MESA, Ariz. — The year is 1991. The Angels still have not won a pennant. The city of Anaheim and the Angels are still suing each other. The music between innings still is lousy.
But some things do change. Yes, even in Orange County.
This year, the Angels will make history when Manager Gene Mauch pencils in this lineup on opening day:
It's a landmark achievement: An alignment completely free of free agents, the product of home-grown breeding, brought to you by the same farm system that spent most of the 1970s and early 1980s churning out trade bait and existing for no apparent reason other than tradition.
It is the ultimate fruition of the plans first laid by Mike Port in 1985, way back when he was a rookie general manager.
As Port puts it: "At that point in time when I accepted my given assignment, which, as I saw it, was to put together the best baseball club possible while at the same time retaining some element of solvency, I determined the most prudent and cost-efficient path to be through the parameters of the minor league system. We had been heavy participants in the re-entry draft, and yet I had to ask myself the question: Has it resulted in a world's championship for the California Angels? My answer, in all honesty, had to be no."
It was back to the farm for the Angels. The transformation was slow but sure.
After the 1985 season, Port severed ties with veteran .300 hitters Rod Carew, who made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot this year, and Juan Beniquez, currently continuing his bid with the Baltimore Orioles to break Manny Mota's pinch-hit record.
In 1987, Reggie Jackson bought the Oakland A's and made himself right fielder.
In 1988, the Angels paid off the final year of George Hendrick's contract.
And this winter, Bob Boone retired. In 1990, he caught 160 games and led the league in sacrifice bunts. He will be missed.
Now, Port's master plan will at last be put to the test. Can a lineup completely bred and fed by the Angels' minor league organization succeed where past teams, gorged with re-entry signings and deferred contracts, failed so many times?
Mauch thinks so.
"The Royals won as many games as they possibly could last year," he says. "You have to keep in mind that they won only one more game than we did. That's not a lot of ground to make up, especially when you consider our youngsters are all a year older now."
The 1991 baseball season is five years down the road. A lot can happen in five years, particularly to a franchise with as changeable a history as the Angels.
Consider how the Angels looked in 1981.
Butch Hobson was the third baseman. Ed Ott was the catcher. Rick Burleson played his last full season at shortstop.
The outfield consisted of Dan Ford, Fred Lynn and Brian Downing. Don Baylor was the designated hitter.
In the starting pitching rotation were Steve Renko, Dave Frost, Ken Forsch and Geoff Zahn. Mike Witt was a rookie. Don Aase and Andy Hassler manned the bullpen.
Five years later, only Burleson, Downing, Forsch, Witt and Bobby Grich remain of the 37 players who wore Angel uniforms in 1981.
And that's assuming the comebacks of Burleson and Forsch aren't sidetracked into the orthopedic ward this summer.
With this in mind, we plunge ahead, speculating on how the Angels will line up in the first year of the franchise's fourth decade. Aiding us in this assignment is our panel of experts: Bill Bavasi, director of minor league operations; Joe Coleman, minor league pitching instructor; Winston Llenas, manager of the Edmonton Trappers; Preston Gomez, assistant to the general manager, and Mauch.
Let us begin. The Angels of 1991:
First Base--Wally Joyner seems entrenched for at least the next decade. By 1991, the Angels have Joyner jotted down for a couple of Gold Gloves and maybe a league batting title as well.
The Joyner-for-first campaign started building a head of steam in 1984, when Joyner was named the organization's minor league player of the year with a .317 batting average, 12 home runs and 72 runs batted in. But the convincing was done last winter, when Joyner bulked up and displayed previously unseen power, becoming only the third player to win the triple crown in Puerto Rico with a .356 average, 14 home runs and 48 RBIs.
"The question with Wally was always his power," Bavasi said. "The guy is gonna hit home runs. Not in the 40s, but look at him. He's no pencil-neck. He's a big boy (6-2, 185), with room to grow."
Second Base--Call Mark McLemore a poor man's Joe Morgan. "He's an aggressive, exciting type of player who's going to steal a lot of bases," Llenas said. "Right now, he just needs polishing defensively."
A 21-year-old switch-hitter, McLemore batted .271 at Midland last season, stealing 31 bases in 117 games. With Redwood in 1984, he stole 59.