As 1985 quickly fades into a sea of champagne bubbles and department store sales, there comes a time for reflection, a time to take stock of the lessons learned from the sports happenings in Orange County over the past year.
The Rams taught us that qualifying for the NFL playoffs as an 11-5 division champion can bring a team more criticism than going 9-7 and making it as a wild card.
The Angels showed us that you can hire a new manager (the same one who quit two years before), hire a new general manager, get a top-flight reliever and a couple of proven starting pitchers and still wind up where you were last season--second best.
Then, there are role models. People who teach by example, such as former Fullerton resident Arky Vaughan, who taught us that good things come to those who wait. Vaughan, with a career batting average of .318 from 1932-48, waited and waited and waited until baseball wised up and inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 1985 . . . 33 years after his death.
Rod Carew demonstrated the virtues of silence on his way to reaching the 3,000-hit plateau, refusing to talk to the media as he approached the final peak.
And Eric Dickerson, the once beloved and legendary Ram running back, proved you’re only as beloved and legendary as your last contract negotiation.
The year 1985 also reminded us that along with the good side (Saddleback College’s football team winning a share of the community college national championship), sports also has its dark side. In 1985, Orange County saw turmoil (Ocean View High School’s basketball team being placed on probation) and tragedy (a 9-year-old girl killed by a drag boat that crashed on shore during a race at Irvine Lake).
But if the past year taught us anything, it taught us that some of the biggest sports news in the mid-1980s is made far away from the athletic courts and fields. Even the Rams, whose on-the-field performance made them the top Orange County sports story of 1985, had their share of potboilers once the pads were put away.
The 1985 Orange County sports scrapbook:
1. THE RAMS: ONE ENCHANTED SEASON There’s no better single-game example of the type of regular season the Rams went through than their 27-20 playoff-clinching win over the San Francisco 49ers, Dec. 10.
They came into the game with a record of 2-4 in their previous six games. The 49ers had cut a four-game lead to one and were 10-point favorites that Monday night to tie for the Western division lead.
But the Rams scored on a kickoff return, a tipped pass and an interception return to win. It was typical of the very atypical way the Rams had won games all season: defense, special teams and a little luck.
They began the season 7-0, but included among those seven wins was a 31-27 victory over Tampa Bay that depended on LeRoy Irvin’s 34-yard interception return with 5:58 remaining, and a 13-10 win over Minnesota in which Viking Coach Bud Grant disdained a field goal attempt on the last play of the game with his team on the 1-yard line. Viking running back Darrin Nelson was stopped, and the Rams were 5-0.
They beat Philadelphia when Charles White, of all people, rushed for 144 yards, and Seattle when Dickerson, of all people, in his first game back after a contract holdout, rushed for 150 yards.
That would be the most Dickerson would rush for in a game all season. The man who had set the single-season rushing record in 1984 with 2,105 yards, rushed for 1,234 yards in 1985. It caused more than a few to question his (a) health, (b) desire, (c) greatness.
Nine games into the season, a TV reporter asked Dickerson why he was having an off year.
“I can’t answer,” Dickerson answered. “Why does it rain?”
Things got so bad that he challenged members of the media to trade places with him.
“See if you can run better than I can run. We can even trade salaries. I’ll bet you wouldn’t last once.”
Dickerson wasn’t the only one having a tough time. Dieter Brock, the 34-year-old rookie from the Canadian Football League played adequately at quarterback, but far below expectations. He took the brunt of the blame for the Rams’ lackluster offense. They ranked 27th in passing this season.
Things were said. Nasty things.
One columnist wrote that Brock couldn’t play for a Pop Warner team.
With a tongue-in-cheek defense, a writer replied, “Yes he could.”
“He’s been taking the worst shots I’ve ever seen a guy take,” Coach John Robinson said of Brock. “There’s been some pretty ugly things said. It got to the point where it was an in thing to knock Dieter Brock.”
Wonder what would have been said if the Rams had not made the playoffs?
2. THE ANGELS: WHAT I DIDN’T DO THIS SUMMER They rehired Gene Mauch, who had retired two years before. They hired Mike Port, who got a veteran reliever in Donnie Moore before the season and two veteran starters--John Candelaria and Don Sutton--during the season. With an experienced pitching staff and the supposedly potent bats of Reggie Jackson, Doug DeCinces, Brian Downing and Rod Carew, the Angels were expected to grab the American League West pennant.
But it all came horribly unraveled one muggy Saturday afternoon in Cleveland.
With his team leading, 5-0, in the eighth inning, Mauch decided to pull Sutton, who had allowed only three hits, and replace him with Moore.
It appeared that Moore, who up to that point had 29 saves, would make quick work of the lowly Indians. The Angels would then take a one-game lead in the AL West race with Kansas City with only seven games to go.
Ah, what might have been.
Oh, but what was: eight batters, five hits, two home runs and . . . five runs.
In the ninth, the Indians’ Jerry Willard hit a two-run home run off Stewart Cliburn to give Cleveland a 7-5 win.
One writer penned, “Whatever character the Angels have most certainly will be tested after a game like this.”
Well, five days later it was all over, the Angels were officially eliminated from the pennant race.
DeCinces had been hurt for most of the season, as was Bobby Grich and Carew. The bats of Jackson, Downing and the rest never seemed to pop for long. Daryl Sconiers, the Angels’ Rookie of the Year in 1983, admitted to having a problem with “substance abuse,” and played very little.
After the season, the Angels announced that Sconiers, Carew, and pitchers Ken Forsch and Geoff Zahn would not be offered contracts for the 1986 season. They also chose not to sign Juan Beniquez, baseball’s leading right-handed hitter the past three seasons with a composite average of .315.
“I’m going to make every effort to have Juan come back and hurt the Angels with his ability,” agent Ray Negron said.
Despite their talent, the Angels were quite adept at hurting themselves in 1985.
3. ROD CAREW: GOOD HIT, NO TALK In 19 seasons he had elegantly stroked, looped and slashed hits for the Twins and Angels. On Aug. 4, true to form, with a one-and-one count and the Twins’ Frank Viola on the mound, Rod Carew looped a slider down the left-field line for a single and his 3,000th major league hit.
The hit came on the same day that Tom Seaver had collected his 300th career victory. Carew and Seaver were American and National League Rookies of the Year, respectively, in 1967.
Now a question.
How many guys have approached 3,000 hits in a career?
Not many. (Actually, only 16.)
How many people did Rod Carew want to talk to about approaching the mark?
In a July 9 Herald Examiner article, Carew said that he’d like the historic 3,000th hit to come either in Minnesota or Anaheim, adding in an aside, “As long as it doesn’t come in Canada.”
The Toronto Globe and Mail picked up the story and ran a banner headline that read, “Carew slights Canada.”
“I have no comment,” Carew said when asked about the international incident. “You people are always trying to make something of nothing.”
Carew clammed up after that, not speaking to the press until he was one hit away from 3,000.
Talk or no talk, 1985 brought Carew adulation and admiration. It also brought an end to his career with the Angels.
4.IRVINE LAKE: TRAGEDY, THEN SANITY On April 21, Brandy Branchflower, 9, of Burbank was killed when a hydroplane-style drag boat driven by Jim Lange of Simi Valley lost control, careened off Irvine Lake onto the shoreline and struck her.
Lange’s boat, competing in the Coors Championships, was traveling about 45 m.p.h. when it veered off the lake.
Branchflower’s death was the third in three years related to drag boat racing at the lake. On April 9, 1983, driver Barry Zenkova, of Westminster, died after his boat flipped in a qualifying heat of the Coors Championships. On June 24, 1984, driver James Hobbs of San Bernardino was killed when his boat flipped at more than 180 m.p.h. and ejected him.
On May 3, in response to the Branchflower death, the Irvine Co., owner of the land adjacent to the lake, announced it would ban drag boat races at Irvine Lake.
“What happened was a terrible tragedy,” said C. Bradley Olson, president of the Irvine Community Development Co., a division of the Irvine Co. “We never want to see it happen again. In our view, the only way this can be assured is by not allowing any more drag boat races.”
Amazingly, the National Drag Boat Assn. complained about the coverage the media gave to the crash, claiming the press always takes a negative view of this “sport.”
However, the NDBA used three large photographs of drag boat crashes with captions, Super Thrills and Unpredictable Spills to draw crowds to Irvine Lake.
The Branchflower family filed a $30-million lawsuit against NDBA, Coors Corp., and the Irvine Boat and Tackle Co.
5. OCEAN VIEW: THE YEAR OF LIVE-IN DANGEROUSLY The committee used the phrase, “undue influence.”
What it meant was that the coach had illegally recruited two players who would eventually get his team to the championship game.
The school was excluded from the 1985-86 playoffs and was placed on a two-year probation.
Just another tricky day in the Southwest Conference?
Nope. It happened at Ocean View High School.
On March 9, 1985, the Seahawks made their first appearance in a Southern Section basketball final, losing to Mater Dei, 69-58.
On Aug. 29, 1985, the Southern Section executive committee ruled Ocean View would not be eligible for the 1985-86 playoffs and placed the school on a two-year probation because, they said, Seahawk Coach Jim Harris used “undue influence” to retain Lynwood transfers Ricky Butler and Desi Hazely for the 1984 season. Butler and Hazely lived with Harris and his family in El Toro.
Both players were sophomores last season. Butler started at center for Ocean View and averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds a game. He was named the Sunset League’s Most Valuable Player. Hazely was the Seahawks’ sixth man and played an average of 16 minutes per game.
With them, the Seahawks went 21-3 during the regular season and won the Sunset League championship.
6. PREP ROUNDUP: AMAZING STORIES If the 1985 high school athletic year were a movie, it would have to be directed by Steven Spielberg. It seemed every time you turned around someone or some team was doing something dramatic or historic.
Four football players set either county, Southern Section or state marks. Third-place teams won Southern Section championships, other teams went entire seasons undefeated.
We are talking major-box office material here. Forget Spielberg, what’s Mr. DeMille doing these days?
In March, Mater Dei, better known as Tom Lewis Tech, won its second major division championship in three seasons with a 69-58 victory over Ocean View. The Monarchs ended the season 29-0, the first large division school to complete a basketball season undefeated since Inglewood did it in 1980.
Lewis averaged 31.7 points a game his senior year, and was recruited by just about every college with the possible exception of the Electoral. Lewis finally decided on USC, where he leads the Trojans in scoring.
In June, Ocean View’s softball team, which didn’t qualify for the playoffs the previous season, went 32-0 en route to the 4-A championship. Junior pitcher Jackie Oakley shut out Westminster in the final, 2-0. Oakley was 31-0 for the season.
In the same month, Fountain Valley’s baseball team, which qualified as the third-place team from the Sunset League on the last day of the regular season, won the 4-A championship by defeating Camarillo, 3-2.
The Santa Ana football team, another third-place team (Century League) which qualified for the playoffs in its last game of the regular season, defeated top-seeded Lynwood, then Pacifica, El Modena and finally Mission Viejo, 32-21, in the Southern Conference championship game.
You say, give me faces?
How about those of Valencia’s Ray Pallares, Capistrano Valley’s Scott Stark, Newport Harbor’s Shane Foley and Los Alamitos’ Robbie Katzaroff, all record-setters this year.
Pallares did the most. He ended his three-year varsity career at Valencia with 5,398 yards, setting marks for Orange County (previously held by Santa Ana Valley’s Myron White, who had 4,164), the Southern Section (previously held by Whittier Christian’s Craig Johnson, who had 5,213) and the state (previously held by Jefferson’s Tyreese Knox, who had 5,217).
Foley set the Orange County career passing yardage record, throwing for 5,264 to break Burt Call’s (Capistrano Valley) record of 4,956.
Stark set the Orange County single-season passing yardage mark of 3,437, breaking Jim Karsatos’ (Sunny Hills) record of 2,703.
Katzaroff set the single-season reception record with 93 catches, breaking the mark of 81 set by Fullerton’s David Sepulveda in 1984.
And finally, the end.
Bob Lester, who in 20 years of coaching football at El Modena had compiled a 157-58-8 record and three Southern Conference championships, decided to resign after the 1985 season. It brings an end to a colorful career. Lester’s ability to win was rivaled only by his ability to make people laugh.
An example of his wit was his comment in 1983 about Foothill defensive end Joe Walshe, who weighed 270 pounds at the time and had a mustache.
“He’s a helluva football player, which he ought to be considering he’s 35.”
7. SANTA ANA STADIUM: BEYOND WESTDOME Now this may get complicated, so try to pay attention.
The City of Santa Ana announced plans this year to build the Westdome, an enclosed athletic arena that hopefully would attract a National Basketball Assn. team to the city when that league expands.
However, to build the Westdome, the city will have to knock down Santa Ana Stadium, also known as Eddie West Field and Santa Ana Bowl.
But the proposal has more than a few people steamed. Santa Ana Stadium is considered one of the finer football facilities in the county. A lot of people think it would be a shame to lose it. Enough people, in fact, that they have taken to passing out flyers and picketing.
But the city says there are plans to build a new, better stadium for $11 million. You think that would make everyone happy?
“They’re trying to shove this (stadium) down our throats,” replied a mob of 20, when it was proposed that this new and improved stadium could be built in Centennial Park.
So what we have is a stadium without a home and an arena without a team.
You call this city planning?
8. ARKY VAUGHAN: RESPECT, FINALLY Red Smith, the late-great New York sports columnist, once described him as, “baseball’s most superbly forgotten man.”
Arky Vaughan, who went to Fullerton High School, was one of the finest shortstops of his time. That was from 1932 to 1948 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Dodgers. During that span, he collected 2,103 hits in 1,817 games for a career batting average of .315.
He was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1935 when he hit .385 and had 19 home runs.
He was the first player to hit two home runs in an All-Star Game. He did that in 1941.
Yet, it wasn’t until this year, 33 years after his death, that Cooperstown finally gave Arky Vaughan the respect he deserved and inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
And even then . . . well, you see, the Hall makes up commemorative souvenir envelopes for each player’s induction. The Hall spelt Vaughan’s name Vaughn on his envelope.
9. SADDLEBACK: GAUCHOS HAD THE HORSES When Saddleback College defeated Fullerton, 32-13, in the fifth PONY Bowl, the Gauchos finally shed the stigma of being the second-best community college football team in Orange County. With quarterback Jason Schmid leading the way, Saddleback went 11-0 and was named co-national champions along with Snow College of Utah.
Schmid set single-season school records for passing yards (2,682) and touchdown passes (23). He was named the state’s Player of the Year, and Ken Swearingen was named the state’s Coach of the Year.
One of Swearingen’s success secrets was his ability to communicate and motivate. Take for example this bit of wisdom he bestowed on a reporter.
“You can beat a horse . . . but you can’t make him drink.”
10. LOS ALAMITOS RACE COURSE: THE STRAIGHT DOPE It started in early July. Tests, suspensions, appeals, rulings, decisions.
Using a new, more-sophisticated drug testing method instituted by the California Horse Racing Board, officials discovered more than a few quarter horses at Los Alamitos Race Course with narcotics in their urine after races. Six horses tested positively for narcotics on one fell swoop one summer night. Six trainers were suspended by the end of the summer meeting.
Most of the time, the narcotics were of the pain-killing variety, used to allow horses that were hurt or injured to run when they shouldn’t.
Additional horses tested positively for narcotics during the fall meeting. Most notably, Rise N High, a 4-year-old gelding who had a chance to win the world championship. The horse was suspended from running in one race and was going to be barred from the prestigious Champion of Champions, but, at the last moment, was made eligible for the race.
Trainers have continued to inject their horses with narcotics, and they continue to get caught. What have they learned? Apparently not a whole lot.
Said one of Los Alamitos’ leading trainers, Russell Harris: “This happens when some little operator tries to get ahead. They make all the good trainers look bad. I think they’re too soft on these guys. I’d give them a life suspension.”
COMING IN NEXT EDITION: YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS OURS Go figure.
The Angels are getting rid of players by the bushels, which could mean they’ll find that winning combination next season, or drift farther down.
The Rams’ future--as long as it’s legal to kick, fumble and tip the ball--seems to be rosy, or, should we say, super.
Unfortunately, given the current win-at-any-cost attitudes of many high schools, don’t be surprised if another Ocean View situation crops up. On the bright side, the kids will once again provide some of the most wonderful moments of 1986.
And the Westdome, well, don’t look for it to go away. How could it? It’s not even here yet.