Angels Bent on Playing Oldies

Old Angels never die, and, evidently, they don't fade away, either.

Dick Schofield and Rich Monteleone first broke the ice in September, proving that no ex-Angel's career is so cryogenic that it can't be thawed, reheated and served up again. There's really nothing wrong with TV dinners--right?--once you get past the taste.

After Schofield and Monteleone came Jack Howell.

And John Orton.

And Ron Tingley.

And Bryan Harvey.

Who next, the wiseacres chortled, Willie Fraser?

Why, yes, Willie Fraser.

As of Thursday afternoon.

To the best of my recollection, the 1990 Angels were pretty lousy. And that was when Schofield, Howell, Orton, Tingley, Harvey and Fraser were more or less in their prime. Five years later they are back, more wrinkled than before, more scarred in several cases and well, let's say, more worldly.

Schofield has since played (occasionally) for the Mets, the Blue Jays and the Dodgers, and not played, for anyone, during a four-month forced retirement.

Howell has spent nearly four seasons in Japan, which means he hasn't hit American League pitching since 1991. Of course, 80% of the time between 1987 and 1991, that also was the case.

Orton and Tingley once formed a .380-hitting platoon at catcher for the Angels--they both hit .190--and were later reunited on the bench in Florida, but that lasted only as long as Doug Rader's coaching contract with the Marlins.

Harvey, when he pitched for the Angels, was the best reliever they had ever employed, but since the end of 1993, his surgically overhauled right elbow has been employed less than 11 innings.

Fraser returns to Anaheim Stadium with credentials probably better suited for The Pond. Since 1991, Fraser has played for Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. He has endured an awful lot of hits, too. Often when he pitches, the left and right fielders spend a good deal of time mucking and grinding in the corners.

What, exactly, is Bill Bavasi attempting to do here?

Restore the good name of Mike Port?

Accidentally leak the invitation list for Marcel Lachemann's upcoming surprise birthday party?

Is it coincidence that all these recyclables were prospects in the Angel system while Bavasi was minor league director? Or that each of them broke into the majors while Lachemann served as pitching coach for Gene Mauch, Cookie Rojas and Rader?

Familiarity breeds a lot of comebacks. Harvey and Fraser were at their best when they worked with Lachemann. Good times, they were. Orton and Tingley called pitches for Lachemann, both with the Angels and the Marlins. That's what this is, then: The Lach-key kids, coming back home at last.

Down the road, this bodes well for Chuck Finley and Jim Abbott.

Three years from now, the Angels can bring them back, too.

This week, Finley and Abbott, both free agents, rejected the Angels' offer of salary arbitration. This means the pitchers are bound to the club only until Jan. 8. If they don't re-sign with the Angels by then, they are forbidden to re-sign until May.

This means if Finley and Abbott are still unsigned by the morning of Jan. 9, the Angels' '96 starting rotation will be:

Mark Langston.

Brian Anderson.

Scott Sanderson.

Phil Leftwich.

Julio Valera.

And that means, very likely, Lachemann won't have to worry about his team blowing an 11-game lead next summer.

As we learned during the last six weeks of the 1995 regular season, the Angels need to sign Finley and Abbott and one more starter, preferably right handed, if the pitching staff is to avoid another second-half implosion.

Bavasi knows this, but is caught in a vise of time and financial constraints unprecedented in the history of the Angels, if not the major leagues.

The Angels are in escrow, have been since last spring, but the sale was supposed to close in October. Then November. Then December. Disney bought in when the Angel payroll was around $25 million. Now, it is just under $24 million. Signing Finley and/or Abbott now would balloon the payroll to at least $27 million. If Disney then pulled out of the deal, or had its offer rejected by the major league owners, Jackie Autry would be stuck with an investment she says she can't afford and the Angels are back to Square 1--contract-dumping time.

If the ownership transfer already had been approved, Disney would be in position to say yes or no to Finley and Abbott. No? Not likely. Disney bows at the altar of public relations. The owner does not want its first two moves to be waving goodbye to the franchise's most productive pitcher and most popular player.

But Disney's bid may not be voted on until the owners' meetings of Jan. 16-18.

Abbott and Finley need to be re-signed by Jan. 8.

The math on the calendar on the wall does not look promising.

Of course, the owners could cast their votes at an earlier date via conference call. A sport with a commissioner could make this happen. But, Bud Selig assures us, this sport is functioning fine just the way it is.

In the meantime, Bavasi works the phones in handcuffs, doing the little deals, because that is what he can afford. One baseball writer has suggested the team be renamed the Aerobics, since every move they make is low-impact.

But, to put a positive spin on the situation, there has never been a better time to be an ex-Angel looking for some work.

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