Plot in Angels Movie Hits Close to Home : Baseball: Celluloid team bears the same logo--and losing ways--as the real thing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If they were train robbers, they would be known as the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

If they were a political party, they would have fewer wins than the Libertarians.

What they are is a bumbling baseball team calling itself the Angels that has more pratfalls than the Three Stooges. The team's last-place standing just before the All-Star break doesn't even begin to tell how bad this team really is.

Fortunately for the California Angels baseball club, this "Angels" team is a fictional one in a new Disney movie scheduled for release this week.

Unfortunately for the California Angels, the celluloid version bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the real thing. With the All-Star game only two days away, the real Angels are in last place, racking up more losses than any other American League team.

In the movies, happy endings are guaranteed. And in this comedy, titled "Angels In The Outfield," a band of celestial beings with golden halos arrive to lead the hapless team to a miracle finish.

In real life, the players know that it takes more than a wing and a prayer to win. But that doesn't mean they can't believe in miracles.

"Being in last place, it would be nice for someone to come down and help us out," Angels outfielder Jim Edmonds says.

Utility player Rex Hudler chuckles when he hears the story line of the movie. "That's going right along with our season. It's beautiful. I think it's great. There is a good chance that a miracle could happen," he says.

"It would be nice to have that miracle happen," agrees designated hitter Chili Davis, the team's only representative in the All-Star game. "I would like that."

But after watching a special screening of the film last week, 14-year-old Joey McKnight, a California Angels fan from Fountain Valley, walked out of the theater sadly shaking his head. "It would never happen."

In the original version of the movie released in 1951, when there was no California Angels baseball club, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates that were heavenly blessed.

Even though it now seems like a natural progression to have angels work miracles on the Angels, a source close to the team says he cannot believe the club allowed its logo to be used in the new film.

"Why would they want their name associated with it?" says the official, who agreed to talk if his name was not revealed. "The team in the movie was in last place. . . . Unfortunately, it rings so true to real life."

Except for the team's name and--well, OK, its losing record--California Angels President Richard Brown is quick to point out that the dissimilarities between the players and the actors are much greater than the likenesses.

Sure, the fictitious team plays under a Big A with a halo, wears the same uniform, and is owned by a character who dons a cowboy hat like California Angels owner Gene Autry.

And yes, Brown admits, he is "still hoping for divine intervention" to get the team out of the basement.

But unlike the group of misfits in the film, the California Angels really are not that bad, Brown says, adding that the team was given a basic outline of the plot but did not have prior script approval.

One character in the movie flexes his muscles during the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner," and a teammate consults a "magic 8-ball" to tell him whether they will win that day. The ball answers "no" and "maybe."

"I don't think (the fictional club) would have gotten to the minor leagues, much less the major league," Brown says. "At the outset of the movie, they were terrible!"

Nor does the real team have an overweight catcher who pounds his chest as he rounds the bases, Brown adds, nor an over-the-hill pitcher, nor a hot-tempered manager who communicates with profanity and fisticuffs.

So why go along with the movie project?

There are several reasons, those involved in the project say:

First, it's a good "kid's movie" with a common theme: Guardian angels can guide you, but it's up to you to believe in yourself to win.

Also, having existed in the shadow of the Dodgers, the Angels organization hopes the movie boosts the team's popularity, just as the films "Major League" and "Major League 2" gave the Cleveland Indians a national identity.

"We've never really gone all the way (to win the pennant)," Davis says. "The Indians got more recognition nationwide, and maybe this movie will help the Angels players and organization be more recognizable."

There also was some financial reward. An undisclosed fee paid by the film's producers to use the team logo went directly to Major League Baseball Properties to be split among the 28 clubs in the league. Brown did not know how much would be returned to the Angels.

The city of Anaheim made about $24,000 for two days of shooting crowd scenes at Anaheim Stadium, including the night that former Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan made his final appearance in Anaheim before retiring. Most of the filming actually occurred at the Oakland Coliseum because the Anaheim field was being used by the Los Angeles Rams--another team in need of miracles.

More important, the Angels say they hope the movie teaches fans not to give up on the team.

In the movie, "there were a couple of kids who were absolutely loyal to the Angels, whether they played well or didn't. . . . Fans should be good fans, in good weather or in bad weather," Brown says.

"I would like people to go and enjoy the movie and realize there's an Angels professional club--not the one on which the movie is based--that has the same logo and same uniforms . . . to come see the real Angels," he adds.

Maybe, he says, Angels fans will copy the fans in the movie who provided inspiration for their team at a critical point in a game by rising from their seats and flapping their arms like angels' wings.

Two die-hard Angels fans, Rachel and Scott Irving of Lake Forest, became believers of miracles after viewing the movie.

"It could happen," Rachel Irving says. "We will all cross our fingers and say our prayers."

In reality, some of the Angels players say they swear off superstitions because they only add to the pressures of the game.

But Hudler says he has a couple of "angels" he calls on to help the team win.

"I call on (pitcher) Mark Langston to get that slider over the plate when it's three (balls) and two (strikes), with two outs. That's the Angel I call out for," he says. "I also call for the beautiful Chili Davis to go ahead and get that run home."

Times staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this report.

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