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Blue Jays Fire Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson, whose managerial career was derailed by lies about his military service in Vietnam, was fired by the Toronto Blue Jays and replaced by Jim Fregosi on Wednesday.

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 a two-year deal, was in Blue Jays camp Wednesday 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 1993 World Series, where they lost to the Blue Jays, then 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 the move to change managers began last week when he met with 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 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 weren'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 Fregoi and Davey Johnson in replacing Gaston.

The Jays stumbled at the start last season, then finished strongly. But 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 Wednesday 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 Wednesday's exhibition game against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.

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