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SPRING TRAINING '87 : ANGELS : Team Hopes It Can Wake Up From That Nightmarish Playoff Series

February 22, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

MESA, Ariz. — A new day has, indeed, risen for the Angels, an event that may have been impossible to comprehend for the bowed heads and drawn faces last seen in the Fenway Park visitors' clubhouse four months ago.

Winter has come and gone, and another spring training camp has opened. Time to forget about the pitch that hit Rich Gedman. Time to forget about the pitch Dave Henderson hit. Time to forget about the World Series trip that was canceled by catastrophe in Game 5 and consecutive Boston massacres in Games 6 and 7 of the American League playoffs.

But will it be that easy? The Angels are a team seemingly forever linked to its past, a self-fulfilling prophecy in double-knits and cleats. Bad things happen to this franchise, and October 1986, with its incredible meltdown from a 3-1 playoff advantage, may have been the baddest yet.

During the off-season, however, the Angels have done their damnedest to cut the ball andchain from that dark episode. Attempting to purge themselves of the sins of October, the Angels have purged several Angels.

Gone is Reggie Jackson, once the legendary Mr. October but only 5 for 26 with 7 strikeouts in the last one.

Gone is Rick Burleson, the former Red Sox shortstop who should have known what was coming in Boston.

Gone is Bobby Grich, who announced his retirement after batting .208, committing 3 errors and making his most postseason noise by screaming at third base coach Moose Stubing for a botch-up on the basepaths.

Gone is Doug Corbett and his 5.40 earned-run average in the playoffs.

Gone is Terry Forster, who didn't even pitch well enough to make the playoff roster.

And gone, most recently, is Bob Boone, the ancient catcher. This separation, though, did not comply with General Manager Mike Port's master reorganization plan. Boone batted .455 against Boston and caught in 144 regular-season games. He won a Gold Glove.

The Angels wanted Boone back. The Angels need Boone back.

But Boone was a free agent after the 1986 season. And for want of $10,000-- the "token of appreciation" Boone sought on top of the $883,000 the Angels were offering--the catcher and the ballclub went their separate ways.

At least for the time being.

Because Boone did not come to terms with the Angels by the Jan. 8 deadline, he cannot re-sign with the team until May 1. And in this bear free-agent market, offers from other teams have not been pouring in for the 39-year-old catcher. The Angels have kept the door open . . . and their fingers crossed.

"I don't have a clue about what might happen," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. "But I'm sure Bob Boone would be welcomed back."

Mauch, who won the only two divisional titles of his 25-year managerial career with Boone as his catcher, was disturbed to see the relationship severed. Boone has long been a favorite of Mauch--the two are cut from the same strategy-counts, defense-first cloth--and Mauch was stunned when the contract talks fell apart last month.

"I was taken aback," he said. "I thought for sure he would sign. But I didn't know he had the attitude he did."

Stubbornness, on Boone's part or the Angels' part or both, has left the catcher position open this spring. Barring a May return by Boone, Butch Wynegar, who was acquired in a December trade with the New York Yankees, figures to be the man behind the plate.

Or, at least, he's the man on the spot in March. Last season, Wynegar batted .206 and did not play the final two months because of psychological problems.

A winter of attrition has turned the Angels' camp into a spring of transition. Including catcher and designated hitter, the Angels expect to open April with five changes in the batting order.

The next six weeks will determine if rookie Devon White is ready take over in right field, if rookie Mark McLemore can hit enough to claim second base, if Jack Howell can make the switch from third base to left field, and if Brian Downing can make the switch to full-time designated hitter.

Also to be filled: that chasm known as the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation and at least two spots in the bullpen behind Donnie Moore, Gary Lucas and Chuck Finley.

Pitchers and catchers have already reported to the Angels' training complex, beginning drills Saturday. The first full-squad workout is scheduled next Friday.

At that point, Mauch and the Angels will attempt to find answers. Position by position, here are the foremost questions of the spring:

Catcher--Can Wynegar, a disappointment with the Yankees and an apparent washout at 30, turn in a reasonable resemblance of Boone? Will an escape from New York be enough to revitalize his career? Can Wynegar gain the confidence of a pitching staff that leaned so heavily, and thrived so well, on the direction of Boone?

"What Boone does, he has no peer," Mauch acknowledges. "By that, I mean controlling the strike zone and calling a ballgame. At that, he's the best.

"But he didn't invent it. He just refined it."

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