THE BELL CURVE

Joseph N. Bell

It is probably time to write my annual thank you column to the Anaheim

Angels. I say "probably" because as a committed card-carrying romantic,

my instincts always tell me to wait until they are mathematically

eliminated from the pennant race. These are the same instincts that keep

me watching in the ninth inning when the Angels are 15 runs behind and

clearly as bored as the people who paid hard-earned money to come and see

them play -- and have long since gone home.

But I still remember vividly some years ago -- when I was offering my

heart and soul to the Chicago White Sox -- that they once scored nine

runs in the last inning to beat the Yankees 10-9. And so I am loathe to

concede. But my editor, who is a pragmatist, says that it is time.

If you have been paying attention, you know that I have made a deal with

a Party -- whose identity is my own business -- not to leave this

bountiful life until the Angels have won a World Series. It appears --

no, says my editor, it is certain -- that the Angels won't endanger me

this year. And after the 14-12 debacle in Cleveland Tuesday night, I must

agree. Hence this note of thanks.

The list of individuals to thank is long and deserving, but before I

single them out, I would like to say that from beginning, the commitment

of the Angels to lose on my behalf has decidedly been a team effort (last

in the major leagues by a wide margin, for example, in runs-batted-in).

From the front office to the $80 million man -- with a few notable

exceptions -- the Angels have been consistent and determined

underachievers. In spite of my romantic leanings, I knew subconsciously

by early May that I was safe and that you were going to get this weekly

liberal enlightenment -- the editor willing -- for at least another year.

So let's get to the business at hand and give special thankswhere it is

due -- in no particular order of importance.

The first expression of appreciation goes to general manager Bill Bavasi

who pulled off a coup almost breathtaking in its ingenuity. The Angels

had two players who persisted in performing up to their salaries: pitcher

Omar Olivares and second baseman Randy Velarde.

They caused me some anxiety early in the season. But Bavasi cleverly

traded them in July to the Oakland Athletics. In return, he got three

deep minor leaguers who aren't likely to cause me any problems for at

least several years. Meanwhile, the two former Angels are leading

Oakland's quest for a playoff spot. Olivares is 4-0 with the Athletics,

and Velarde is batting 20 points above any of his ex-Angel teammates. And

100 points above the Class A second baseman brought in to replace him.

Although those of us who bought season tickets didn't expect to be

watching on-the-job training for a kid second baseman, it was certainly a

lifesaver for me.

Early in the season, an alert photographer caught Garret Anderson yawning

in center field during a game. He earns my special thanks for so

perfectly catching the flavor of the performance of the Angels, who

should put this picture on the cover of their media guide for the

millennial season. The Anaheim Yawners.

Thanks, too, to Jim Edmonds for enjoying his off-season beforedeciding to

have surgery during Spring training, This removed him from the lineup

until late August and gave us the opportunity to watch him get in shape

in games that counted. Attaway, Jim.

Thanks, also, to:

* manager Terry Collins for mostly ignoring the sacrifice, hit-and-run

and squeeze in favor of the double play;

* the players who went to the front office early in the season to try and

undermine the authority and future of the manager;

* the finger-pointers in the clubhouse -- especially Darin Erstad, the

first player to go public with criticism of his teammates;

* the $80 million man, Mo Vaughn, for his inspired lack of leadership --

but especially for carrying the strikeout with men on base to a new art

form.

And, finally, thanks to the Disney Co. for running upthe white flag and

trying to bail out when the head honchos there discovered they had bought

into Mickey Mouse instead of the Lion King. Shopping the team before all

the touch-ups on the refurbished stadium are completed makes it clear

that the lack of commitment extends all the way to the top. So from top

to bottom, things look safe for me next year -- unless, of course, Disney

sells the team to that microchip billionaire and he buys a pennant like

the billionaire in Florida did a couple of years ago. But even that isn't

a sure thing. Six Mo Vaughns would have just put the Angels deeper into

last place in 1999.

But if a new owner should buy the Angels a pennant, I think Ican make a

good case for getting out of my agreement. I'm putting my brief together,

just in case. Meanwhile, I'll be trying to find someone to use the rest

of my 1999 tickets.

I went to a game alone during the last home stand. Everyone Iasked to

join me looked pained and begged off. But there were a bunch of little

kids standing around outside the box office and I gave one of them my

extra ticket. Felt good. He never got to the seat beside me, but I hope

he got some autographs from the visiting team.

JOSEPH N. BELL is a Santa Ana Heights resident. His column runs

Thursdays.

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