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Glory in the Outfield : The Angels’ Trio of Salmon, Edmonds and Anderson Wants Nothing Less Than to Reclaim Prominence of ’95

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The accolades bestowed on Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Garret Anderson in 1995--they were hailed as one of baseball’s best young outfields--disappeared like Anaheim Stadium’s outfield bleachers in ’96.

Salmon, the right fielder, finished with very good numbers (.286 average, 30 home runs, 98 runs batted in), but his .257 average with runners in scoring position was a reminder of how much better a season it could have been.

Edmonds, the center fielder, hit .304 with 27 homers and 66 RBIs but sat out almost 50 games because of injury and was never the devastating offensive force he was in ’95.

Anderson, in his own words, “had a bad season,” and few would argue. The left fielder’s power numbers (12 homers, 72 RBIs in 150 games) fell dramatically from 1995 (16 homers, 69 RBIs in 106 games).

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And it didn’t help that the underachieving Angels sagged to a 70-91 record and last-place finish in the American League West after being picked by many to win the division.

“It wasn’t that we had a terrible year as a group,” Anderson said, “it’s just that there weren’t a whole lot of positive things going on. So [our outfield] wasn’t the thing to talk about.”

The three seem eager to return to their 1995 perch, but not because they’re hungry for praise. If they’re once again part of the great debate--who has baseball’s best outfield?--they figure the Angels will be all the better for it.

“If we stay healthy, work hard and play to our capabilities, the team will win and we’ll probably be the best outfield in the league,” Edmonds said. “That’s one of your goals in this game, to be a player to be reckoned with.

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“You obviously want to be compared to the best. You don’t want to be just good, you want to be great. We still have a long ways to go, but we have some time to prove it.”

The competition is stiff: There’s Seattle’s Ken Griffey and Jay Buhner, the New York Yankees’ Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill and Tim Raines/Darryl Strawberry, the Chicago White Sox’s Albert Belle, Dave Ramirez and Tony Phillips, and Cleveland’s Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez.

The Angels don’t have an individual outfielder in the class of Griffey, Belle, Buhner or Williams, but when you combine Salmon, Edmonds and Anderson, and factor in offense, defense and potential, they certainly appear capable of being the best all-around outfield in the league.

But can they fulfill those expectations?

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THE SWINGMAN

Salmon, 28, has established himself as a consistent 30-homer, 100-RBI player, and Edmonds, 26, is an explosive hitter and one of the game’s best defensive center fielders.

So the Angel outfield’s reputation could hinge on Anderson, the 24-year old who finished second in the 1995 rookie-of-the-year vote but stumbled in 1996, hitting .240 with runners in scoring position and rummaging through the lost-and-found bin for his power stroke.

“I had a bad attitude last year--it wasn’t just my stats, it was my mind-set,” Anderson said. “I might have been too relaxed, or not hungry enough because I had so much success in ’95. And I went through a lot of things that I had never experienced before.”

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Negotiations on a long-term contract for Anderson dragged deep into the season and eventually fell apart. Then there was July’s double whammy: First, Anderson found himself on the bench several times a week as then-manager Marcel Lachemann employed a four-man outfield rotation that included rookie Darin Erstad; then Anderson began creeping into trade rumors.

“If it wasn’t one thing, it was another, and it had kind of a snow-ball effect,” Anderson said. “But it should make me a better player and person, because if these things come up again, I’ll know how to handle them. It’s a test, and if you can get through it, it will make you tougher.”

Anderson, who on March 7 agreed to a three-year deal for $4 million, plus an option year, knows to have success in ’97, he must drive the ball to the opposite field. Anderson said his power dropped because pitchers constantly kept the ball away from him.

“If I start hitting the ball hard the other way, they’ll have to come inside, and then the home runs will come,” Anderson said. “There was a lot of talk last year about how pitchers made adjustments on me, and they did--I give them credit--but it’s nothing I shouldn’t have been able to handle.”

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Anderson has a long, smooth stride in the outfield and a cool, almost detached, demeanor in the clubhouse--he never seems to get too excited or upset. That body language has given some the impression Anderson isn’t always putting forth a maximum effort, but he has no plans to change.

“That’s just my personality,” Anderson said. “I play as hard as anyone, but I’m just different. You can tell if a player is cheating you, not giving his all. But you can’t expect everyone to be ‘rah-rah.’ I’m here because of what I’ve done, and I’m not going to change what I’m doing.”

JIMMY WALLBANGER

Angel Manager Terry Collins has squelched speculation that Edmonds would move to first base if Erstad can’t make a successful transition to the infield, but there would be at least one benefit to such a move--Edmonds might stay healthy enough to play an entire season.

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Edmonds has absolutely no fear in center field, crashing into walls to make highlight-reel catches and diving on warning tracks to turn potential triples into outs, but his reckless play has led to a variety of injuries.

“You play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and if you get hurt, you get hurt,” said Edmonds, in the second year of a four-year, $8.8-million contract plus an option for 2000. “There’s nothing you can do to prevent injury. If you do, that’s when you get hurt.”

Edmonds doesn’t have the speed of Lofton but makes up for it with instincts, getting great jumps on balls and taking proper angles on drives over his head or in the gaps. He also has one of the league’s best outfield arms, though he rarely gets credit for it.

“It’s disappointing to play two years like I did and not even get mentioned for the Gold Glove,” Edmonds said. “I know Lofton and Griffey are great, but I feel I’m right there with those guys.”

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So does Collins, and that’s why he’s reluctant to move Edmonds to first, even though Edmonds played well there in 1994. “You don’t want to take a potential Gold Glover out of center field that quickly,” Collins said. “You don’t want to hurt yourself at two positions.”

Edmonds, who has power to all fields, had a breakthrough year in 1995, batting .290 with 33 homers, 107 RBIs and 120 runs, and he spent the winter of 1995-96 bulking up to 220 pounds. But the added size and strength may have hurt Edmonds in ’96.

“My upper body was too strong for my stomach and legs,” said Edmonds, who went on the disabled list last May because of a strained abdomen and groin. “That may have been why I got hurt.”

Edmonds, who also missed more than a month of ’96 because of a sprained right thumb, did more running than lifting this winter and reported to camp at 210 pounds. “I wanted to get into great shape,” he said, “but I didn’t want to be as bulky as last year.”

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THE BIG FISH

Salmon’s reaction at hitting .257 with runners in scoring position last season: “Is that for real? Somebody better check that.”

Then he saw that he had only four fewer home runs and seven fewer RBIs in 1996 than he had in ’95, and became perplexed.

“I was shocked my [1996] numbers were that high, because it was such a grind last year, such a struggle to get it done,” said Salmon, who recently signed a four-year, $22.5-million contract extension. “I thought I had a great year in 1995 [.330, 34 homers, 105 RBIs], but maybe I actually underachieved.”

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That’s a word you don’t hear in connection with Salmon, who has averaged 30 homers and 92 RBIs for four seasons. He has become the ultimate lead-by-example guy in the clubhouse, and the most consistent and reliable player on the team, the closet thing the Angels have to a franchise player.

But he’s not so good there’s no room for improvement. Salmon, knowing Collins would employ a more aggressive offense this year, spent six weeks this winter in a grueling course known as the acceleration program, which includes intense treadmill workouts and is designed to improve speed and burst.

“Every single day I’d ask myself why I was doing this?” said Salmon, who threw up the first three days of the program. “I’ve never worked as hard as I did then. It hurt a lot, but I want to be in the best shape I can, so that whatever Terry throws at me I can handle.”

Anderson also took part in the acceleration program, and Edmonds, after a his winter conditioning work, says he’s in the best shape of his career. These Angel outfielders are determined not to let 1996 repeat itself.

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“You’ve got to come in with a different attitude, and in that sense we have to prove ourselves,” Salmon said. “If your pride wasn’t hurt after last year, you have to check yourself.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Standard Bearers

A look at how the Angels’ starting outfielders fared in 1996 as compared to 1995:

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1996

*--*

Player G Avg. H R HR RBI Garret Anderson, LF 150 .285 173 79 12 72 Jim Edmonds, CF 114 .304 131 73 27 66 Tim Salmon, RF 156 .286 166 90 30 98

*--*

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1995

*--*

Player G Avg. H R HR RBI Anderson, LF 106 .321 120 50 16 69 Edmonds, CF 141 .290 162 120 33 107 Salmon, RF 143 .330 177 111 34 105

*--*

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