L.A. Sports Franchises: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
March 30, 2011 Leave a comment
World Series Titles: 2002 (1)
Retired Numbers: #11 Jim Fregosi, #26 Gene Autry, #29 Rod Carew, #30 Nolan Ryan, #42 Jackie Robinson (retired league-wide), #50 Jimmie Reese
Rivals: Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Oakland A’s
An expansion franchise, the club was founded in Los Angeles in 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels. The team played their home games at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field (not to be confused with Chicago’s stadium of the same name), which had formerly been the home of the minor-league Los Angeles Angels.
The team then moved in 1962 to newly built Dodger Stadium, where they were tenants of the Los Angeles Dodgers through 1965. The team was founded, and owned for its first 36 years, by entertainer Gene Autry. During Autry’s ownership, the team was often competitive, making the playoffs three times but never winning the pennant. After spending a year at Wrigley, and four seasons as tenants at Dodger Stadium, the Angels christened Anaheim Stadium April 9, 1966, with an exhibition game against the San Francisco Giants.
It is difficult to dispute that any player that played with the Angels over the franchise’s history is more popular in the hearts of fans than the celebrated pitcher Nolan Ryan. In July 1973, Ryan became the fifth pitcher in MLB history to record two no-hitters in a single season, with the first coming in May of the same year, when he pitched the Angels to a 6-0 win against the Tigers at Detroit. The Angels’ franchise began to rally being Ryan’s stellar performances, as he led the American League in strikeouts seven times during his eight seasons with the Angels.
After 18 years of existence, Gene Autry’s team had finally made it to the postseason in 1979. League MVP Don Baylor led an explosive offense, which complemented a pitching staff led by Ryan and Dave Frost. However, the Angels would eventually be ousted by the Orioles in a four game ALCS.
Though Ryan’s strikeouts and no-hitters got him considerable media attention, he did not win over Angels GM Buzzie Bavasi, who dismissed him as a flashy .500 pitcher (Ryan was 26–27 in the two years both men were with the Angels). When Bavasi let Ryan leave after a 16–14 record in the 1979 season, Bavasi remarked he only needed to replace Ryan with two 8–7 pitchers, adding, “I think my plumber could do that.” He later admitted that not re-signing Ryan was his biggest mistake as the Angels’ general manager.
The Angels were a mediocre team for the next few years after Ryan’s departure. A record year for individual players with the franchise came in 1984, when Reggie Jackson became the 13th player to reach the coveted and exclusive milestone of 500 career homers. On the other side of the Angels’ game, pitcher Mike Witt became the 13th pitcher in Major League history to toss a perfect game. At age 24, he was the fourth youngest ever to garner such an achievement.
The Angels would go on to return to postseason glory, capturing the AL West in 1986. However, the Angels were denied a World Series berth in heartbreaking fashion, after a seven game series against the Boston Red Sox.
The Angels had long been a consistently average team, and they remain such in the majority of the 1990’s. They had decent pieces, but found difficulty in scrounging up efforts that would sustain them late in the season, and through the postseasons.
In 2000, Mike Scioscia took over the managerial reins and led the club to an 82-80 record, a 12-game improvement. Darin Erstad won a Gold Glove in the outfield and enjoyed a dominant offensive season, leading the AL in hits, with 240, while scoring 121 runs and driving in 100. Troy Glaus also turned in an AL-high 47 homers and 102 RBIs, while Mo Vaughn (36), Garret Anderson (35) and Tim Salmon (34) also joined the home-run party. However, the Angels’ offensive eruption wasn’t supported by quality pitching, so the 2000 and 2001 seasons were times of offensive success and bullpen obscurity.
That all changed in 2002. After a sluggish start, the Angels featured a bold new running game, and stormed to the AL Wild Card with a 99-63 record. After knocking out the Yankees in the ALDS in four games, the Angels continued their hot hitting while ousting the Twins in five in the ALCS, highlighted by Adam Kennedy’s three-homer outburst in Game 5 at Angel Stadium. The Angels were on the verge of losing the World Series to the San Francisco Giants when they rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win Game 6 with three runs in the seventh inning and three more in the eighth. Behind rookie John Lackey, they claimed Game 7 at home, 4-1, for the first championship in franchise history. Troy Glaus delivered big-time power and was named World Series MVP for his offensive fireworks, hitting .385 with three homers and eight RBIs in the postseason. Mike Scioscia was named AL Manager of the Year in his third season on the job.
In the afterglow of the franchise’s first World Series triumph, the Angels crash-landed in 2003, finishing eight games below .500. Garret Anderson tried to carry the offense, batting .315 with 29 homers, but injuries whittled away the lineup with only Adam Kennedy, Tim Salmon, Scott Spiezio and Bengie Molina managing to stay healthy along with Anderson.
With the offseason acquisitions of outfielders Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen and pitchers Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar, the Angels had high hopes for a turnaround season in 2004 under new owner Arte Moreno. Despite injuries to key players such as Glaus, Darin Erstad and Troy Percival, Guerrero hammered opposition pitchers all season long. Additionally, Francisco Rodriguez stepped into Percival’s closer’s role, allowing the Angels to stay afloat, getting red-hot through August and into September. They went on a 7-1 burst on the road against AL West foes Oakland and Texas in the final two weeks of the season, beating the A’s on the second to last day to wrap up their first division title in 18 years. The Angels lost in the ALDS to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox, but that couldn’t mask a terrific regular season. Erstad won a Gold Glove at first base to become the first player in Major League history to win one as an infielder and outfielder.
Behind Bartolo Colon’s Cy Young season and Vladimir Guerrero’s bat, in 2005, the Angels won the American League West for the second straight year. After defeating the Yankees in five games in the ALDS, the Angels were stopped by the eventual World Series Champion Chicago White Sox, losing in five games in the ALCS. The 2006 season would not see the same successes, as LA finished four games short of the A’s in the AL West.
The 2007 season saw a comeback in LA, as the Angels posted a 94-68 record, enroute to capturing the AL West title, their third division crown in four years and their sixth in club history. In the ALDS, the Red Sox completed a three-game sweep of the Angels at Angel Stadium after taking the first two games at Fenway.
In 2008, despite setting a club record with 100 wins and finishing 21 games ahead of second-place Texas in the AL West, the season ended again in frustration at the hands of the Red Sox, who prevailed again in four games in the ALDS.
With a strong finish in the late 2009 season, which was an emotional one due to unexpected deaths within management and the roster, the Angels won the division by 10 games, going 97-65. They carried momentum into the postseason and finally derailed Boston in the American League Division Series. After winning the first two games at home behind John Lackey and Jered Weaver, the Angels rallied with four ninth-inning runs, all with two out, to stun the Red Sox at Fenway Park and complete the sweep in Game 3. But the magic ran out in the Bronx in the AL Championship Series, where the Yankees won all three games at Yankee Stadium, including the finale in Game 6. The Angels took two of three at home in the series, highlighted by a dramatic Game 3 triumph in 11 innings on Jeff Mathis’ walk-off double.
After experiencing much success, the Angels club flat-lined in the 2010 season, finishing 80-82 and in third place, the club’s worst record since 2003. Stay tuned tomorrow as we discuss the pulse of Angels’ baseball with Opening Day just days away!