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ANGELS '89 PREVIEW SECTION : VILLAINS: Angels Have Had More Than Their Share : Henderson's 1986 Home Run Tops Tales of Despair

March 31, 1989|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Ralph Branca had his Bobby Thomson. Mike Torrez had his Bucky Dent. Dennis Eckersley had his Kirk Gibson.

And the Angels had Dave Henderson.

And John Lowenstein.

And Andre Thornton.

And Jerry Willard.

Home runs from hell, Angel fans will tell you. The gravest stories ever told. Tales of despair that ravage the Angel heart and bedevil the Angel spirit.

Satanic verses, indeed.

For nearly 30 years, the Angels have played baseball in the American League. For nearly 30 years, they have failed to win one American League pennant. Along the way, the franchise has seen a smattering of bona fide heroes--Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich--but has been blinded by a dark sea of anti-heroes.

Where to begin?

Does the roll call ever end?

There was Henderson and his heart-breaking home run off Donnie Moore in '86. There was Lowenstein and his pinch home run in the playoffs of '79. There was Thornton, and then Willard, swinging from the heels and stomping out Angel playoff hopes in the fall of '85.

What about Cecil Cooper, whose pennant-clinching single kept Gene Mauch at the doorstep of the World Series in '82? Or Dick Green, who hit the home run that wrecked Bobby Valentine's leg and career? Or Mark Belanger, the perpetual banjo-hitting thorn in Nolan Ryan's side?

The Angels have been vexed and hexed by these people. Others, such as Bert Blyleven and Doug DeCinces, tormented the club to such extremes that the Angels decided to trade for them, just to avoid the aggravation.

You could fill up a roster with the names of Angel nemeses over the years. As a matter of fact, we have. Even managed to squeeze in a few dishonorable mentions.

Position-by-position, blow-by-blow, what follows is a lineup Angel nightmares are made of--the all-time directory of all-time Angel villains.

A moment of silence, please . . .

CECIL COOPER--1B

The bases are loaded with Milwaukee Brewers in the bottom of the seventh in the fifth and final game of the 1982 American League playoffs. Mauch, after two decades of frustration, is seven outs away from his first World Series.

Right-handed relief pitcher Luis Sanchez is on the mound for the Angels. Cooper, the left-handed-hitting All-Star first baseman, is stepping to the plate. Time for a pitching change, right?

Mauch thought not. Leaving left-hander Andy Hassler in the bullpen, Mauch let Sanchez pitch to the dangerous Cooper with a sold-out County Stadium crowd howling for a base hit.

Cooper didn't disappoint them, lining a two-run single that turned a 3-2 Angel lead into a 4-3 Brewer advantage--a score that would stand after the game's last out.

Milwaukee was in the World Series . . . and Mauch was in the middle of mass controversy.

Why was Sanchez allowed to pitch to Cooper? Where was Hassler?

Even Cooper had to wonder.

"When (Robin) Yount walked (to load the bases), I really thought I'd see Hassler," Cooper said. "He has a tailing fastball that's tough on left-handers and he's really tough on me. Sanchez is a power pitcher. I knew where he'd be throwing."

Mauch, perhaps overanalyzing the situation, tried to explain how Hassler got most of his outs on pitches outside the strike zone, which is why the manager didn't want to bring him in, needing his pitcher to throw strikes.

Hassler, though, wasn't buying any of that.

"I'm not going to let that . . . put the monkey on my back," Hassler angrily told reporters. "If he's not man enough to say he made a mistake, then I'll say it."

The Angels had become the first team in the AL playoff history to blow a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series. Cooper, meanwhile, went on to plague the Angels for many more seasons, finishing with career totals of .294, 18 home runs and 79 RBIs against them.

DICK GREEN--2B

Dick Green was the archetypal good-field, no-hit second baseman during his career with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, which spanned 1963 to 1974. In 11 seasons, Green hit a total of 80 home runs.

None, however, was more devastating--at least to Angel minds--than the one he launched at Anaheim Stadium on the evening of May 17, 1973. Heart-breaking, this home run wasn't. But it was leg-breaking--effectively ending the career of one of the most promising prospects to ever wear an Angel uniform.

Bobby Valentine, the 23-year-old ex-Dodger gem, a key component in the previous winter's landmark Andy Messersmith trade, was supposed to replace All-Star Jim Fregosi at shortstop. He started the 1973 season there and was batting .302 by mid-May.

But on this night, the versatile Valentine was manning center field, filling in for an injured regular. It was to be only a temporary assignment, but for Valentine and the Angels, it lasted one pitch too long.

When Green lofted his drive to deep left-center, Valentine gave chase and leaped against the wall in an attempt to flag the ball down. All he ended up catching, though, were the cleats of his right shoe in the green canvas that covers the outfield fence.

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