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Angels Get Ready for Housecleaning

News analysis: The core of team is no longer untouchable after Anaheim ends ugly season with 70-92 record.

October 04, 1999|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Angels reduced their tragic number to zero Sunday: There are no games left in this miserable, stinking, wretch of a season, so they can finally get on with the business of hiring a general manager and a manager, shaking up one of baseball's most disappointing teams and putting the ugliest year in franchise history behind them.

It wasn't only the losses that made this season so unsightly, though there were plenty--with a 70-92 record after Sunday's season-ending, 1-0 victory over Texas in Edison Field, the Angels, picked by many to win the American League West, narrowly avoided the worst record in franchise history.

No, the true legacy of this team was its uncanny ability to reach new depths of dysfunction. The lasting image will be the way the Angels nose-dived out of the division race with players bickering and finger-pointing along the way, airing many of their beefs in public.

"I've been pretty annoyed and embarrassed by the things coming out of the locker room this year," Angel President Tony Tavares said. ". . . Maybe we have to look at how we're training guys, and I'm not talking about fielding ground balls or pitching, but whether or not players have the traits that are necessary to win on a consistent basis."

Tavares has strong views on how the Angels should be reshaped--a few strategically placed sticks of dynamite in the clubhouse are probably his idea of a good start--and his vision didn't mesh with that of General Manager Bill Bavasi, who wanted to retain more of the Angels' core.

That cost Bavasi his job--he resigned Friday under duress, and a search for a replacement/demolition expert has begun.

Whoever is in charge this winter will face the daunting task of retooling a team that had serious deficiencies in both talent and chemistry, a group that didn't play well together and got along together so poorly that Tavares referred to the clubhouse as "a day-care center."

The bitterness began in April when players lashed out at center fielder Jim Edmonds for undergoing a shoulder surgery that many believed he should have had last October.

In June, players staged a mutiny of sorts against manager Terry Collins, going to Bavasi with complaints about Collins when word of an imminent contract extension for the manager became public.

When they began their free-fall out of the division race in July, Darin Erstad called the Angels "soft" and questioned whether winning was the team's No. 1 priority, Mo Vaughn said the Angels were "lackadaisical," and Gary DiSarcina ripped his teammates for being "unprofessional."

Then came the Aug. 31 brawl in Cleveland, which actually drove a deeper wedge between factions in the Angel clubhouse than between the Indians and Angels. After the Angels blew an eight-run, eighth-inning lead, Angel closer Troy Percival hit David Justice with a pitch, Justice charged the mound, and a fight ensued.

But the most devastating blows were delivered after that game, when Percival accused some teammates of not backing him in the brawl, and the next day, when Vaughn, believing he was the target of Percival's criticism, tore into his teammates with two expletive-laced tirades to reporters.

Several players were so upset that Vaughn didn't join the brawl--Vaughn, the designated hitter that night, claimed he was in the clubhouse and couldn't get to the field in time--that they marched into Collins' office the next afternoon with a "Who's it gonna be, us or him?" ultimatum.

Collins pulled Vaughn from the lineup, the rest of the regulars started, and two days later, Collins, sick of spending so much energy dousing clubhouse fires, resigned.

"We're all embarrassed," Erstad said. "You either learn from it or not."

What have the Angels learned from this season? That the so-called core of this team--Tim Salmon, Edmonds, Garret Anderson, Erstad, DiSarcina, Vaughn, Troy Glaus and Chuck Finley--is not good enough to win the division.

That there are gaping holes in the rotation and several leaks in a once-trusty bullpen that can't count on Percival the way it once did, and that it's difficult to generate runs with almost no speed.

That these players are either not mentally tough enough or not mature enough to handle the kind of adversity they faced this season, that bad chemistry can tear a losing clubhouse apart, and that Vaughn is not the cure-all leader they thought he would be.

"The problems with this organization go back way before Bill Bavasi," Tavares said. "There's always been a situation here where they felt all they needed to do was pick up a player here and there and they'd win. That hasn't worked."

Unlike past winters, when Bavasi listened to offers for outfielders as opposed to shopping them, the Angels will enter this off-season actively seeking deals. Virtually no one, with the possible exception of Glaus and pitcher Ramon Ortiz, will be considered untouchable.

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