Even though Sunday was a drizzly, cold day at PNC Park, the saying still holds true that, “a bad day at the ballpark, beats a good day anywhere else.”
Due to the weather, I had the chance to sit and visit with Chuck Tanner, Jim Fregosi and Joe Sparks. Sparks and Fregosi are both major league advance scouts, while Tanner is the Pirates’ senior adviser.
Tanner started poking fun at Fregosi as soon as Fregosi sat down, saying, “The Angels retired Jim and my jersey number.”
Fregosi retorted with a snort and big laugh, “Yes, Chuck, I played in over 1,400 games for Angels, while you played in how many?”
For the record, Tanner played in 14 games for the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961 and 1962, before retiring to become a manager in the Angels farm system. Fregosi went on to play 11 seasons for the Angels. Actually, it was Fregosi’s number that the Angels retired. Tanner just happened to wear the number first.
After being teammates in 1961 and 1962, the duo crossed paths again in 1977 and 1978, as Fregosi provided veteran support off the bench for the Pirates. They shared another hearty laugh over the time Tanner had Fregosi play four full games in just over a 24-hour period.
“When I came over to the Pirates to play for Chuck, I played in a minor league game at nine in the morning during spring training,” Fregosi said. “I went over to the big league game at McKechnie. Willie (Stargell) popped out in the first inning. Chuck told me to give Willie a break, that Willie was tired. Tired? I was the one who had just played a nine-inning game on a dusty back field at spring training, where there probably wasn’t even a water fountain.
“When we got back out to Pirate City after the game, Tony Bartirome was yelling, ‘Check the list for the bus. Don’t be late.’ I didn’t even bother to check the list. I knew that ‘my good buddy Chuck’ had put my name on the list for the game down in Sarasota. Since I was staying off-site with my former teammate Bobby Knoop, they wouldn’t even give me a box lunch to eat on the way. After playing that whole game, I told them that I wasn’t even going to take my uniform off. I just went in and slept on the locker room floor. I already knew that I was playing in the minor league game the next morning.”
A smiling Tanner cut in, “Yes, Jim, but I was doing you a favor. I wanted to get you as many at-bats as possible in spring training, as you weren’t going to get very many once the regular season started.”
Tanner was right on that, as Fregosi only batted 20 times during the 1978 season.
He asked for his release so that he could return to the Angels, this time as manager. He stayed with them through the 1981 season. His 1979 team won the American League West record. He subsequently managed the Chicago White Sox (1986-88), Philadelphia Phillies (1991-96) and Toronto Blue Jays (1999-2000). His 1993 Phillies’ team lost in the World Series to Toronto.
Sparks managed in the minors for the 22 years, with stops in such places as Des Moines, Omaha, Indianapolis and Toledo. Twice, his Indianapolis teams won the American Association championship. He also coached for four seasons in the majors with the Montreal Expos, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds.
During his baseball career he only entered the training room on one occasion.
“I had signed in the fall of the previous year,” Sparks said. “I hadn’t really done much all winter in terms of baseball before I got on the overnight train in Bluefield. When I got off train in Florida, I went straight to the baseball complex. We put in a full day out there throwing the ball and taking infield. The next morning I had such a pain in my arm (pointed to a spot about one inch above the right elbow). “
Sparks continued, saying, “I went in the training room. Now, this was 1955 and the Giants were coming off of winning the World Series. Guys like Dusty Rhodes were in there. They had this old, crotchety trainer. He holds my arm up for the others to see and says, ‘I don’t see any blood. If it ain’t bleedin’ get out of here and don’t come back.’ That was the first and only time I ever went in the training room.”
Despite, the rain and lighting, Sunday was one of those times when a rainy day actually has a silver lining.
Have a good week.