What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This is another installment in the Sports Blog Movement series which takes a hard look at certain instances, or specific seasons which would make sports fans cringe in horror and pain, or expands on that to take a hard look at the long-suffering fans of franchises who have tortured their supporters for decades.
The episode is my sad saga of being a life-long fan of the
Los Angeles California Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Los Angeles Angels. First of all, just look at that list of name changes. When I was a kid and they were still the California Angels; this was a team that was the “red-headed step child” of southern California baseball; even the expansion and shitty San Diego Padres had a better local television deal. Angel games (when you could find them) were usually on a UHF station which shoe-horned baseball into a power-packed lineup of Dobie Gillis re-runs, “B” westerns from the 1940’s, and the original Japanese “Ultraman” series. You kids who know nothing of television before MTV may have to do a web search to find out what any of the shit I just mentioned means.
The point is that being an Angels fan is like getting a really cool birthday gift from a relative to whom you haven’t spoken in years. The Angels have pissed me off so many times in the past; there have been so many times I’ve almost sat shiva on this team and my relationship with it, I almost wish I could “give back” the 2002 World Series title so I wouldn’t have to escalate the relationship from its usual level of “fuck-off-ness.”
You would think the current level of success would abate some of this, but It really hasn’t. The big money era brought to us by owner Arte Moreno still hasn’t borne any play-off fruit, and I’m not sure it ever will. Missing the play-offs this year would mark five straight years with having one of the highest payrolls in baseball with nothing to show for it. Ownership notwithstanding, this team just doesn’t have a good history, and I get the feeling that isn’t going to change.
Sure, this team is contending now, but I just got to watch my best pitcher shred his knee. That’s the power of history, and for those of you who don’t know the history of this team, allow me to share some of the misery.
1) I wasn’t old enough to have Bo Belinsky as a hero.
If you aren’t familiar, Belinsky was the Angels first star in the early 1960’s. He was a left-handed starter whose overall career numbers weren’t really noteworthy; he had a career record of 28-51 in eight major league seasons. But it was in 1962 when it all started for Belinsky in Los Angeles. At this time, major league baseball was in its fifth year in southern California and the Angels were a second-year expansion team which didn’t even have their own ballpark yet; they were sharing the brand-new Dodger Stadium. While the Dodgers has already brought the Southland a World Series title in 1959, it was in May of 1962 that Belinsky’s star was born.
Against the Baltimore Orioles, Belinsky threw a 2-0 no-hitter for his fourth straight victory of the season. It was the first major league no-hitter ever pitched in California, and all of a sudden the lefty with the blazing fastball and knee-buckling screwball was a household name.
One of the people in the crowd that night was legendary newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, who shared Belinsky’s exploits with the world. You have to understand the media was unrecognizably different in 1962 than today. Newspapers were the king of media, and Walter Winchell was the king of newspapers; his column ran in every newspaper that mattered. So, if Walter Winchell said you were a star, you were a star. Winchell wrote about Belinsky often, and next thing you know, an relative unknown from the Lower East Side of Manhattan is a media sensation.
It didn’t hurt that Belinsky was a tall handsome guy, and his new-found fame made him a hot commodity amongst the female population. Winchell used to get bags of mail from women all wanting to meet Belinsky; his Angel teammates used to stand in awe of the stacks of fan mail Belinsky was getting from adoring potential paramours.
Naturally, this quickly led to Belinsky becoming one of the legendary swordsman in all of Hollywood, not just baseball. Bo knew all there was to know about starlets. He had a Jeterian list of conquests including, but not limited to Ann-Margret, Tina Louise, and Connie Stevens. There was even a short engagement to Mamie Van Doren and a marriage to Playboy Playmate Jo Collins. Those of you under 50 may need to web-search those names, but trust me, in their prime, they were all “A-list” material. Later, Belinsky married the heiress to the Weyerhauser paper fortune, so there’s really no question his career amongst the female set makes yours seem just sad.
2) They made me a fan of another team.
Any long-time Angel fan can tell you that in the 1970’s it really looked as if the Minnesota Twins were California’s farm team. With the notable exceptions of Brain Downing, Frank Tanana, and Nolan Ryan, if the Angels had a player worth anything, chances are Angels’ owner Gene Autry got him from the Twins over a bourbon-fueled deal with Calvin Griffith. This continued into the 80’s and 90’s. You could put together a pretty damn good roster of just guys who played for the Angels and the Twins. Imagine what a contender the Calisota Twingels would be if you could put this team on the field with everybody in their prime…
3) The litany of bizarre player personnel decisions.
Probably only the Chicago Cubs have a longer list in this category, but without getting into that, here’s some things that to this day make my brain explode.
Those are just the tip of the iceberg. To really get into this, we have to look at trades; which brings us to…
4) The cavalcade of horrible trades
Sure, there were some great deals, such as Jim Fregosi for Nolan Ryan, and Jim Abbott for J.T. Snow, but there were also some terrible ones.
Wagner was the Angels’ first hitting star; the first to hit a home run in the All-Star game and the first to start an All-Star game. The Angels traded him in his prime for Joe Adcock, another star who was winding down his career. After the trade, Wagner remained as one of the league’s best hitters while Adcock began his General MacArthur impression by starting to fade away; his numbers decreased every season after this trade. The moral of the story: trading a guy in his prime for a guy near the end of his career almost never works.
As I said, trading for J.T. Snow was a brilliant move, but the Angels undid it by dealing Snow for Watson just as the slick-fielding Snow was developing as a hitter. He went on to hit 28 homers in his first year in San Francisco, and won four straight Gold Gloves for the suddenly competitive Giants. Meanwhile, for the Angels, Watson led the league in home runs allowed and compiled a 5.28 ERA in two seasons.
This trade was like putting gas in the tank of car you’ve already wrecked. To this day, I can’t figure out what either side was thinking. Abbott defined the term “non-factor,” the low-point was the season he went 1-14 with an ERA that looked more like a ZIP code. In return for this wreck, the Angels got a used-up Von Hayes. In his one season under the California sun, Hayes hit .225, drove in 29 runs, and generally did everything else he could to personify $2.2 million dollars being lit on fire. After this belly-dive, Hayes never played again.
See Leon Wagner for Joe Adcock. I’ve said it before, and now I get to say it again…trading a guy in his prime for a guy near the end of his career almost never works. In his lone season with the Angels, Hinton hit a dreadful .195, while Cardenal went on to long career as a speedy outfielder with an adequate bat.
In five years with the Angels, Easley hit a total of 15 home runs, with a .245 average, so they traded him for a mediocre reliever named Greg Gohr. Over the next three years, Easley averaged 23 home runs and 79 RBIs as the Tigers’ second baseman, winning a silver slugger award in 1998. Gohr, meanwhile, had a 7.50 ERA in a half season with the Angels and never pitched again.
Sure, we love the Goob-ster now that he’s an Angels broadcaster, but remember when he was actually wearing the uniform? No, you probably don’t because we collectively as Angels’ fans blocked that out. He had an ERA of 25.oo. TWENTY-FUCKING-FIVE! To be fair, that was only two starts, but that was all we got in trade for a guy who went on to hit 30 home runs with an .896 OPS in his first year with the Royals. Goobs never pitched again.
No, it’s not that Mark Davis. This one was a right-fielder whose entire career as an Angel can be summed up in a single 0-for-2 performance. He represents the fact the Angels gave up too early on their 1986 first-round pick. Roberto Hernandez went on to notch 326 career saves.
In yet another example of the Angels prematurely ditching youth for over-priced veterans, Parker’s lone season in Orange County was nothing short of excruciating; he hit .239 with less power than a 1985 Yugo and a broken Daisy air-rifle combined. Meanwhile, Bichette eventually became an MVP candidate for the Rockies. No, it doesn’t make me feel any better that the Brewers whiffed on Bichette as well.
If you can’t tell by now, there’s a theme here. Older guy Burleson won the Silver Slugger in his first season with the Angels, which for a while made this look like a solid deal. However, Burleson only played only 51 games over the next four seasons, while younger guy Lansford went on to win a batting title, a Silver Slugger award, rack up four consecutive .300 seasons, and 2,000+ hits in his career.
In 1980, Thompson was a young emerging slugger. Naturally, the Angels immediately dealt him to Pittsburgh for Ott and Mahler. Ott spent one season batting hit .217 and icing his knees before retiring. then retired. Mahler would pitch a total of 14 innings in an Angels uniform. Meanwhile, Jason Thompson spent the early 80’s as one of the most feared sluggers in the game.
As previously mentioned…The August before the Angels traded for Wells, the Blue Jays put him on waivers. No team in baseball — including the Angels — offered to take on his contract, even thought they could have had him COMPLETELY FOR FUCKING FREE. Nobody wanted a part of what was easily the wort contract in baseball at the time. But, six months later the Angels not only take on the contact but give up Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera in the process. Dumb…
Devon White was one of the best defensive outfielders I’ve ever seen, and I watched him get traded for two utility infielders. After being shipped to Toronto, White won five straight Gold Gloves.
Brunansky was a first-round pick with a .530 slugging percentage who had been rolling through the Pacific Coast League like the Red Army through Prague in 1968. After being traded to the Twins, Brunansky hit 20 homers. In his second season, he hit 28. In his third, he hit 32. In his time in Minnesota, but in his time there, he averaged 27 home runs and 77 RBIs. In return, the Angels got Rob Wilfong, who couldn’t catch, couldn’t run, and couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a fucking boat.
5) 53 Years and counting for having a “statue-worthy” player
That fact exists largely because this is a franchise know for eating it’s young; just look at that list of trades. Angel nation has its hopes riding on Mike Trout; barring a career-ending injury or a Bavasi offspring trading him for a can of unicorn meat.
6) The Collapse of 1995
The California Angels’ 1995 season featured the Angels finishing in second place in the American League West with a record of 78 wins and 67 losses. But just looking at the numbers doesn’t tell the gut-ripping story of 1995. It doesn’t tell the story of the statistically-worst late-season collapse in Major League Baseball history. On August 16, they held a 10. 5-game lead over the Texas Rangers and an 11.5 -game lead over the Seattle Mariners. Then they blew the first tire, resulting in a nine-game losing streak from August 25 to September 3. Their lead survived this blow-out, but those little donut replacement tires are only good for so long.
They blew another tire on September 13, which marked the start of the death march to second-place; the Angels dropped another nine in row. Despite the fact the Halos bounced back to end the season winning the last five scheduled games to tie Seattle for the division lead and forced a one-game playoff. Mariners’ ace Randy Johnson led his team to a 9–1 triumph, putting the final nail in the Angels’ season.
8) Gene Fucking Mauch
Until just now, you probably didn’t remember the collapse of 1995. But really, that was just then-Angels’ skipper Marcel Lachemann doing his best Gene Mauch impression. Despite this mega-fold, Lachemann’s expired contract was re-newed for 1996. The Angels eventually realized the error of their ways; Lachemann was gassed after a 52-59 start to a season in which California finished in the AL West cellar.
Why did the Angels do this? Because they had a calendar which didn’t have 1964 in it, which is why they did the exact same shit with Gene Mauch
Baseball fans can’t help but remember the epic collapse of the Gene Mauch-led collapse of the 1964 Phillies. But Angel fans get a double-dose here, because they didn’t heed the warnings. Nobody seems to learn the lesson; safety regulations exist for a reason. Somebody somewhere somewhat smarter than you already knew that you shouldn’t stand on the top rung of the ladder, nor should you grab the overhead wire. That’s why there is usually a sign or a label; some sort of warning that what you are about to do is a bad idea.
Gene Mauch should have come with just such a label. Clearly, the other signs were not visible enough…the collapse of the 1964 Phillies, the malaise that was the Montreal Expos in the early 70’s, and the Angels’ playoff choke-jobs in the 80’s…Mauch kept a level of respect in baseball that he kept getting hired even after just having been fired for complete ineptitude.