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Angels' Backers Know Their Rites

One in an occasional report during the World Series.

October 19, 2002|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

Let me put this on the record: My beloved Angels have no chance of winning this World Series.

The Giants are simply the better team.

Barry Bonds is unstoppable.

And that Kent guy is better than any hitter we have.

Did I mention that Giant pitchers Scott Eyre and Jay Witasick represent the most formidable bullpen combination in the history of baseball?

As the Series got underway this weekend, I whispered all these things to myself. I meant them. But do I really believe them?

Welcome to the culture of half-beliefs.

Superstitions are throwing spilled salt over your shoulder, avoiding the 13th floor, believing you're special because you were born on Sunday, or seeing a ring around the moon and expecting rain.

Half-beliefs are smaller and come in bunches. They are the practiced tics, the hard-won habits, the semi-solemn rituals of people who feel a loss of control, of the damned who live in fear.

Half-beliefs are held strongest by the powerless and the dispossessed.

In matters of baseball, there has been a name for such people: Angel fans.

Before she leaves her Long Beach home for each postseason game, Larryette Dotson, 59, makes sure her Uncle Harry, the 82-year-old retiree she takes care of, is wearing his lucky plaid shirt and the ring that his mother gave him in 1942 before he joined the Navy.

Dotson herself favors the same outfit for each game, even though it means doing laundry daily: a red T-shirt under an Angel jersey (given to her for signing up for delivery of Arrowhead water), black stretch pants, white tennis shoes from K-Mart and a ruby ring she bought for $5 at the Precious Life Shelter thrift store in Los Alamitos.

She arranges eight Rally Monkeys around her seats in a prearranged order. Hanging around her neck on a shoelace are pictures of "my Angels" -- her late daughter and her godfather Peppy, who ran the San Pedro restaurant where she used to waitress.

"I also have a little crown with two balls from a Jack-in-the-Box giveaway that I glue-gunned to it," she said. "I call myself the Angel princess. Every time I forget to bring the crown, the Angels lose. So the ushers always remind me about it."

Transcendentalist or Taoist, Anglican or agnostic, we Angel fans know from long experience there are baseball gods, they can be angered, and they can stay so upset it takes 41 years to make your first World Series. Get too confident, and the gods will let you lose an 11-game division lead, as in 1995.

Half-beliefs provide humble nods to those gods. We're not scientifically certain of the power of such rituals, but we don't wish to risk doing without them. Angel fans see the red uniforms and the Rally Monkey not as marketing tools, but as cosmic currency that may have bought us good will with the national pastime's deities this season.

"If only we'd had the rally monkey in '86," I heard one fan grumble during the American League championship series.

Among the most popular half-beliefs is the fear of sounding too optimistic, of anticipating advantage, and -- most dangerous of all -- contemplating the sweet taste of victory before the final out has been recorded. Better to talk up the opponent and bad-mouth the Angels' chances.

"We don't want to be arrogant -- that's a big mistake," said Dotson, who sits in a handicapped seat in Section 209 every game with Uncle Harry, who is really her second cousin. "With the way things are going, it's very important to the team's success that we follow the same rituals at every game."

It's hard to find an Angel fan without a few half-beliefs. Stanley Spero, in 1961 the sales manager of Gene Autry's KMPC radio station, suspects the team plays better when he keeps the sound off on his TV, his wife says.

(Spero laughs and denies this, though not very forcefully).

The people on the field do this too. Angel hitting coach Mickey Hatcher wears some sort of charm around his neck that he appears to turn around when the team needs a big hit.

Manager Mike Scioscia always seems to stand in the same place in the dugout. There has been considerable discussion among the Angel faithful of the change in how centerfielder Darin Erstad wears his pants, a switch that appears to have coincided with a run of good fortune.

After a long and tortuously exciting season, some of us have devised our own regimen of behaviors, tailored to the hitter and situation. Garret Anderson pulls the ball with more authority when I keep my arms crossed. Tim Salmon responds better when the crowd stands and cheers, so be sure to join in.

When we're in the field, I've found that holding my hands loose in front of me, flexing them in the manner of a basketball dribble, helps our pitchers retire the side faster.

I had my arm around my wife's shoulder for all three Adam Kennedy home runs last Sunday. So I'll keep it there for as long as she'll let me.

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