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Rigney Worries About an Old Friend : Baseball: Former Angel manager is happy to visit spring training but thinks the game is in trouble because of the labor dispute.

March 26, 1995|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — Bill Rigney basked in the warmth of spring training Saturday, soaking up the sights and sounds of batting practice while holding court with a group of writers before Saturday's Angels-Athletics game in Municipal Stadium.

Health problems prevented Rigney, who managed the Angels from their inception in 1961 until early in 1969, from traveling to Arizona last season, marking the first time in 51 years that he had missed spring training.

But as good as it was to be back, there was something troubling Rigney, 77, who has undergone two hip-replacement surgeries in the past year and walks with a cane.

The uniforms, bats and balls were the same, but the atmosphere wasn't, not while the major leaguers were on strike and replacement players were on the field.

"It's like a real bad hangover and the next morning you're just sick to your stomach," said Rigney, a special assistant to Oakland General Manager Sandy Alderson. "It's hard to put it into words."

It pains Rigney to see the game he loves endure so much turmoil, and he can't understand why owners and players can't settle their labor dispute.

"What bothers me most is that the powers that be want this, that they're willing to accept this," Rigney said. "There's too many good things about the game for it to sit in a barrel and rot."

Rigney, who guided the Angels to an 86-76 record and third-place finish in the American League in 1962, the team's second season, said replacement baseball reminds him of baseball during World War II, when many major leaguers entered the service and were replaced by less-talented players.

"The game was played then, and that's what you're going to have here," he said. "You're not going to have the heavy hitters, the game is going to suffer, but it's not dead."

Rigney thinks baseball can fully recover once the strike is settled.

"Baseball has a marvelous way of bringing people back," he said. "You don't erase 100 years of tradition with one disagreement. Something that has been so good to so many people over the years, it's hard to say that's just going to stop."

Rigney's greatest day as a player went almost completely unnoticed. The former New York Giant went four for four with two home runs against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, but his feat wasn't mentioned until the last paragraph of game stories in most New York papers.

The reason? Rigney had his big game the same day Brooklyn second baseman Jackie Robinson played his first game.

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