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Angels Are Just a Few Moves Away From Their Greatest Moment

At a gala banquet at Pauley Pavilion tonight, the 12 greatest moments in Los Angeles sports history will be announced, culled from a Top 100 list of most memorable events ranging chronologically from the first Rose Bowl in 1902 to UCLA’s 1995 NCAA basketball championship.

The Angels get four mentions in the Top 100, a bit paltry, but it could be worse.

The Clippers didn’t get any.

These are the Angels’ Four Greatest Moments, as determined by the Los Angeles Sports Council’s nomination and selection committee, and I quote:

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June 1, 1975--"Nolan Ryan pitches fourth no-hitter as an Angel, 1-0, over Baltimore.”

Sept. 25, 1979--"Don Baylor wins MVP award while leading Angels to first division title.”

Aug. 4, 1985--"Rod Carew collects 3,000th hit.”

Oct. 11, 1986--"Angels take 3-1 ALCS lead over Boston.”

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Yes?

And then?

(In Buffalo, I hear, they held a similar balloting and the Bills’ greatest moment was: Jan. 27, 1991--"Bills trail Giants, 20-19, in their first Super Bowl appearance and move into field goal range in the final seconds.”)

That’s the trouble with the Angels.

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They need better Greatest Moments.

Because if the prelude to catastrophic Game 5 can break into this list, so, too, can July 30, 1995--"Angels lead Seattle by 13 games in the AL West.”

Or: Oct. 2, 1995--"Angels face Mariners in one-game playoff for AL West title, Mark Langston battles Randy Johnson nearly pitch-for-pitch for 6 2/3 innings.”

Will the Angels ever close a deal in our lifetimes?

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Take a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and win Game 5?

Take a 13-game lead over Seattle in the AL West and win the division title by 14 games? Or half a game?

Win a World Series, instead of watching the Angel Alumni Assn. win it--Luis Polonia is the latest--year after year?

How do they get from Point B--decency; reasonably competitive--to Point A--top o’ the world, or at least, top o’ the American League?

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Last season, the Angels came as close as they have been in a decade, yet decayed in front of our horrified eyes, falling apart, piece by piece, like a condemned tenement house.

But at least with the tenement house, you’d know what to do with it. Hire a wrecking ball, haul away the rubble and build anew.

Can Bill Bavasi do that with these Angels?

Should he?

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The Angels’ starting outfield of Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson and Jim Edmonds includes the 1993 AL rookie of the year, the 1995 AL rookie of the year runner-up and a 1995 AL All-Star. All three outfielders, though scarred by The Collapse, are 27 or younger. In 1992, this team started an outfield of Von Hayes, Junior Felix and Chad Curtis. In context, the current group is simply too good to break up.

How about the infield? Gary DiSarcina’s thumb broke up this group in August and you saw what happened. DiSarcina is a keeper and so, it would seem, J.T. Snow. Especially when you consider Snow’s most vital statistic from last season--Salary Earned: $200,000.

That leaves second base, third base and catcher.

Three words: Change ‘em all.

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Tony Phillips was a breath of fresh air atop the batting order for four months, but in August and September those 37-year-old lungs began wheezing something awful. Phillips hit just .198 after July, driving in only 15 runs.

Damion Easley has his 1,000 at-bats in the big leagues--traditionally the pull date for any “prospect” still not pulling his weight--and Easley barely hurdled the .200 mark last summer. And when the Angels needed to win their last five games to force the playoff in Seattle, who did Marcel Lachemann start at second base? Rex Hudler.

Catcher is such a mess, the less said about it the better. Except this: Andy Allanson, the Angels’ starting catcher down the stretch, was released two weeks after the end of the regular season.

The Angels are said to be eyeing Cincinnati’s Joe Oliver as a potential starting catcher and Montreal’s Mike Lansing and/or New York Yankee Randy Velarde at second and third. Oliver can hit, catch and throw; Lansing can bat leadoff; Velarde can play just about anywhere Phillips can--at $1 million less per year.

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This is a start.

But the crucial question for Bavasi this winter is what to do about starting pitching. Clearly, the Angels don’t have enough, as evidenced by the incredible shrinking first-place lead, and a sizable chunk of what they have--Chuck Finley and Jim Abbott--just filed for free agency.

Free advice: Sign them both and bring in a right-hander while you’re at it.

Finley turns 33 in two weeks, and went two months (late April to mid-May, late August to late September) without a victory last season, but he was at the All-Star game again, won 15 games, logged 200-plus innings in a shortened schedule and remains the Angel Starter Most Likely To Get The Ball in a must-win game. The Angels had two of them during the last five days of the regular season--in Seattle to stave off elimination, against Oakland to clinch the one-game playoff--and Finley delivered both times.

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Finley is also a Career Angel--10 years in, 114 victories, a remarkable 15 games over .500. Finley has done hard time here, but he likes the weather and the beach and he actually wants to stay--so much that he is on record claiming he’d be willing to take a pay cut.

With the Angels, with Disney, those are magic words. Finley made $4.5 million in 1995, will probably settle for $3.5 million in 1996. Disney can probably live with that, for two years plus an option.

Abbott will be dicier; his agent, Scott Boras, is seeking a bump up above the $3 million-per-year range--serious money for a No. 3 starter in baseball’s post-'94 economic climate. Bavasi has already invested a lot in Abbott--it took four top prospects to bring Abbott home last July--and Boras knows the Angels want more than two months and a 5-4 record for their return.

Lose Abbott now and the Angels run the risk of opening 1996 with a rotation of Finley, Langston, Brian Anderson and S.O.S.

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It will probably take $7 million to lock up Finley and Abbott for ’96. The Angels can do it. Salmon and Edmonds each earned less than $900,000 last season, Anderson made the major league minimum, Snow was at $200,000, DiSarcina is a bargain-bin steal at $1.3 million per--the Angels have a good deal of loose change lying around.

So spend it on Finley and Abbott and one good right-hander (Mark Gubicza? Jamie Navarro?). Replace an infielder or two. Bring in a real catcher.

Do it now, because the Mariners, expecting to have Ken Griffey Jr. play full seasons from here on out, are not likely to slip.

Do it now, because it’s about time the Angels had a Greatest Moment that didn’t leave their fans dehydrated from crying their eyes out.

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