Angels' Heavenly Kids Plan Proves the Gods Must Be Crazy

Well, at least now we know what the Angels meant when they said they were embarking on a "youth movement" in 1993.

Youth: Mark Holzemer, Phil Leftwich and Brian Anderson taking turns in the late-season starting rotation . . . Mike Butcher, Paul Swingle and Jerry Nielsen taking turns closing games out . . . the double-play combination of Rod Correia and Torey Lovullo . . . Jim Edmonds batting third.

Movement: From 72-90 in 1992 to 71-91 in 1993. Or, to examine it in purely scientific and physical terms, one step backward.

Hard to believe, considering all the "Heavenly Kids" puffery and "Now We Have A Plan" propaganda that had been made required reading at Anaheim Stadium the past six months.

The '92 Angels suffered a bone-jarring, psyche-shaking bus crash in the middle of their season.

The '93 Angels did not.

The '92 Angels had Von Hayes wasting space in right field.

The '93 Angels did not.

The '92 Angels had Lee Stevens covering up and assuming the fetal position at first base.

The '93 Angels did not.

The '92 Angels had Gary Gaetti flushing nearly 500 plate appearances down the clubhouse latrine.

The '93 Angels did not.

And, yet, the '92 Angels managed to win as many as 72 of the 162 games on their schedule.

And the '93 Angels did not.

Then again, the '93 Angels were forced to play the entire season without Bryan Harvey and Jim Abbott, so maybe 71-91 is not so bad after all.

The Angels drew 2,057,460 in home attendance in 1993, down a handful from 1992, yet this may have been the finest season ever for the team's marketing department. The 91 losses were the Angels' highest total since 1983, and the Angels' 59-87 log after April 25 was the worst in baseball--yet all summer long, the club spin doctors had the populace convinced that Richard Brown and Whitey Herzog had turned this thing around, that the rebuilding program was right on--shoot, no, ahead of --schedule.

Amazing what the cosmetic surgeons can do with a 12-4 start, a 1,001 April headlines about J.T. Snow and one legitimate rookie-of-the-year campaign by Tim Salmon.

Angel fans are asked today to ask themselves a simple question:

Are you better off now than you were a year ago?

At first base and third base, you are. Buck Rodgers still isn't quite sure what he has in Snow--Wally Joyner in April? Lee Stevens from May through August? Don Mattingly in late September?--but 16 home runs, 57 RBIs and the slickest first baseman's glove in the American League are worth a second look. Eduardo Perez, in less than 200 at-bats, has already established himself as the club's best third baseman since Doug DeCinces, though not the richest. In 1994, the Angels will pay Gaetti $3 million not to play third base for them.

Second base and shortstop? Who can know? Damion Easley led the Angels in batting average (.313 in 73 games) and Gary DiSarcina was fifth on the team in RBIs, but both haven't played in months. Has leg surgery finally cured Easley of the worst case of shin splints known to man? Will DiSarcina be as sure-handed after breaking his thumb? Check back next spring.

The outfield? Right fielder Salmon is a lock for AL rookie of the year, but he, too, finished the season on the disabled list with a broken thumb. Center fielder Chad Curtis upgraded his status from Possible Fluke last October to Reliable Vet with a .285, 48-steal encore season. With Luis Polonia seemingly intent on testing the free-agent market and Herzog seemingly intent on committing public-relations hari-kiri by pursuing Vince (Out of Baseball In M-80 Days) Coleman, the Angels seemingly have a major problem in left field.

Best-case scenario: "Welcome back, Dante Bichette, all is forgiven."

Worst-case scenario: "Come out and watch Vince The Ignitor light our fuse."

Probable-case scenario: "And starting in left field, because he's cheap, Jim Edmonds."

Catcher stands to be improved if only because John Orton is no longer around to play with the minds in the front office. Orton batted .189 for the Angels in '93, after batting .219 in '92, .203 in '91, .190 in '90 and .179 in '89. Monday, Orton was designated for assignment, somewhere out of the organization--and who says the Angels need a ton of bricks to fall on top of them?

Designated hitter? The good news: Chili Davis drove in a career-high 112 runs this season. The bad news: The Angels aren't sure they want to re-sign him. The not-really-news: Chili has been known to slide after big years. Only once in his 12-year career has he been able to put back-to-back 90-RBI (or better) seasons together.

That brings us to Orange County's most endangered natural habitat--the Angels' incredible shrinking pitching staff.

In 1991, the Angels had Mark Langston, Chuck Finley, Jim Abbott, Kirk McCaskill and Bryan Harvey.

In 1992, they had Langston, Finley, Abbott and Harvey.

In 1993, they had Langston and Finley.

Who's next to be left unprotected, unsigned or unwisely traded away?

Place your bets on Langston, who is entering the fifth and final season of his current Angel agreement. If Herzog can't sign Langston to an extension, he will try to talk Langston into waiving the no-trade clause in his contract.

Langston, sharp guy that he is, says he's not signing anything until the Angel front office shows him a commitment to something beyond clipping coupons.

But suppose Langston grants the Angels permission to trade him. The imagination reels.

Herzog got a .241-hitting first baseman and two pitchers who combined for a 7.34 earned-run average in exchange for Abbott.

Why, someone of Langston's ilk could bring Herzog--oh, let's dream, shall we?--two long relievers from the South Atlantic League, a double-A starter with "great stuff" and a 2-15 record, a bullpen catcher with three degenerative back disks and Kelly Gruber.

Are the Angels better off than they were a year ago?

Yes. A year ago, the Angels belonged to a seven-team division that included Chicago, Kansas City and Minnesota.

Next year, Chicago, Kansas City and Minnesota will be gone.

Barring expansion, the Angels will never finish fifth again.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday October 7, 1993 Orange County Edition Sports Part C Page 8 Column 6 Sports Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction Angel record--A column in Wednesday's Times Orange County incorrectly stated the Angels had the worst record in baseball after April 25. Their 59-87 performance was the worst in the American League.
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