The infield of Mike Port's dreams--all home-grown, aged 26 or under, and averaging $304,000 in annual salary--is finally ready to set up around the horn in 1988.
At first base is Wally Joyner, 25, back in the gates after 217 RBIs in his first two Angel seasons and chomping at the bit to make a run at arbitration.
At second base is Mark McLemore, 23, regarded so highly as a prospect by the Angels that they moved a career .288 hitter to left field to make room for him.
At shortstop is Dick Schofield, 25, beginning his fifth season as a starter after committing just nine errors during the last one.
And at third base, at last, is Jack Howell, 26, whose three-year apprenticeship officially ended last Sept. 23--the day Doug DeCinces was released.
It's a quartet burgeoning with potential. Last year, Joyner and Howell combined for 57 home runs--despite Howell shuttling in and out of the lineup, from outfield to third base. Schofield and McLemore combined for 44 stolen bases--despite Schofield missing a month because of a dislocated shoulder and McLemore missing a month because of Johnny Ray.
Port, the Angels' technocratic general manager, is not often given to bold statement, but he teeters on braggadocio when asked about his infield. It is, after all, his baby--he assembled it--and thus, he issues this challenge:
"I am very, very hard-pressed to think of another young infield that might be better."
OK, Mike, think Minnesota. Kent Hrbek and Gary Gagne and Steve Lombardozzi up the middle. All 29 years old or under. All defending World Series champions.
Port is ready for that one.
"It goes back to what Whitey Herzog said after the World Series--'If Minnesota can come up with another pitcher or two, with their infield, they should be set for a while,' " Port says.
"Well, I don't know of too many players who have had a first two years like Wally Joyner. Look at Kent Hrbek versus Wally Joyner. I can't say we're lacking at first base.
"At second base, they have Steve Lombardozzi. Well, we know what Mark McLemore is capable of doing with the glove. And at shortstop, we have Dick Schofield, who's twice led the league in fielding."
What about third base, home of Gaetti, the 1987 American League Championship Series MVP?
Port: "We know Gaetti is a 25-to-28 home run man, but we feel we have one of our own in Jack Howell. He had seven or eight fewer home runs last year (23 to Gaetti's 31), but you also must take into account that he had 100 fewer at-bats (actually 135) and played in a different ballpark."
Good point, that one. They don't call the Twins' home stadium. The Homerdome for nothing.
Cookie Rojas, the Angel manager, chimes in on the same subject.
"I wouldn't trade my infield for Minnesota's," he said. "At the corners, I'll take Joyner and Howell over Hrbek and Gaetti. Maybe Gaetti has a little more power, but he's played longer than Howell.
"At shortstop, I'd take mine. Schofield knows the hitters better. At second base, theirs is not better. At first base, theirs is not better. Joyner runs better than Hrbek and he's going to last longer."
How about the other infield that appeared in last year's World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals'?
"Who do they have at first base?" is Rojas' opening jab. The answer is Bob Horner, who, by consensus acclaim, is no Jack Clark and no Wally Joyner.
Angels 1, Cardinals 0. Rojas presses onward:"
"They have Terry Pendleton, but we have Howell. And they have Ozzie, but Schofield is going to make every play he does. Ozzie has that great range--he has tremendous mobility from right to left--but as far as getting to the balls both can get to, Schofield's just as good."
Hold it right there. Little Ducky Schofield, on the same elevated plane as Ozzie Smith, the exalted and gold-plated Wiz?
"Ozzie doesn't have the arm he used to," Rojas said. "And Schofield has one of the most accurate arms around.
"Ozzie's an exciting player. He hustles and steals and gets into the World Series. The whole county knows him. But if Schofield got into the World Series and made two diving plays and went into the hole three times, what do you think people would be saying about him?"
Rojas, a former All-Star infielder himself, rates Schofield the No. 3 shortstop presently in the major leagues--behind Smith and his No. 1 choice, Toronto's Tony Fernandez.
"Fernandez is great," Rojas said. "Offense, defense, speed--he can do a lot of things. He has more power and he'll steal more bases than Ozzie. And both have more speed than Schofield.
"But as far as making all the defensive plays, what's wrong with Schofield? I don't think you'd be hurting with any one of those three guys."
The question was put to Schofield, who generally prefers to speak softly and avoid such questions.
"Every team in the American League has a good shortstop," Schofield said. "Fernandez is here to stay. Ripken. Trammell, Ozzie Guillen. The guy in Milwaukee (Dale Sveum) hit 25 homeres last year. There are a lot of great players.