Since 1960, when Gene Autry was awarded the Angel franchise, he has waited for the team to win something, anything beyond an American League Western Division title. They've come close--earning division titles in three of the last nine seasons--but never advancing to the coveted World Series.
Autry, 80, has tried everything: managerial changes, the free agent market and, most recently, the development of a quality farm system. During a recent interview at his KMPC radio offices in Hollywood, Autry discussed the Angels' annual quest for a pennant, as well as the day-to-day problems he encounters as the Angels owner.
Question: What are your thoughts concerning Wally Joyner's contract dispute, and how do you feel generally about the salary demands of players with three or fewer years of major league service, for example: Danny Tartabull, Jose Canseco, Joyner?
Answer: After all, that was the contract that the players' representatives made when they made this contract. At one time, it was two years before they could go to arbitration. Wally only has two years.
That was in the contract, that it was three years before he could go into arbitration. Now then, with Wally's situation, he had two good years. But he wasn't actually in comparison to others who have signed. I do not get involved with the general manager over making a deal with the players. I don't think I should. If you do that, then a player can come directly to me and say, 'I think I'm entitled to this.' If I happen to give him one and go over the general manager's head, then sooner or later, you're not going to have an organization. You just can't do that.
Here's three guys who had better years than he did: (Glenn) Davis of Houston, (Will) Clark and Canseco. They all had better years than Wally did and they were signing in the neighborhood of $225,000, somewhere in that neighborhood, maybe $235,000 or $240,000. So Mike Port took the position that $245,000 was a fair price considering what the other fellows in the same amount of time that Wally had. That was the whole thing.
Next year, all three of those guys are going to be free agents. When a guy goes free agent, you never know what he's going to do.
I don't think anybody wanted to screw Wally, but on the other hand, suppose we would give him, say, $300,000. Well, next year when he goes to arbitration, they'll say, 'Look, he had this much; look at the jump they gave him.' So you see, you can't win anyway that way. So you've got to do what you think is the best thing to do.
Q: The Angels, perhaps for the first time in years, truly seem to have a new look to them, specifically, the emphasis on young, farm system-produced players vs. a team laden with older free agents. Why the change in philosophy?
A: Actually, some of the older players, we might have kept them a year or two long. It was a theory a long time ago by Branch Rickey, whom I always had a lot of respect for as a baseball man, and he always said that maybe it was better to get rid of a ballplayer one year too soon than it was to keep him one year too long. Most of our players were probably past their prime. They all kind of hit at one time.
Like Bobby Grich, he retired, of course. Don Sutton didn't have a good year at all. A lot of our pitchers were just a little over the hill, I guess you'd have to say. Then we had the problem with (John) Candelaria, which is too bad; those things happen once in a while. The same thing with Doug DeCinces. Doug was hurt all the time. He probably shouldn't have played last year at all--not with us. We had a young guy, (Jack) Howell, and he should have been playing third base. Anyway we had Doug, but he was finished.
Rod Carew, he retired. Our outfield . . . now Devon White I think is going to be a great ballplayer. At the same time, (Gary) Pettis is a great fielder, but gawd, he was a terrible hitter. He struck out over 135 times. A lot of times, in a tight ballgame, you need to score some runs. But he went down to nothing. (Brian) Downing can still swing a bat, but he's had a bad arm for a number of years. But he has a heart as big as you can get in left field. Sometimes he doesn't help you. We had too many of them that got old all of a sudden.
I'm a great believer in the farm system. I think last year there was a lot of unpleasantness in the locker room. There were a lot of players--Candelaria was a part of it--that set a bad example for the young ballplayers coming up. If you've got two or three older players in there who get to the young guys and talk to them . . .
I just think it was time to start over with the youth movement. When young guys all come up together they form a camaraderie. I think that's what more or less happened with the Minnesota Twins. All those young guys came up together and played together and played as a team.
Q: What sort of expectations do you have for this team in the next few seasons?