By Glen Sparks
The 1970 regular season ended Oct. 1, and Jim Fregosi looked like a decent Hall of Fame candidate.
Fregosi, the California Angels’ shortstop, had just completed another splendid campaign. He hit 22 home runs, drove in 82 runs and batted .278 with a .353 on-base percentage. The right-handed batter compiled a 7.7 WAR, the second highest of his career. (He put up a 7.9 in 1964). Additionally, as he did five other times in his career, he made the American League All-Star team.
Fregosi was 28 years old and a 10-year veteran, one of the great all-around athletes to come out of northern California. He earned 11 varsity letters at Serra High School in San Mateo and turned down college baseball and football offers, signing instead in 1960 with the Boston Red Sox for $20,000.
Boston sent its top prospect to Alpine, Texas, a Class D squad. Fregosi promptly made the All-Star team. Class D ball is still far away from the Majors, though. The Red Sox left Fregosi unprotected in the 1960 expansion draft, held to stock the Angels and the new Washington Senators. The Angels selected Fregosi with the 35th overall pick.
Following a bit more seasoning in the minors, Fregosi debuted with the Angels as a 19-year-old in 1961. By 1963, he was the team’s starting shortstop. By the end of 1970, he had accumulated 45.1 WAR points. He received MVP votes in each of his eight full-season campaigns, finishing as high as seventh in 1967. At 6-feet-2, 195 pounds, Fregosi combined size, speed and a competitive fire.
Truth was, though, he was also beat up and worn out. He had a sore knee, and his struggles began. In 1971, Fregosi slumped to .233. He only hit five home runs to go with 33 RBI (0.8 WAR). Late in the year, the Angels made a concession to their star player’s battered body and moved him from shortstop to left field.
Rumors picked up that Fregosi, a leader on the field, would take over as Angels manager. Instead, the club traded him to the New York Mets for pitcher Don Rose, outfielder Leroy Stanton, catcher Francisco Estrada, and a 25-year-old fireballer from Texas who couldn’t hit the backside of a beer vendor from 10 paces. Nolan Ryan.
Up to that point, Ryan had been frightening batters in the Majors for five years. He had thrown 510 innings and had 493 strikeouts. He also had issued 344 walks. Nolan Ryan didn’t know where his 100 mph fastball was going. He was scary.
Soon enough, the Ryan Express got things a bit under control. Maybe, it was because he finally got some regular work. He won 19 games for the Angels in his first season and had a 2.28 ERA. He walked 157 batters in 284 innings, but he struck out 329. The following season, he won 21 games and fanned a record 383 hitters.
Ryan won 324 games in his 27-year career. He struck out 5,714 batters. He led the league in strikeouts 10 times and K/9 ratio 12 times. The guy who had 3.0 WAR points as a Met retired with 83.8.
Fregosi, meanwhile, added just 2.8 WAR points in his final seven seasons, retiring after the 1978 campaign. He spent several seasons as a manager, including a stint with the Angels.
The trade was one-sided, of course, a slam-dunk win for California. It’s important to remember, though, how much Fregosi meant to the early days of the Angels and, later, as the team’s skipper.