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Blue Jays Fire Manager Johnson

March 17, 1999

DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) _ Tim Johnson, whose managerial career was derailed by lies about his military service in Vietnam, was fired by the Blue Jays and replaced by Jim Fregosi today.

General manager Gord Ash, who hired Johnson prior to last season, said the move was made because the military service controversy had become a distraction in preparing the team for the season. The Blue Jays were 3-12 in exhibition games.

Fregosi, who signed to a two-year deal, was in the Blue Jays’ camp this morning. He had been with the San Francisco Giants as a special assistant to the general manager.

It is his fourth managing job. Fregosi, with an 861-937 record, managed Philadelphia from 1991-96 and guided the Phillies to the World Series in 1993 where they lost to the Blue Jays, managed by Cito Gaston.

Fregosi, who becomes Toronto’s seventh manager, began his managerial career with the California Angels (1978-1981) and led them to the playoffs against Baltimore in 1979. He then moved on to the Chicago White Sox (1987-1988) and the Phillies.

Ash said to move to change manager began last week when he met with the Toronto’s owners and ``expressed some concern about our ability to move forward.″

``They gave me the opportunity to examine some possibilities,″ Ash said, and he asked the Giants for permission to talk with Fregosi.

``We talked to him a year ago (when the team was looking for a replacement for Gaston). As a result of that conversation, and that he was available, we came to the conclusion over the weekend on the deal.″

Ash said he didn’t make make a move during the winter because he felt Johnson deserved ``the chance to have the opportunity to come to spring training and see if it could work.″

But, according to Ash, Johnson’s lies about being in combat in Vietnam ``wasn’t going to fade into the background as quickly as I hoped. It became a distraction.″

Ash said the Blue Jays’ 3-12 exhibition-game record wasn’t a factor.

``It didn’t help but I can’t say it was a component of the dismissal,″ he said.

Ash said Johnson, fired at 1 a.m. after Toronto’s 2-1 exhibition loss to the Yankees in Tampa had been asked to take a leave of absence.

Johnson was about to start his second year managing the American League team. The former U.S. Marine was Ash’s hand-picked choice, bypassing more experienced managers such as Fregosi and Davey Johnson in replacing Gaston.

The Jays stumbled at the start, then finished strongly. But Tim Johnson was enveloped in controversy when it was revealed his war stories about Vietnam were false. A conflict with pitching coach Mel Queen also ensued.

Johnson taught mortar training to recruits going to Vietnam, but never served there. He issued a public apology, met individually with reporters to discuss his problem and said he was seeking counseling.

But the issue never went away and Johnson was dogged with questions wherever he went.

``Jim Fregosi has a passion to manage with the experience, know how, savvy and communications skills to make it work,″ Ash said. ``Jim will meet the coaching staff today, however no other changes are expected at this time.″

Fregosi said he was looking forward to managing again.

``I’m excited about taking over the club,″ he said. ``(There’s) a lot of ability here. I don’t think I’ve been brought over in a youth movement. I’ve been brought in to win games.″

Blue Jays players found out about the managing change when they arrived for workouts this morning.

``When did that happen?″ pitcher David Wells asked. ``I don’t know what to say. Jim’s a good guy.″

Fregosi was expected to be in uniform for today’s exhibition game against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.

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