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JOSEPH BELL

The Fans Lose When Angels Raise the Devil With Players

January 21, 1989|JOSEPH BELL

Today I want to speak up for the baseball fans of Orange County who consistently pour more than 2 million yearly admissions into the California Angels' cash box. I contribute modestly to that total. I probably go to 25 games a season, and I live and die--mostly die--with the Angels every summer.

Now the Angel management is messing with Wally Joyner's head again by forcing him--with tough talk or no talk at all--to arbitrate his 1989 salary, and I can't believe it.

Joyner--in case you follow lacrosse and aren't up on baseball--is one of the premier first basemen of the game. He's young, and he's very, very good. He may even be what they call in the trade a "franchise player"--meaning the team can be built around him for years to come.

He's also a pleasant, easygoing young man, and if he worked for me, I'd do my darndest to keep him happy so he could concentrate on hitting home runs instead of brooding over his treatment by the front office.

But the Angels seem to have adopted a calculated policy of making Joyner--and several other key players, including pitcher Kirk McCaskill--unhappy, a point that Times sports columnist Gene Wojciechowski made trenchantly several weeks ago.

Nothing caught this so dramatically as the recent defection of catcher Bob Boone after the finest year of his career. Angry at the cavalier treatment he received from the Angel front office, he signed with Kansas City for a symbolic annual raise of $1.

After the Boone fiasco, Angels owner Gene Autry said his general manager needed to establish a friendlier and less militant relationship with his players. People like me who pay to watch the Angels play thought that this finally meant a change in Angel management style. Some change--if the current handling of Joyner is any example. Asked about this, Autry told The Times' Ross Newhan: "It's part of the system."

The system he's talking about believes in treating human beings like automatons: You plug in $1 million, and they hit and throw and catch. Sure, many of them are overpaid and their agents are frequently barracudas. But the agents aren't on the field. The players are, and if they've been demeaned by their own front office, it is going to affect their play.

I've always believed this, but I'm not an expert, so I called one to find out. Art Resnikoff is a former UCI psychologist who now divides a private practice between Orange County and Santa Monica and specializes in sports psychology (he's the resident shrink this year for the Loyola Marymount basketball team).

"I've always looked at the Angels," he told me, "as a team that has much more ability than their performance on the field shows. The Boone episode gets to the heart of that. It's obvious it wasn't a business decision that drove Bob Boone away. The issue here was a player wanting to be recognized and appreciated for his accomplishments. What he said quite simply by his action was, 'I'm not getting the recognition I should get here in relation to what I was contributing to this organization.' You've got to be real psychologically blind not to learn from this experience."

Resnikoff believes strongly that in any line of work "money is important but by no means the most important motivating factor. People want recognition for the work they do. Good managers in business know that, but it hasn't seemed to penetrate professional sports. The way a player is treated emphatically affects his performance on the field."

He feels that the tribal rite of negotiating baseball contracts each winter--especially with the Angels--turns unnecessarily into a strong-arm contest.

"It gets into winning or losing as soon as ego gets tied up in the negotiations," he said. "One way to win in that situation is to depersonalize the other party, but that's very destructive behavior because people have feelings. So it comes down to a question of 'How do I win?' instead of 'How do I solve the problem without anyone winning?' "

I think that's what Gene Autry, in his mild way, was saying after the Angels lost Boone. It's time now for him to raise his voice. There are a lot of us in the cheap seats who want a World Series in Anaheim as badly as Gene Autry does.

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