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Angels Should Follow Rader’s Road Map

Finally, the Angels do the bright thing and rehire Doug Rader for two more years, thus giving themselves a two-year plan.

This is an improvement over the status quo, which, of course, was no plan at all.

Rader has some definite ideas about what this franchise should do and where this franchise should be before the next presidential election. Unfortunately, none of them were included as terms of the new contract--Doug, remember, always get it in writing--but Rader outlined them for the media during Thursday’s hastily arranged press conference at Anaheim Stadium.

From the top:

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1. Build from within, which will mean spending more time, more energy and, sorry to say, more money on player development .

2. Hire more minor league instructors .

3. Hire more talent scouts .

4. Send these talent scouts to Latin America, where there are rumored to be second basemen who can run and third basemen who can hit .

5. Increase communication among the manager, general manager, scouting director and minor league director .

Only with the Angels can such talk read like a revolutionary manifesto. Rader was simply borrowing from a proven format that was lab-tested long ago by the Dodgers, Athletics and Blue Jays, but to the ears of the Muzak-fed Angels, Rader sounded like the Sex Pistols.

Then again, the Angel way to play baseball has seldom been the normal way. On the Angels, manager and general manager can go weeks without sitting down to discuss personnel. On the Angels, a trade with the Yankees has to be made in order to place one Latin player--outfielder Luis Polonia--on the roster. On the Angels, $16 million is spent for one pitcher who works, and often loses, every fifth day while four levels of minor league development are allowed to grow fallow.

What Rader suggests are things the Angels should have been doing years ago.

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And with some of them, the Angels were--only to get fatefully sidetracked by Dave Henderson and the Great Leap Backward.

That was the Mike Port promise when the Angels changed general managers before the 1985 season: Home-grown talent uber alles. Buzzie Bavasi’s free-agency route had proven a folly--the only thing free about it was the failure it ensured--and Port was going to come in and right the farm, if not the ship.

Initially, the crop reports were promising. Wally Joyner was an All-Star game starter as a rookie. Dick Schofield was settling in for a long haul at shortstop. Jack Howell almost won a Pacific Coast League batting title, Mark McLemore rang up 67 stolen bases in one minor league season and a rough-edged gem named Devon White had everyone in the organization panting in anticipation.

On the mounds of Quad City and Midland and Edmonton, there was pitching too. An ex-hockey player named Kirk McCaskill was ready to break the ice. Chuck Finley’s fastball made Gene Mauch’s eyes widen. A find from the slow-pitch softball fields of North Carolina, Bryan Harvey, struck out 111 hitters in 82 innings.

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In Anaheim, the future glimmered like the rocket’s red glare. The present was holding its own as well, with Mauch’s brigade of proud old men making one last stand and leaving Gene Autry standing at the World Series door. One out, one strike, one pitch--after 25 seasons, one pennant wasn’t too much to ask.

But with one swing, Henderson closed that door, possibly forever, a tragedy that Angel policy has been groping to cope with ever since.

If Henderson swings and misses, maybe everything is different. If Autry gets his diamond ring, his deserved ride into the sunset, maybe the Angels stay the course and assemble the type of organizational infrastructure that today is the envy of Sandy Alderson’s eye.

But no. Out of sight, Game 5 has never left the Angels’ minds. It cast a pall that prompted Port to reshape his strategy, to sacrifice the future for the now, to Win One For Gene at the expense of losing many more later on.

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This is why Port goes through four managers during 1988. This is why Port trades for Johnny Ray and Bert Blyleven, picks up Bill Buckner, signs Claudell Washington, throws millions at Bruce Hurst and Nolan Ryan and finally catches Mark Langston.

If the Angels were a movie, the soundtrack would be a ticking clock.

Since 1986, the Angels have been a franchise on the run--under pressure, keeping a finger on Gene’s pulse--and last year’s fool’s-gold finish of 91-71 only fanned the desperation. Finally, last Thursday, Rader dragged the Angels to the crossroad and, at penpoint, forced their mindset back to the future.

Rader needed a two-year commitment because the A’s remain at least that far away. Today, on the 23rd day of September, 1990, the Angels aren’t close. They need a second baseman, a third baseman, another outfielder, a fifth starter, two relief pitchers. If they can’t trade for them--and apparently they can’t, since Willie McGee and Bill Doran were allowed safe passage to Oakland and Cincinnati--they must scout them and sign them and develop them.

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They have the time. What they need is the patience.

And if Rader’s words don’t convince, how about some from a higher source? Moses also wandered the desert for many years and never made it to the promised land, but his followers eventually completed the journey.

They were also a team that built from within.


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