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No Closer, No Cigar

How would 1982 team fare against this year's wild cards? Check pitching


In an era before fantasy leagues, this was a fantasy league team come to life. In an era when Gene Autry rounded up superstars for his baseball team and lavished money upon them, the 1982 Angels featured future Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson, surrounded by such distinguished hitters as Don Baylor, Doug DeCinces, Brian Downing, Bobby Grich and Fred Lynn.

The Angels won 93 games that year, setting a franchise record that stood for two decades. The Angels won 99 games this year, with a less decorated and largely anonymous cast. As the stars of the 1982 team pass along the label of "best team in club history" to the 2002 team, they do so with the wistful reflection that they could not slug their way into the World Series.

"If we had a better pitching staff," DeCinces said, "we would have been one of the best teams ever."

The Angels last had a player voted into the starting lineup for the All-Star game in 1986. Carew, Grich, Jackson and Lynn all started the 1982 All-Star game. Jackson led the league in home runs. The Angels drew 2.8 million fans, a franchise record that still stands, and won the American League West championship.

For all the excitement, all the success and all the home runs from what Grich called "a powerhouse lineup that could score four or five runs in a heartbeat," the Angels lost to the Milwaukee Brewers in the playoffs. To Grich, the missing link is painfully obvious, a point driven home every time he watches closer Troy Percival pump his fist to punctuate another victory for this year's team.

"If we had a Troy Percival on our team, we get to the World Series," Grich said, "and we win 98, 99, 100 games, at least."

Autry, tired of losing, spent heavily during the winter of 1981-82, signing Jackson away from the New York Yankees and catcher Bob Boone away from the Philadelphia Phillies. The Angels also traded for DeCinces, from the Baltimore Orioles, and infielder Tim Foli, from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"There was a great effort on the part of every one of them to prove they had been an integral part of winning," Manager Gene Mauch said.

Rookies were not welcome. The veteran-powered offense included the AL most valuable players from 1973 (Jackson), '75 (Lynn), '77 (Carew) and '79 (Baylor).

"Many of them were past their prime," Mauch said, "but they were still good players."

There can be such a thing as too much talent, if the personalities clash and if the players decide to rest on their laurels. On the first day of spring training, for the first infield practice, Mauch sent Carew to first base, Grich to second, Rick Burleson to shortstop and DeCinces to third, with Foli shifting among the positions.

On a dry desert field in Casa Grande, Ariz., many miles from a big city and months from October, Mauch witnessed the pride and professionalism that would fuel a championship team.

"All the pitchers were standing behind the infielders. When the practice was over, they all applauded," he said. "It was stimulating, and it lasted the entire season, a consistent effort to prove why they had been winners."

The Angels hit more home runs in 1982 than they did this year, a remarkable statistic given the tilt toward offense over the past two decades. The 1982 team included five players with at least 20 home runs; this year's team had three.

In another telling sign of baseball evolution, and the disappearance of the stigma surrounding the strikeout, this year's team struck out the fewest times of any major league team this season but more times than the 1982 team. Each team led the league in sacrifice bunts, though the 1982 team had more than twice as many, and each ranked second in the league in fielding.

DeCinces suggested a current lineup, in Anaheim or elsewhere, ought not to be compared to the star-studded 1982 lineup.

"I don't even think you can put that team together again," he said. "It would be too expensive."

Had the rally monkey been born in 1982, it might have died of exhaustion.

"We never knew if we had enough runs," Mauch said. "Sometimes we had to win the game two or three times. The lead would get away, we'd win, the lead would get away again, and we'd win again, the lead would get away again and we'd win again so we could finally go home."

Ken Forsch, an Angel pitcher then and the assistant general manager now, succinctly identified the key difference between the team on which he played and the team he helped design.

"Look at our pitching. Good lord," Forsch said. "That would be the difference."

The starters--Geoff Zahn, Tommy John, Bruce Kison, Mike Witt, Steve Renko and Zahn--weren't bad. The team earned-run average ranked second in the league then and now--3.82 then, 3.69 now.

But the bullpen bordered on nonexistent. The Angels got 40 complete games, 12 apiece from Forsch and Zahn. This year's Angels got seven complete games.

These Angels led the league with 54 saves. Those Angels scraped together 27--eight players had at least one, and no one had more than eight.

"We didn't have a closer. We didn't have much in the way of setup guys," DeCinces said.

In that sense, Forsch suggested a mythical series between the '82 Angels and the '02 Angels to determine the best team in franchise history would be settled in favor of the current squad.

"I always say good pitching beats good hitting," he said. "So draw the rest of your conclusions from that statement."

Grich called the mythical meeting "too close to call," but he refused to concede that this year's pitchers could neutralize the All-Star lineup of '82.

"You'd have games of 7-6, 8-5, 9-8," he said. "It would be a fun series.

"I can see Darin Erstad and Freddy Lynn making diving plays, Troy Glaus and DeCinces looking like Brooks Robinson. It would be a hell of a series. I might even pay admission for that one."

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