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OFF AND RUNNING : Dust Will Fly as Team, Having Failed to win It All With Power, Has Switched to Speed

April 03, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Legendary moments from the sedentary days of the California Angels:

1977--For the first time in their history, the Angeles have two players steal more than 40 bases in the same season. How does the club mark this achievement? Within a span of three days that December, the Angels trade both players--Bobby Bonds to the white Sox and Jerry Remy to the Red Sox.

1978--Rick Miller wins a Gold Glove in the outfield and virtually nothing on the basepaths. Miller attempts 16 stolen bases. He is thrown out 13 times.

1982--Brian Downing, former catcher who still runs like one, is named Angel leadoff hitter. Downing tries the league record by opening a game with a home run six times. He steals two bases.

1983--A 25-year-old named Gary Pettis is recalled from Triple-A when big-league rosters are expanded on Sept. 1. Pettis appears in 22 games and leads the Angels in stolen bases for the season...with eight.

You've heard of the Go-Go White Sox? These were the So-Slow Angels. As baseball's oldest team in existence, they were living proof that the legs are the first things to go. That is why such great emphasis was placed on hitting the ball out of the park. Do that and you get to take your time trotting around the bases. Much easier on the old bones than sprinting and sliding.

But more than that, the entire ballclub was built away from speed. Running and stealing usually meant playing for one run at a time. What good was that when you had a pitching staff giving them up in twos and threes and a bullpen capable of vaporizing any lead in a matter of seconds? The Angels had to rely on the quick striking power of their offense.

So they went out and hired proven sluggers. And they won three divisional titles.

But the old home-run hitters got older and eventually began to fade away. Joe Rudi...Dan Ford...Don Baylor...Fred Lynn...Bobby Grich...Reggie Jackson.

Jackson represented the last vestige of the old Angel strong-arm, slow-feet policy. He was their mightiest long-ball threat, a man who hit 39 home runs at the age of 36 and 27 home runs at 39. But he turned 40 last summer and the Angels turned him loose. Jackson is playing out his final days in Oakland.

"Reggie was a presence,"" Angel Manager Gene Mauch acknowledged. "He represented potential power. We don't have that presence anymore. Obviously, we felt we could outrun what we lost."

Meet the 1987 Angels. Outrunning people, they hope, will be their business.

"There's going to be a lot of dust flying around the bases that you haven't seen before," Mauch promised.

Some of it by faces you haven't seen before.

Rookie Devon White, 24, is the leader of the get-moving movement. Excluding pitchers, he has been called the Angels' best prospect of the 1980s. In his previous four minor-league seasons, White has stolen 37, 36, 58 and 42 bases.

Then there's Mark McLemore, 22, another rookie. He stole a combined 67 bases for Midland and Edmonton in 1986. Before that, he stole 59 at Redwood in 1984 and 31 in Midland in 1985.

Add these young legs to a lineup that includes such incumbents as Pettis, who has stolen 106 bases for the Angels the last two seasons, and Dick Schofield, who was 23 for 28 in steal attempts in 1986, and you can see that times are not only changing in Anaheim, they're getting faster.

"We'll be different," Mauch said. "The power potential may not be as it was in the past, but the speed potential is much greater. And when you add speed, it's not just running and stealing bases. Defensive speed is also very important. You're going to see a lot of balls caught that haven't been caught in the past."

An outfield of White in right, Pettis in center and 25-year-old Jack Howell in left will be the Angels' swiftest since the Mickey Rivers-Dave Collins-Morris Nettles outfield of the mid-1970s. The double-play combination of McLemore at second base and Schofield at shortstop could--and the hope is soon--rival the fabled feats of Jim Fregosi and Bobby Knoop.

And the prospect of turning Pettis, White, McLemore and Schofield loose on the bases could place the Angel club record of 220 stolen bases in jeopardy...if they hit.

This is no small concern, considering that a) Pettis has never hit .260 in the major leagues; b) Schofield has never hit .250 in the major leagues; and c) White and McLemore have only combined for 13 hits in the major leagues.

Ask Pettis about the Angels' 1987 speed infusion and, interestingly, he casts a skeptical eye.

"Everybody's saying that with more speed, things are going to happen for us," Pettis said. "We still have to hit the ball. What is we never get in a situation where we can use our speed?"

Mauch hoped to get an indication this spring, which is why he played White in every exhibition game and at least temporarily halted the platoon at second base, giving McLemore as many at-bats as he could.

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