Commentary: Another mediocre Angels season is met mostly by shrugs. Why? Because it was expected
In Anaheim, right down the street from the happiest place on Earth, rests one of the saddest. It is known as Angel Stadium. Once upon a time, long, long ago, they played real, competitive, major league baseball there.
The current team has continued a recent tradition of sad-sack performing. The 2021 Angels held Fan Appreciation Night last Saturday, and one wonders what they could possibly have given to the patient and faithful that would be a fair measure of the team’s gratitude for paying to watch this frequently grisly show.
A new Mercedes? Tickets to Hawaii?
Actually, on this Fan Appreciation Night, the Angels came through nicely, gifting the 30,221 in the stands a 14-1 win over playoff contender Seattle. More likely, the fans had come just for the postgame fireworks.
If this team were playing in Philadelphia, and it held a fan appreciation celebration after a season like this, the players and management would need guard dogs and bullet proof vests. But this is Anaheim and the Angels, where there seems to be mostly shrugs, even encouraging words, when the team does something mildly positive, such as approaching the .500 mark. It did that dozens of times this summer before settling into its real level, a handful of games below that standard of mediocrity.
For the Angels, the weather is always perfect, the stadium remains beautiful and well maintained, and the hot dogs taste pretty good. Wins and losses seem less of a big deal. This will be the seventh consecutive season without a playoff berth, and that means a steadily lowering bar of expectations. Plus, a die-hard baseball fan, one who thinks that winning a lot and getting into the postseason is important, can just go to a Dodgers game.
It’s up to the Angels to change Shohei Ohtani’s mind, which makes the upcoming winter the most important in Arte Moreno’s time as owner.
Ah, Southern California, blessed with an abundance of baseball riches. You have your choice of high tension, pitch-by-pitch drama in Chavez Ravine. Or, an afternoon in the sun with the kids, with pizza and hot dogs and ice cream and no need to even pay attention to what is going on under the Big A. Angels baseball may be quickly becoming a nice excuse to get out of the house.
For serious Angels fans, the reality is becoming harsh. Their team is the poster child of Wait-Till-Next-Year franchises.
The last real shot the Angels had at some level of major league status since Mike Scioscia took them to a World Series title in 2002 was seven years later, in the American League Championship Series in Yankee Stadium. Eleventh inning, Angels leading 3-2, Alex Rodriguez behind 0-2 to quirky Angels left-handed closer Brian Fuentes. The pitch gets too much of the plate. A-Rod hits it over the short wall in right center. Yankees go on to win 4-3 in 13 innings, go up 2-0 in the series. Never look back.
All the bright lights in Anaheim since then have been down the street.
Shohei Ohtani wants to make improvements in the offseason. And if the Angels want to negotiate a potential contract extension, he’s open for that too.
Now, it has become mostly ceremonial baseball in Anaheim. There is a team, but it always seems to live up to its low expectations. There is spring training, where talk is cheap and fun. By June, the goal quickly resets to a wild-card spot. Then comes the All-Star break, followed by minimal clutch-hitting and lots of bases left loaded; also overmatched relief pitchers replacing underperforming starting pitchers and walking the first batter they face. Vegas needs to create a betting line for Angels relief pitchers. Two-to-one they walk the first guy.
In a strange way, the very presence of the Dodgers just a short ride up the freeway may take the heat off the Angels. You can’t even pretend to compete with the legends of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Kirk Gibson, Tommy Lasorda and Vin Scully? You can whine about relative media coverage or you can shrug and find ways to stay in the Southern California baseball conversation. To that end, the Angels have done well.
For the last several years, fans could live with at least being able to watch the best player in baseball hit mammoth homers and make circus catches in center field. Mike Trout has always been worth the price of admission. That he was hurt this year was costly, but he wasn’t hurt in previous recent seasons, he played at an MVP level all along, and the Angels still managed barely a glimpse of the postseason.
And now, the Angels even have another talking point. They added the man-from-another-planet, Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese wunderkind who both pitches and hits at a superstar level and has every sportswriter and sportscaster in captivity saying Ohtani’s 2021 is the best individual season in the history of the sport. And they are right.
Joe Maddon has been vocal in insisting the Angels need a couple of top pitchers to compete for a World Series title, but does the team have championship DNA?
In case you haven’t noticed, the Angels have had more Ohtani promotional nights than extra-inning wins. Ohtani T-Shirt Night, Ohtani Pajama Night, Ohtani Fingernail Polish Night. If you can’t beat ‘em, just out-promote ‘em.
So, the Angels’ promotion folks finish in first place again. Good for them. Great job cashing in on two great players. But when does this translate into wins and postseason appearances? When do the fans who spend so much of their time right down the street from Disneyland get a roller-coaster thrill of a playoff ride?
Joe Maddon, a veteran manager and arguably the right man for the job, seems to see the forest for the trees. Last week, he stopped using his pregame media gatherings to boost David Fletcher for a Gold Glove award or Ohtani for MVP and said, basically, that he was tired of having a revolving door of players. “This organization is better than this,” he said. Maddon, in his quiet way, was shaking somebody by the lapels. It wasn’t clear who, but Maddon certainly had a good grip.
Nevertheless, on the same night he said that, what followed was yet another pathetic loss, no less to the Houston Astros, baseball’s hated cheaters.
The Angels thrilled the scattering of 14,863 die-hard fans with a five-run inning to take a 5-3 lead in the seventh. Before you could return from the restroom, the Astros had tied it, and in extra innings, the Angels squandered a bases-loaded, no-out chance to win before folding their tents to Houston’s four-run 12th.
For Angels fans, it was the same ol’ same ol’. The season of 2021 has been another bumpy ride for Disneyland’s team, which is, with each passing year, turning the Big A into a Haunted Mansion.
One day after the Angels were officially eliminated from the postseason hunt, manager Joe Maddon had a few things to get off his chest.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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