I began my sportswriting career in 1994, covering high school basketball in southern Indiana for the Louisville, Ky. newspaper. I moved to Daytona Beach the next year and covered several sports, from professional to college to high school. Two years later I was working for nascar.com, where I got to travel and see my first game at the Big A (a loss to Tampa Bay). Nascar moved me to Charlotte in 2000, where I switched gears and started working for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. I spent seven years working for that organization, cheering on the Angels with fellow fans Steve Smith, DeShaun Foster and Matt Moore (once drafted by the Halos).
I became an Angels fan in 1978. Growing up in Louisville, Ky., everyone who cared anything about baseball loved the Cincinnati Reds. The Big Red Machine had superstars at almost every position on the field, which before free agency took over was very hard to do. The first group of Yankee mercenaries took the baton from those Reds, and baseball hasn’t been the same since.
Why did I choose the Angels? Well, I wanted my own team, and I bought a 1978 preseason magazine that had declared the top two pitchers in the American League to be Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana. The Angels had signed Bobby Grich, Don Baylor and Joe Rudi…and I liked the Angels’ caps so I figured this was going to be my team.
That first year the Angels were good, but not good enough to beat Kansas City. The next year, though, they won their first ever title behind Baylor and a potent offense. The next winter they let Ryan get away and that really cost them. From that point on, it seemed like there was always something that kept the Angels from putting it all together.
• The 1982 team, which I followed religiously and had, in my opinion, the best everyday lineup since the Big Red Machine, had NO relief pitching. All that star power doomed because Don Aase got hurt. At one point we blew six straight one-run games at home to Boston and Detroit, yet somehow won 93 games. We were the first team to blow a 2-0 lead in the ALCS, losing 3-2 to Milwaukee.
• The 1985 team seemed primed to earn redemption for Gene Mauch, only to flame out the final week in showdowns with the Royals. Another heartbreaker.
• The 1986 team would have won it all in many other seasons, I felt. But that year the Mets were a juggernaut, and of course you know about Boston. Mauch overmanaged the ninth inning of that infamous Game Five and it really hurt to see him leave the game that way.
• The 1989 team looked so tough, putting it all together and having the best record in baseball at the All-Star break by a couple of games, but Oakland was just too powerful and the next year that Angels team fell apart.
• Then came the worst of all collapses…1995. We were a hitting machine with all young guys gelling together, and then our leadoff hitter Tony Phillips got suspended for drugs and the wheels just came off. It was almost too painful to watch, and yet we won our last four games to actually come back and tie Seattle. But in the playoff game they had Randy Johnson and we didn’t. I’ll never forget Mark Langston yelling at Rex Hudler on the bench like a little kid because Hudler’s error gave Seattle its first run.
• There were a couple more close calls in the late 90s, but we faded at the end both times. The second time they showed a sign on Sportscenter held by a fan at the Big A that said “Please, not AGAIN.” It really felt like this franchise was doomed.
Then came 2002. It seemed to come out of nowhere, especially when we started 6-14. There was talk of breaking up that team because it had imploded a couple years before. In fact, Darin Erstad was once traded, only to be “untraded” by Disney management. But Jim Edmonds was the only one sent elsewhere, and after the rough start that Angels team put together winning streaks we hadn’t seen since the early parts of the 1989 and 1995 seasons. Only this team had the grit to keep it going. Looking back now, it’s amazing we won it all with those starting pitchers, but they were just strong enough to keep us in games. And Frankie as a rookie was so awesome to watch. Percy was money.
Beating the Yankees was incredible, especially after blowing the first game of that series. We handled the Twins so handily in the ALCS I thought the Series would be a breeze. But Bonds wasn’t human. We were fortunate to win Game Six (Spiezio’s shot wasn’t out by much) and thankfully the Giants were toast in Game Seven, so we got away with pitching a rookie. They reminded me of us in 1986 after the Henderson bomb.
I didn’t get much sleep that October, watching the games and then the postgame shows for two hours after every win. Lofton’s flyball to center seemed to hang up there forever, but when Erstad started waving I felt like 24 years of emotional investment had finally paid off.
Since then, it seems we’re back to being good enough to be in the mix, but not good enough to close the deal. Only now we’re contending almost every year, so I can’t complain. Anyone who gets down about these last six seasons obviously didn’t go through the 1987 to 2001 Angels experience.
I feel another ring coming in the near future. We need to clear out some old legs and get another wave of young ones up and running for it to happen, but I have faith in this management team that it will happen.
I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts and opinions in the future.