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J.A. ADANDE

Shedding His Wings

Grich No Longer Has Connection With Angels

September 17, 1997|J.A. ADANDE

The Angels had a game to play Tuesday night. Bobby Grich had a barbecue to prepare.

For Grich, Angel games are something that appear in the newspaper. They were his livelihood for 10 years, but these days Grich doesn't have to worry about fielding grounders or turning double plays.

Some people can't pull themselves away from the game. You hate to see professional athletes who refuse to move on. I know a former football player whose business card prominently mentions he was a member of the 1968 World Champion New York Jets. It reminds me of the guys in the movie "Beautiful Girls," who couldn't accept the fact that their glory days in high school were over.

For Grich, 48, there's no hanging on, no loitering around the old places. There's no point. The Angels are past tense.

"I feel pretty disconnected right now," Grich said.

Only two teammates, Chuck Finley and Jack Howell, remain from 1986, his last year in baseball. Attrition and Disney's acquisition of the team have taken away most of the office people he knew.

"I'd be afraid that I'd walk in that front door and not be recognized," Grich said.

He holds season tickets but rarely uses them himself. For the most part these days, the closest he gets to Anaheim Stadium is the Don Miguel Mexican Foods plant on Orangewood. (He does some promotional and public relations work, entertaining clients and so forth, for them). He does similar work for the law firm of Charton, Vermes & Rovenger in Santa Ana.

That's what passes for a job these days. He stayed connected with baseball this summer by working with the Mission Viejo Vigilantes and took pleasure in helping players work on their batting swings.

But for the most part, he's getting in his own swings on the golf course. He plays golf until dusk, not duty, forces him to leave the course.

More than 20 years after free agency came to baseball, Grich continues to reap the benefits. When Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally opened the doors for free agency, Grich was right there to cash in. He was one of the first 24 free agents in 1976, and wound up with a five-year contract with the Angels worth a total of $1.5 million. He had made $68,000 the previous year with the Baltimore Orioles.

His next contract, $4 million for four years, helped give him more capital for his active involvement in the stock market that continues today.

So many Americans toil so much in the pursuit of wealth that they don't get to enjoy it. Not Grich. Eleven years after he got out, he's still grateful he played the game.

"Baseball has afforded me a great opportunity to spend a lot of time with my family."

He met his wife, Zetta, at a tennis and golf tournament in 1991 and married her a year later. She had a son, Brandon. Bobby and Zetta Grich's daughter, Brianna, was born three years ago.

"After years of being a . . . bachelor," he said, arriving at that word after considerable thought, "and living that life for a number of years, I realized how great family life can be. My 9-year-old stepson, although he's not a great athlete yet, he's a terrific student with a great sense of humor and a lot of fun to have around the house."

If he were still playing, he wouldn't have time to see him around the house, wouldn't be able to see the early years of his daughter, whom he calls "a walking miracle."

"She's got a cute smile," he said. "She doesn't have that big beaming smile my wife has; my daughter looks a little bit more like me . . . unfortunately.

"My daughter has the Grich tenacity. When she wants something, she's got a persistent touch. She wants something, she gets it."

That's the attitude that got Grich into the major leagues and kept him there for 17 seasons. Does he miss it? Sure.

"I miss the excitement," Grich said. "I miss the thrill of being a professional baseball player. I miss the noise of the crowd. I miss the electricity in the air, the way your senses are heightened at the big moment. There's nothing else I could do that could get me to that pinnacle. It's the excitement of the competition."

But sometimes less is more. Even the life of a professional athlete, with all of its perks, can get, as Grich said, "tedious."

"Plane trips seemed like an eternity," he said.

Now he has time for family, time to do whatever he wants. And time, on occasion, to watch the Angels.

"You look at their team in spring training, it was going to be a wonder if they were going to win 70 games," Grich said. "They've had a darn good season. They're turning a lot of heads and raising a lot of eyebrows."

The only thing he blames their late-season sputter on is injuries to Todd Greene and Finley.

"[The Angels] were having a spectacular season, compared to what it looked like it was going to be, then whammo, whammo your hottest hitter and hottest pitcher go down," Grich said. "It's obvious what's going to happen."

It's just that these sort of things always seem to happen to the Angels. The bad breaks, the bad pitches. It's like there's a curse, so many people feel.

"I don't feel that way," Grich said. "The organization's been close a number of times. It's just one of those things that's unexplainable. I just hope that one of these years, soon, they get some luck.

"They have a real good nucleus. If they just continue to add to that . . . they'll be in the hunt every year. If you continue to be in the hunt every year, one of these days it will happen."

There's just no guarantee Grich will be in the ballpark to see it.

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