For 40 years the Angels were victims of late-season collapses, post-season chokes, personal tragedies, and mediocre teams, yet they always proved entertaining, and at times drew record crowds. In 2002 they exorcised those considerable demons and won their first World Series title. The American League’s answer to Walter O’Malley’s shift of the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958, the Los Angeles Angels were born out of the fear that a rival third league (Branch Rickey’s short-lived Continental League) would reach the West Coast before the Junior Circuit could.
At the 1960 winter meetings, AL owners voted to award a franchise to Los Angeles, and compete directly with the immensely popular Dodgers. Plans were also made to add a team in Washington, D.C. to replace the old Senators who were transferring to Minnesota for the 1961 campaign. At virtually the same time, the NL agreed to expand into Houston and New York by 1962. Expansion was underway.
Ownership of the California franchise was awarded to a group led by Hollywood legend Gene Autry, an ardent baseball fan. The Los Angeles based team would play in Wrigley Field (named for the same owner that the Cubs field is named for) and be called the Angels. The roots of that name went back to the very first Pacific Coast League Los Angeles entry. Billy Rigney was tabbed as the first Angel skipper.
The Angels first selection in the expansion draft was Eli Grba, a pitching prospect they plucked from the Yankees. Later selections brought Ted Kluszewski, Bob Cerv, and Eddie Yost. PCL crowd favorite Steve Bilko was also selected, as was 1958 AL Rookie of the Year Albie Pearson.
In the Angels first game, Kluszewski and Cerv hit back-to-back first inning homers and the new team won going away 7-2 over the Baltimore Orioles. The expansion Angels won more games than they were figured to – 70, finishing 8th in the 10 team AL. In 1962 they shocked everyone by winning 86 games and finishing 3rd. Bo Belinsky, Dean Chance, and Ken McBride anchored the staff, while Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner and Lee Thomas led the offense.
The next few seasons saw Bob Rodgers, Jim Fregosi, and Bobby Knoop emerge as team leaders. In 1966 the team moved from Dodger Stadium (where O’Malley had been charging them rent since 1962) into a new park built especially for them in Anaheim. The change of scenery (and change to California Angels) did little to help the team on the field, as they finished no higher than 5th in the next three seasons.
By 1969-1970, a few young players were making noise for the Angels. Jose Cardenal and Ed Fitzpatrick in the outfield, and Knoop, Fregosi, and Aurelio Rodriguez in the infield. By this time Fregosi was the Angels best player, team leader, and All-Star. Unfortunately, in 1970 the Angels traded Cardenal to Cleveland for outfielder Chuck Hinton. The move was a bust.
In the dugout, Lefty Phillips replaced Rigney in 1969, showing his ability to bring along young pitchers over the next few seasons, such as Andy Messersmith and Rudy May. In 1970, Alex Johnson won the batting title for the Angels, and the team finished 3rd in the AL West. But in 1971 the up-and-down Angels had another down year and Johnson’s antics off the field led to his suspension in June. He never played for the Angels again.
The tumultuous 1971 season led to off-season changes as Phillips and the GM were both axed. In came Harry Dalton from the Oriole organization. He soon made some deals, getting Leo Cardenas from the Twins. The biggest deal was on December 10, 1971, when he acquired Nolan Ryan, Leroy Stanton, Don Rose, and Francisco Estrada from the Mets for Fregosi. The Angels were unsure if Fregosi would heal from foot surgery and gambled. It paid off. Ryan ended up in the Hall of Fame, and even though he only pitched eight seasons in California, he was the greatest hurler in team history.
Bobby Winkles took over as manager prior to the 1973 season, after Del Rice had led the new-look Angels to a disappointing 5th place finish in 1972. The 1973 season saw Ryan set a major league record with 383 strikeouts, pitching two no-hitters in the process. Frank Robinson, acquired from the Dodgers in a five-player swap, led the team with 30 home runs but the team still finished below .500 and in fourth place. In 1974 the team was back to it’s yo-yo ways – finishing last – the first time in team history. Winkles was soon gone, replaced by Dick Williams, former manager of two Oakland A’s World Champions. Williams swept out the veterans such as Robinson, Sandy Alomar, and Rudy May, replacing them with youngsters like hard throwing rookie left-hander Frank Tanana. That 1975 team stole 220 bases, the most by an AL team since 1916. Mickey Rivers, Jerry Remy, Dave Collins, Stanton, and Morris Nettles led the theft movement, but the Halos finished last again, more than 25 games behind the A’s.
Seeing speed wasn’t the answer, the team traded for some power: dealing Rivers and pitcher Ed Figueroa to the Yankees for Bobby Bonds. Entering his declining years, Bonds would play for six teams over the next six seasons. Rivers and Figueroa helped New York win two World titles. Williams was fired in the middle of the 1976 season, Autry replacing him with easy-going Norm Sherry, the former Dodger pitcher. But beyond Ryan and Tanana, the ’76 Angel squad had little to get excited about. But shortly the fortunes of the team would drastically change.
Free Agency came to baseball in the winter of 1976, and the Old Cowboy Gene Autry dove into the bidding wars head first. Determined to bring a winner to Southern California and compete with the popular Dodgers, Autry signed Don Baylor and Joe Rudi from the A’s, and Bobby Grich from the Orioles. The moves were critical in the success of the team for the next several seasons.
But before things could get better, some things got worse. Tanana and Ryan suffered arm injuries and young infield prospect Mike Miley was killed in a car accident. The 1977 season saw the Angels stepping in place, but the improved performance from key players pointed to a prosperous 1978.
The 1977 off-season brought Twins batting star Lyman Bostock to California as Autry again opened his wallet. But tragically, in late 1978 Bostock, just 27 years old, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was killed in a domestic dispute involving people he didn’t even know. The death placed a black cloud on an otherwise exciting 1978 season, The Angels finished a strong second to the Royals, winning a franchise record 87 games. Rick Miller, Carney Lansford, Dave Chalk, and Brian Downing emerged that season as key players on the team for new manager Jim Fregosi (yes…that Jim Fregosi, back again), who replaced the fired Dave Garcia.
Late in 1978, the Angels acquired Rod Carew (unhappy with Twins management as much as they were with him) from Minnesota, solidifying their spot as pre-season favorites for the 1979 division crown. They didn’t disappoint, winning 88 games and unseating the Royals as leaders of the AL West pack. Autry was ecstatic.
But the playoffs brought the Orioles, who beat the Halos in four games. That 1979 team was led by MVP Don Baylor, with great seasons from Downing and Grich. Carew, Ryan, and Tanana had average or sub-par seasons for them but it was enough to win. In 1980 the team fell apart, suffering injuries and terrible play that left them an embarrassing sixth, ahead of only the lowly Seattle Mariners. It was a case of the ups and downs again. Adding insult to those injuries was the loss of Ryan prior to the ’80 season. He signed a lucrative contract with the Astros, primarily due to his loathing of Angel GM Buzzie Bavasi.
In the 1981 strike-torn season the team continued to flounder, unable to right itself. Fregosi was scapegoated and fired on May 28, replaced by Gene Mauch. On the field few players remained from the ’79 division winners, with Lansford, Miller, Rudi, and Mark Clear all having been traded to Boston for Butch Hobson, Rick Burleson, and Fred Lynn. The short season was not enough time to see if the mass changes had been profitable.
Entering 1982 the team also added Reggie Jackson, one of baseball’s most feared sluggers and clutch performers. The dividends were large as the Angels won their second division crown with a strong club. They won 93 games under Mauch, establishing a club mark for attendance in the process. Jackson, Lynn, Downing, Doug DeCinces, Baylor, Carew, and Grich led the star-studded offense. Geoff Zahn, Ken Forsch, Tommy John, Steve Renko, Mike Witt, and Bruce Kison made up a solid if unspectacular starting rotation.
California faced the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 AL Playoffs. The Brew Crew suffered two losses at Anaheim to open the best-of-five series, before moving to Milwaukee for the balance. No team had ever rallied from 2-0 in a playoff series. But leave it to the Angels to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They dropped the last three games and lost the playoff and the pennant. Second-guessing Angel fans everywhere debated Mauch’s pitching moves all off-season.
Despite the unprecedented playoff collapse, Mauch was secure as Angel manager. But in late winter he suddenly resigned, leaving the Halos without a leader after winning the division. Perhaps the ghosts of Mauch’s pennant collapse in 1964 with the Phillies were haunting him. John McNamara replaced Mauch, but following precedent, the Angels slumped after the great ’82 season, finishing 5th. The highlight of the season was Carew, who was over .400 as late as the All-Star break before finishing 2nd in the batting race to Wade Boggs.
Mike Witt emerged in 1984, winning 15 games and tossing a perfect game over the Rangers on the final day of the season. The win pulled California into a second place tie with Minnesota despite a mediocre 81-81 mark. In the off-season McNamara left to manage the Red Sox, and Mauch returned for a second stint as Angel manager. The two would meet again in dramatic circumstances.
Mauch’s return helped lead the Angels back, keeping the team in contention all season long. In the final days of the ’85 stretch drive, the Royals won 3 of 4 and took the lead, never to relinquish it. The Angels finished one game back. But the season was a success, the team having returned to contender status with an eye toward 1986.
Everything went right for the Angles in 1986 until their final three games. They led by as much as 10 games in the regular season, and finished with 92 wins and their third division title. Wally Joyner became a fan favorite, finishing runner-up in Rookie of the Year honors to Jose Canseco. Downing and DeCinces also enjoyed fine seasons, and Witt, Kirk McCaskill, and Don Sutton helped formed the deepest staff in Angel history. Donnie Moore was the bullpen stopper.
In the ALCS the Angels faced Boston, led by McNamara. A three-run 9th inning rally helped California steal Game Four, giving them a 3-1 advantage. All they needed was one more victory to reach the World Series, Gene Autry’s ultimate goal and the elusive goal of Gene Mauch for so many years. Perhaps this would be the year.
Perhaps not. In Game Five Mauch replaced ace Witt in the ninth inning, leading by one with two outs. After a hit batsman, Mauch brought in Moore to face Dave Henderson. Moore had been shelled in Game Three, which the Angels had won, but his ineffectiveness in that game was perhaps prophetic. After coming within a strike of finishing off the Red Sox and winning the first pennant in Angel history, Moore threw a forkball that Henderson launched over the wall for a 6-5 Boston lead. The crowd was stunned silent.
Amazingly, the Angels rallied to tie in the ninth and had the bases loaded with one out, but DeCinces and Grich failed to plate the pennant winning run and the game moved to extra frames. In the 11th the Red Sox got to Moore and eventually won 7-6. The Angels never recovered, losing Game Six 10-4 back in Fenway Park. By Game Seven they were jelly-legged and lost 8-1. The collapse was a bitter pill for Angel fans to swallow and even more bitter for Moore. By 1989 he had heard enough of the booing and second-guessing. Mentally unstable, he killed himself in the middle of the baseball season.
Mauch was gone after the ’87 season, in which California finished sixth. Cookie Rojas, Doug Rader, and Buck Rodgers took turns at the helm the next five seasons, winning a high of 90 games under Rader in 1990. The team was still trying to win with veterans from other organizations: Dave Winfield, Chili Davis, Claudell Washington, Johnny Ray, Lance Parrish, Gary Gaetti, and Bert Blyleven were some of the “old-timers” that toiled for the mediocre Angel teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The later 1990s brought a youth movement with homegrown talent emerging in the names of Darrin Erstad, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon and Garrett Anderson. In 1995 the Angels led the AL West much of the season but were overtaken late, when the Mariners and Halos finished in a tie, the two played one game for the division title. The Angels bad luck continued, as they lost.
Mo Vaughn was signed as a free agent in 1999 but the slugger never panned out on the left coast. In 2000, Mike Scioscia was hired as manager, leading the team to a 12-game improvement. After a step back in 2001, the Angels rebounded in 2002 despite a 6-14 start. Anaheim hung with the Oakland A’s, who won 20 consecutive games in August/September, battling until the final week for the division title. The Angels settled for a franchise-best 99 wins and the wild-card, surpassing all expectations.
Anaheim scored a big upset in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, dumping the favored Yankees in four games and winning the first playoff series in franchise history. Anderson, Salmon, Erstad, Troy Glaus, David Eckstein, Scott Speizio and Adam Kennedy formed an offense that set a post-season record by hitting .376 against the stunned Yankees.
In the LCS against the Twins, the Angels again lost the first game of the series before storming back to sweep the next four games. Second baseman Adam Kennedy made history in the fifth game when he blasted three homers to lead the Angels into their first World Series. 20-year old rookie phenom Francisco Rodriguez also emerged as a hero, supplying a steady diet of fastballs and wicked sliders to enemy batters as his legend grew. Rodriguez, who earned the nickname “K-Rod,” hadn’t been called up to Anaheim until the middle of September, but Scioscia placed him on the post-season roster based on his great stuff. The move paid off as Rodriguez helped the team win a thrilling seven game series against the Giants. The stars of the series were Gluas, who won the MVP honor, rookie starting pitcher John Lackey, who won two games, including game seven, and Darin Erstad, who hit in every post-season game but one.
The Angels finally had the World Series title that owner Gene Autry had so coveted.
Bill Rigney, Lefty Phillips, Del Rice, Bobby Winkles, Whitey Herzog, Dick Williams, Norm Sherry, Dave Garcia, Jim Fregosi, Gene Mauch, John McNamara, Gene Mauch, Cookie Rojas, Moose Stubing, Doug Rader, Buck Rodgers, John Wathan, Marcel Lachemann, Buck Rodgers, Bobby Knoop, Marcel Lachemann, John McNamara, Joe Maddon, Terry Collins, Mike Sciosca