dallas- Fort Worth park that no one dared sit behind first base when Fregosi was taking infield practice. Even Fregosi could laugh about it, until one night in Denver when he uncorked another high toss. "It must have just tipped the first baseman's mitt," Fregosi says, "because it had a little downward spin on it." The ball crashed through a supposedly ball-proof screen in front of the Denver dugout and onto the head of Infielder Frank Kostro. Kostro suffered a brain concussion, and though he eventually fully recovered—in fact, he was Fregosi's teammate on the Angels last year—Fregosi still speaks of the accident and of the possibilities of such future misfortunes with sincere fear.