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Elementary, My Dear J.T.

It's funny how things have worked out for Snow, who was traded from Angels for Watson in 1996

October 19, 2002|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

J.T. Snow, a six-time Gold Glove Award-winning first baseman who has averaged 17 homers and 76 runs batted in during a 10-year career, in exchange for Allen Watson, who went 51-55 in an eight-year career, 18-17 in Anaheim from 1997-98, and who will go down in Angel lore as the pitcher who nearly killed himself while opening a beer bottle.

This is what happens when front-office executives make knee-jerk decisions based more on perception than reality.

An Angel team many predicted to win the American League West in 1996 staggered to a 70-91 finish, 19 1/2 games out of first place, and then-Angel president Tony Tavares, who took over when the Disney assumed control of the Angels that season, felt the Angels were too laid-back, too complacent.

"This team has too many players who look like they came from Newport Beach, where their daddies and mommies gave them everything they ever wanted," Tavares said in the wake of Marcel Lachemann's resignation as manager in August 1996.

Tavares, an East Coast firebrand with an iron fist, wanted change that off-season, and sources said the executive, angered over the team's effort and performance, demanded Snow be traded. So off Snow went to the San Francisco Giants for Watson in a winter deal the Angels were so eager to make they even tossed in $750,000.

Six years later, Snow will start at first base for the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series tonight against the team he rooted for as a kid growing up in nearby Los Alamitos, in the stadium in which he hit his first big league home run, and against an Angel franchise for which he thought he'd play his entire major league career.

Watson was released by the Angels after 1998 and hasn't pitched since 2000 because of shoulder problems. And Tavares? He's gone too, having resigned his Angel post in January and later accepting a front-office position with Montreal.

"Funny how things work out, huh?" said Snow, 34, a former three-sport star at Los Alamitos High. "We thought [Tavares' comment] was ridiculous at the time. No one in any major league clubhouse is ever given anything; you have to work your butt off to get here and you have to work your butt off to stay.

"I said it wasn't a very smart comment, and a lot of guys thought it was uncalled for. I spoke up about it, I spoke directly to [Tavares] about it, and then I was traded. If that had anything to do with it, I don't know, but it sure looked like it did."

Snow still remembers the message on his answering machine from then-General Manager Bill Bavasi that day--Nov. 27, 1996.

"He said to call him back, and when I did, he said I'd been traded," Snow said. "I asked for who, he told me, and he said they thought Watson would be a No. 1 starter.... I'll never forget that."

Neither will many Angel fans, who still cringe at the thought of Watson, the mediocre left-hander, serving up homer after homer in Anaheim in 1997-98 and getting arrested for punching a man in a Kansas City, Mo., casino, while Snow, the son of former Ram receiver Jack Snow and a hometown favorite, helped the Giants reach the playoffs in 1997 and 2000 and the World Series in 2002.

Snow hit .289 with 24 homers and 102 RBIs for a potent Angel offense in 1995, a career-year type season that may have raised expectations too high, and like most Angels, his production dipped in 1996, when he hit .257 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs.

The Angels wanted more power at the position, so they moved Darin Erstad from the outfield to first base in 1997 and shipped Snow north, where he hit .281 with 28 homers and 104 RBIs in his first season with the Giants.

Snow, who abandoned switch-hitting in 1999 and now bats exclusively from the left side, averaged 19 home runs and 91 RBIs over the next three seasons (1998-2000) before injuries limited him to a .246 average, eight homers and 34 RBIs in 2001.

He struggled again in 2002, so much so that Damon Minor replaced Snow at first base for much of a 1 1/2-month span in June and July. But Snow regained his starting role in August and has come up with several clutch hits in the playoffs, including a two-run double in the sixth inning that tied Game 4 of the National League championship series against St. Louis, 2-2. The Giants went on to win, 4-2.

Snow also doubled and scored a run in decisive Game 5 of the division series against Atlanta, and his two-run double in Game 1 against the Braves helped propel San Francisco to an 8-1 victory.

"I'm not doing anything differently, I'm not more pumped up," Snow said.

"Mainly, it's knowing I'm playing every day. That's a big difference, when you know you're gonna be in the lineup, and that wasn't the case earlier this year."

While his offense has surged and dipped, Snow's defense has never wavered. He is arguably the best first baseman in baseball, a player so smooth, so gifted with natural ability and instincts, he makes difficult plays seem routine.

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