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Mike Downey

Angels Repaying First-Class Fans With Economy-Class Team

August 23, 1987|Mike Downey

You would think that a baseball team that has never won a pennant would do everything in its power to make its fans happy.

You would think that the California Angels would be so ashamed about never appearing in a World Series that they would do whatever it takes to get there, instead of living off last season's "almost."

You would think Gene Autry would dig into his saddle bags and spend whatever is necessary, so tired he must be of waiting.

But it is late August now, and time is getting short, and the Angels just keep plodding along.

They are still within sniffing distance of first place, because of the terrible division in which they play, which is more like a subdivision. The American League West title is still there for the taking.

A good player or two, acquired in the nick of time, could be the difference between sneaking into the World Series when nobody was looking, or spending yet another winter wondering whether they will ever perform in one.

The San Francisco Giants believe they have a chance, so they go out and get Kevin Mitchell, Dave Dravecky and Rick Reuschel. The Detroit Tigers believe they have a chance, so they go out and get Bill Madlock, Jim Morrison and Doyle Alexander.

The Oakland A's need a second baseman, so they get Tony Bernazard. The Minnesota Twins need a pitcher, so they get Joe Niekro.

The Angels, fighting the A's and Twins for the division title, pick up players that other teams release.

Do they honestly believe this season's team, as presently constituted, has a chance?

The terrific Toronto Blue Jays came to Anaheim the other night, with a record 23 games over .500. Here is the lineup their hosts greeted them with:

Batting leadoff, Ruppert Jones, hitting .229 for the season, batting less than .250 for a major league career that began in 1976.

Batting second, Devon White, a rookie.

Batting third, Wally Joyner, a second-year player.

Batting cleanup, Bill Buckner, a man waived this season by the fifth-place Boston Red Sox. Batting fifth, Tony Armas, a man waived this season by the fifth-place Boston Red Sox.

Batting sixth, Jack Howell, a man spending his first full season in the majors, hitting .246.

Batting seventh, Dick Schofield, a .221 career hitter.

Batting eighth, Bob Boone, a 39-year-old catcher who has two home runs.

Batting ninth, Mark McLemore, a rookie hitting .229.

The starting pitcher for the Angels, Jerry Reuss, was released this season by both the Dodgers and the Reds. The man who relieved Reuss in the seventh inning, Greg Minton, was released this season by the Giants.

Since, in the course of a 162-game season, every dog has its day, this lineup managed to defeat the Blue Jays, 3-1. It is terrible when this happens, because it temporarily encourages the Angels that everything is all right.

When your team batting average is at the bottom of the American League, and when only one pitcher on your entire staff has won more than eight games as of Aug. 22, everything is not all right.

When things go wrong, though, what do baseball teams ask? They ask their fans for support. "We really need our fans to get behind us right now."

Baseball teams are supposed to give us something to cheer about, not ask us to cheer about what they give us.

The great trick of professional athletes--and politicians, too, for that matter--is that whenever you are in trouble, take advantage of people's loyalty. Don't complain. We're failures, but we're your failures.

Evidently, it works. The Angels keep packing them in, as do their buddies, the Dodgers. Nobody stays away. As with the weather, everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it.

Three million customers a year come to see an Angel team that has been failing regularly since 1961.

With that kind of incoming income, the Angels should be doing everything imaginable to make these people happy.

For starters, they could hurry up and install a decent scoreboard, with Diamond Vision. Or do they need 4 million fans a year?

This is something they could discuss with their other buddies, the Rams, when they get together to discuss the NFL team's home opener.

On Sept. 20, the Rams are supposed to introduce their 1987 edition to the local folks by mixing it up with the Minnesota Vikings. However, the Angels have a home game with the Chicago White Sox scheduled the next night. And the Angels have an agreement that no football game can be played at the Big A 36 hours before a baseball game, without written permission from the Angels.

So, the Rams might have to play their home opener on a Saturday, just so the Angels can play a crummy game against the crummy White Sox. Angel General Manager Mike Port is concerned about field condition. "We have an obligation to our baseball club, Gene Autry and our fans," he said.

Yes, they do.

They have an obligation to put a better team on the field than that walking waiver list they're putting out there now.

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