Despite All the Rave Early Reviews, the Catch a Rising Star Show Closes

This is the morning Angel management has been waiting for, ever since J.T. Snow hit that opening-day home run and began gumming up the best-laid plans of Autry's Auctioneers.

This is the morning after the Killer Road Trip we'd all been anticipating--and if it happened later than anyone could have expected, it was also worse than anyone could have imagined.

One-and-10, and over-and-out. The Angels' run is done, courtesy of nine consecutive defeats in Cleveland, Boston and New York, including Sunday's grotesque final straw--an 8-0 Angel lead that was mugged in the Bronx, beaten to a pulp by Hilly Hathaway's wild pitches, Gary DiSarcina's fickle fingers and one more bullpen meltdown.

From 8-0 in the second inning to 8-9 in the ninth, the Angels endured their most debilitating loss of this season and many seasons. Not only did it leave the Angels nine games below .500 and eight games out of first place, but it low-bridged whatever spirit remained in the youngsters who kept this $1.99 raft afloat until the last week of July.

Now, the dismantling can begin. Chuck Finley already has one foot out the door, and where will the other land? San Francisco? Toronto? Detroit? Or Florida, where all the top home-grown Angel pitchers go to play out the remainder of their eight-figure contracts?

Seattle needs help at designated hitter. Lo and behold, Chili Davis and his 68 RBIs are suddenly available.

Boston needs a faster pair of Red Sox at the top of order. Didn't Mike Port trade for Luis Polonia once? And wouldn't he like to do it again?

Who said the real estate market is soft in Southern California? They've been moving them out of San Diego all summer and now that the "For Sale" signs have been posted around Anaheim Stadium, it shouldn't be long now.

For 3 1/2 months, Angel fans have cast sympathetic eyes to their suffering cousins to the south. They winced every time Gary Sheffield or Fred McGriff waved goodby, because deep in their souls they trembled with the knowledge that "There, but for the grace of Buck Rodgers, go I."

Rodgers barred the door for as long as he could. He gave the fans 16 good weeks, 15 1/2 more than what was anticipated in March.

Rodgers deserved a lifetime contract for pushing his folded, spindled and mutilated envelope past the Fourth of July, but the front office granted him only a one-year extension, possibly because of the extra aggravation he caused them.

Contention was never in the Angels' master plan for 1993. The quick start was convenient, considering the lynch mobs that had formed in the wake of the Bryan Harvey and Jim Abbott decisions, but after about May 15 or so, the wonder kids became a royal pain in the neck to Jackie Autry and her dutiful lieutenants.

Hard to justify full-scale contract-dumping while your team is a half-game out of first.

Peter Magowan, who spent $100 million to keep the Giants in San Francisco and then ponied up another $44 million to give the fans a contender, was no role model in the Angel offices. Instead, Tom Werner's portrait received the gold-plated frame and accompanying kneeler. "YES WE CAN!" was nothing more than a rejoinder to the question, "Do you think it's possible to slash the payroll to $20 million by the end of September?"

Had winning been even a secondary priority to Jackie and Gene Autry, Harvey would have never been exposed to the expansion draft, Abbott would have never been traded and Tim Belcher would be working every fifth day in Rodgers' rotation by now. Do that and what would the Angels' lead in the AL West look like today? Four games or five?

Of course, management has been spinning away on Harvey and Abbott for months now.

Harvey, they say, had to be left unprotected because the Angels had Joe Grahe and Troy Percival waiting in the wings, plus there were "so many kids" who simply had to be protected.

Wrong.

Relief pitchers of Harvey's ilk come along every two decades, not every year. They are like 4,000-yard quarterbacks--to be valued above all else, even after minor elbow surgery, even if some blockhead pipes up in a personnel meeting, "Boy, we sure need to protect John Orton. Luis Sojo and Ron Watson, too."

Abbott, according to Angelthink, had to go because there was no other way to bring Snow to Anaheim and none of this would have been possible without Snow.

Wrong.

Had the Angels kept Abbott, they would have been left with a hole at first base, sure. But there were other ways to fill it. Andres Galarraga and Dave Magadan were mid-priced free agents last winter. Galarraga now leads the National League in hitting and Magadan is batting nearly .300 for Seattle. So is another first baseman named Wally Joyner, who, after a wretched start, now owns more home runs and RBIs than Snow.

One more spin: Angel management refused to make any midcourse improvements this season because the club is "building for '94 and '95" and, in the words of Dan O'Brien, has merely developed ahead of schedule.

This may sound fine in theory, but Gene Mauch had a different theory. When a division race falls apart, as the AL West did in '93, and is there for the grabbing, you better grab it, Mauch advised, because you may never get as good a chance again.

That is why Mauch put the Angel youth movement of '87 on hold and imported old hands Bill Buckner and Johnny Ray for a final push. It fell short, but the thinking was right; that year, Minnesota required just 85 victories to win the West, which springboarded the Twins to their first World Series championship.

With some extra fortification, could the '93 Angels have made a similar move? We'll never know.

But will the '93 Angels reach their Autry-ordered budgetary goals?

Oh, we can venture a guess.

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