Angel Notebook : Downing Says Players Didn't Quit in 1988

Times Staff Writer

Sept. 18, 1988. A day that preceded Angel infamy.

It was the last time rookie reliever Bryan Harvey pitched in 1988, his arm headed for arthroscopic surgery three days later.

It was the last Sunday Cookie Rojas would spend as Angel manager, his firing coming five days later.

It was the last time the Angels won a baseball game in 1988.

And the 1988 regular season didn't end until Oct. 2.

That's two weeks on the calendar, 12 games on the schedule. It's also Angel history. The 12-game losing streak--which, technically, is still alive--is the longest in the franchise's 29-year history, eclipsing the 11 consecutive defeats strung together by the 1974 Angels.

How did it happen? How does a team that reeled off a 31-11 run in July and August, including a club record 10 straight road wins, go 0-12 during the final two weeks--and 2-18 in its final 20 games?

How can an entire roster simply give up on a season, just because the playoff race had already been decided?

It never did, according to Brian Downing.

"It's easy to say, 'Oh, damn, they just quit,' " Downing said. "I resent that. I'll fight them to my death over that.

"People make rash generalizations, saying we gave up, but I never saw any specific examples. I never saw a guy jogging to first on a ground ball, I never saw a guy standing around on defense in the field.

"Almost half of those games were in our grasp and then something would happen. Weird things. We take the lead into the ninth in Milwaukee, (Bill) Schroeder hits a home run off (Chuck) Finley and we lose, 4-3. Things like that.

"But those things seem to get forgotten."

Along with the bloated Angel disabled list in late September, Downing said.

"We had a number of pitchers out at that time," he said. "If Bryan Harvey had been there for late relief, that's three or four wins right there. (Kirk) McCaskill wasn't there to take his turn and we had people filling in for him.

"But, the way it works in this game, people don't care how you get there. How you finish is what matters. And we were terrible at the end of last season."

Downing is entering his 12th season in Anaheim, which makes him the dean of Angels in years of service. You spend that much time in an Angel uniform and you're bound to become a pessimist, which Downing admittedly is. He has always been the type to find a dark cloud behind every silver lining.

Yet, Downing claims that last year's cliff dive did bring about one positive change for the Angels.

"It just showed management that, hey, we need some bodies," he said.

So, management went out and got some. New faces sharing locker-room space with Downing this spring include Lance Parrish, Bert Blyleven, Claudell Washington, Bob McClure, Dave Concepcion, Glenn Hoffman and Schroeder.

Maybe not the stuff pennant winners are made of, but, as Downing notes, "At least we went out and got some people.

"We made as good a run on some free-agent pitchers (Nolan Ryan and Bruce Hurst) as we could, except for Mike Moore, but he had his mind set on pitching in Oakland, anyway. We ended up getting some people who have won before--and we can use all the winning experience we can get.

"That's very uplifting. That's the way we used to do it, the first 10 years I was here. 'Hey, we got Reggie Jackson. We got Fred Lynn.' All that is uplifting. It shows that management is going out and making a concerted effort to win, to pay money for veteran players.

"I think that's an encouraging sign."

Encouraging enough for Downing, who contemplated retirement last season, to re-up during the winter by signing a new two-year contract.

"I want to be a winner once in my life," he said. "And this is where I want it to be. Nothing would suit me better than to go out like the Dodgers did last year."

Then, at least, Downing would have a reason to attend the annual Dodger-Angel banquet, which was colored predominantly Dodger blue this year.

"Just once, I like to go to that dinner with us as champions and not those blue-blooded . . . up the freeway," Downing said.

Such is life as a California Angel. While the uptown Dodgers are putting together an October of the ages, the Angels are setting records for all-time losing streaks. Timing, timing.

The losing streak, the Angels can take care of on April 4, opening day at Anaheim Stadium.

The rest could take a little longer.

Angel Notes

Tony Armas, whose playing time in the outfield figures to be seriously cut by the off-season acquisition of Claudell Washington, has begun taking ground balls at first base. "Maybe he can spell Wally (Joyner) from time to time," Manager Doug Rader said. "Tony's got good hands and handles himself well around first base. The only thing I know, we have to get him some at-bats. Give Tony enough at-bats at the right time and he'll produce a lot of runs for you." . . . The Lucky Ones: Rader has decided which Angels get to miss the upcoming four-hour bus ride to Yuma, Ariz., where the Angels open exhibition play against the San Diego Padres on Friday. Because of the Angels' rotation schedule, pitchers Kirk McCaskill and Dan Petry will stay in Mesa. So will Moose Haas and Terry Clark, both pitching with tender arms. Five position players will also stay behind: Dave Concepcion, Chili Davis, Brian Downing, Lance Parrish and John Orton. Rader wants Concepcion to work out at shortstop and Davis in left field "without being in the fishbowl" and wants catchers Parrish and Orton "to ease into the program." Downing misses the trip because the designated-hitter rule will not be allowed in games at Yuma.

The Edwin Marquez watch continues, entering Day 12. Marquez, the Venezuelan-born rookie catcher, is reportedly having visa problems, but Rader joked: "Maybe he's joined the Sandinistas." Angel vice president Mike Port, too, is beginning to find humor in the situation. "The next thing we're shooting for is the opening of minor-league camp (in mid-March)," Port said. "If he can't make it by the end of this camp, maybe we'll get him in time for the other." . . . Jack Howell was also out of camp Sunday, but the Angels knew where he was. Howell was laid up in his hotel room with a stomach virus. . . . Kevin McNair, a former track coach at UC Irvine, will visit the Angels' camp Tuesday and Wednesday to work on baserunning fundamentals. McNair, 40, is a running coach who has also worked with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Notre Dame football team. In the Angels' media guide, McNair is listed, impressively, as speed development consultant.

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