Former Royals manager Jim Frey has died at the age of 88, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Frey managed the Royals in 1980 and 1981, winning a pennant in his first season, one of just three managers in club history to manage a World Series game. His 1980 Royals won 97 games, second-most in club history, losing to the Phillies in the Fall Classic that year.
Jim Frey was from Cleveland, Ohio, and was childhood friends and teammates with future Red Sox and Cubs manager Don Zimmer. Frey signed with the Boston Braves out of high school and bounced around the minors for over a decade before calling it quits at the age of 32 without ever reaching the big leagues. Ready to begin a career in real estate, he instead got a call from the Baltimore Orioles asking him to manage their A-ball club. By 1970, he was on the Major League coaching staff, learning under legendary Orioles manager Earl Weaver. Those Orioles won three pennants and one World Series with Frey on the staff as a hitting coach.
A disappointing late-season skid and personal friction with ownership and management cost popular Royals manager Whitey Herzog his job after the 1979 season, and the team turned to Frey to lead the club.
“We wanted a good baseball man,” said Royal GM Joe Burke. “And we wanted a good organization man. In the interview, Jim was already using the pronoun we,’ and that impressed us.”
Frey was known as a disciplinarian in stark contrast to Herzog, who was more of a player’s coach. He immediately had to deal with the departure of his star catcher Darrell Porter, who checked himself into a rehab center during spring training. Porter would eventually return in May, and despite injuries to key players like George Brett, Hal McRae, and Amos Otis, the Royals would win 97 games, easily walking away with the American League Western Division.
Frey was able to do something Herzog could not do in three tries - beat the Yankees. Frey’s Royals swept the Bronx Bombers in three games, exorcising their demons and advancing to the first World Series in club history. They engaged in a tight series against the Phillies that could have gone either way, but some miscues, a lack of clutch hitting, and a rare blown save by closer Dan Quisenberry doomed the Royals, who fell to the Phillies in six games.
The Royals stumbled out of the gate in 1981, beginning the year 20-30 before the work stoppage in the middle of the summer. When play resumed, the Royals decided to fire Frey in just his second season, replacing him with the manager he had defeated in the playoffs the previous season - former Yankees skipper Dick Howser. Frey was criticized for not running enough, and his strict rules and prickly personality caused players to grumble and openly criticize him. Frey finished 127-105 with the Royals, winning 54.7 percent of his games.
Frey would work a season as the hitting coach for the Mets before being hired to lead the Chicago Cubs in 1984. The Cubs won 96 games, their first winning season in 12 years, and made their first playoff appearance in nearly four decades. The team looked poised to win a pennant after building up a 2-0 series lead, but they lost the next three to lose the NLCS to the Padres. After a losing season in 1985, Frey was fired mid-way through the 1986 season. The Cubs later hired him in 1987 to be their GM, and he made some big moves such as trading closer Lee Smith to Boston, bringing Goose Gossage to Chicago, and sending prospect Rafael Palmeiro to Texas for closer Mitch Williams. The Cubs won the division in 1989, but after some ill-fated free agent signings and a disappointing 1990 season, Frey was fired in 1991.
Frey retired to Florida following his baseball career, although he would spend some time as an executive with the independent Somerset Patriots in the Atlantic League.