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ANGEL PREVIEW : 1987 : Mauch's New Element: Speed

April 07, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

When Butch Wynegar looks back on the recent past of the Angels, he does so through eyes that once peered from behind the mask of an opposing catcher. And those eyes used to tell him that whenever the Angels were on the schedule, heaven couldn't be far behind.

"You'd come in here and, as a catcher, it'd almost be like three days off," says Wynegar, who spent 11 seasons with Minnesota and the New York Yankees. "Keep Gary (Pettis) off base and you'd have nothing to worry about. If your arm wasn't feeling too good, you could give it a little rest before going into that series with Kansas City."

The Angels were slow motion without the instant replay. They were baseball's oldest team and they looked it. Get on base and don't try anything rash. Conserve your energy and wait for a home run.

In 1983, the Angels stole 41 bases as a team. Rickey Henderson had them beaten by June. The club's stolen base leader was a 25-year-old rookie who appeared in just 22 games after his recall from Edmonton on Sept. 1. His name was Gary Pettis and he finished with eight steals. Next was Rod Carew, with six.

The Angels were a team built around power and firmly set in their ways. But those eight measly stolen bases were significant, signaling that times were about to change in Anaheim.

Slowly, they would get faster.

In his first three full seasons as an Angel, Pettis stole 48, 56 and 50 bases. He is already the club's all-time stolen base leader. And last year, he picked up a running mate. Shortstop Dick Schofield got on base often enough to attempt 28 steals--succeeding 23 times.

Today, as the Angels open their 1987 season against the Seattle Mariners at Anaheim Stadium, the transformation nears completion. Aging sluggers Reggie Jackson and Bobby Grich are gone, replaced by a couple of rookies, Devon White and Mark McLemore, who combined for 109 stolen bases in the minors last season. That makes it a footloose foursome.

"We have three guys who can scoot and one short little white guy," says Schofield, who is short and little and white. "We're like a track team." Or at least a relay team.

Now Wynegar, another new Angel, says he's glad to have been called away from enemy lines.

"They're going to keep you on your toes," Wynegar said, addressing his brothers in shin guards. "They're going to be fun to watch. Speed is a nice little extra weapon."

Manager Gene Mauch, heretofore baseball's leading proponent of the sacrifice bunt, is intrigued by the idea of moving from first base to second without giving up an out. He looks at the Angels' young speedsters and sees great possibilities. He calls them his rabbits.

Tell us about the rabbits, Gene.

"I've never had four people in the same lineup who can run like those in our lineup--ever," Mauch said.

"The power potential may not be as it was in the past, but the speed potential is much greater. And speed is the most stimulating thing in baseball.

"When you add speed, it's not just running and stealing bases. Defensive speed is very important. You're going to see a lot of balls caught that were not caught in the past. You're going to see a lot of dust flying around the bases that you haven't seen before."

But to bring youth and speed to a team that won three division titles in eight years with proven power, sacrifices had to be made.

To play White in right field, Mauch will have to scrap the platoon of Ruppert Jones and George Hendrick (a combined 31 home runs and 96 RBIs in 1986). McLemore replaces Grich, the leading home run hitter in Angel history.

New left fielder Jack Howell, who can also run a lick, replaces Brian Downing, who replaces the departed Reggie Jackson as designated hitter. Jackson hit 123 homers in five seasons with the Angels.

Wally Joyner surpassed all reasonable expectations by hitting 22 home runs as a rookie but wouldn't be shocked if he leveled off at half that total this season.

"The home runs were probably the only thing surprising to me in 1986," Joyner said. "I'm a Keith Hernandez-type hitter, who has a lot of power but hits more line drives, puts the ball in play, doesn't strike out and hits for average."

That leaves Doug DeCinces ( 26 home runs and 96 RBIs last season) and Downing (20 homers and 95 RBIs) as the Angels' only real long-ball threats. Both were free agents last winter and before they were re-signed, the Angels grew nervous enough to offer a contract to Jones, a player they had cut loose earlier.

"I kind of look at it as, 'What if I didn't sign?' " DeCinces said. "This team is going to have to adjust to what it can and cannot do. We'll have to play fundamental baseball, with strong pitching and defense. . . . We don't have enough to make mistakes and expect to get five runs back the next inning."

Mauch admits that "watching Downing and Reggie hit the ball over the fence was pretty fun." But, he adds, "The most fun is winning. I don't care if they trot across the plate or slide across it. It's a run both ways."

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