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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

Trying to Put a Finger on Angels' Troubles

May 21, 2006|T.J. Simers | T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

Darin Erstad told everyone the other night, "There's going to be no finger pointing."

As I suspected, though, he was willing to make Page 2 the exception.

"You're free to point your finger at whoever you want," Erstad said, but where do you begin with a team so crummy it's even worse than the Dodgers?

The depressing assignment was to attend a baseball game played by two mediocre teams, a real letdown after spending the last few weeks with an outfit as good as the Clippers. Think about that for a moment.

I spent time with the Lakers in the playoffs, so I've dealt with disappointment, but the Angels are more than a disappointment, they've become a joke.

They fell all over themselves in losing to the Dodgers again, dropping nine games below .500 with their manager saying later, there's no other way to describe it than "just poor baseball."

Owner Arte Moreno likes to talk about perennial World Series expectations, but it's understandable why he remained in Arizona rather than making an appearance in Dodger Stadium. There's not much to see these days when the Angels take the field unless you think Robb Quinlan is about to break out of a career slump.

"How do you fix this disaster?" I asked General Manager Bill Stoneman.

"The players are going to fix it," Stoneman said.

"But aren't you the one who put them in this fix?"

"I decide who the players are, if you want to approach it from that standpoint," Stoneman said. "The talent is there, it's just not showing up right now."

So Stoneman obviously believes he's done his job because the "talent is there," while pointing his finger at the players who have failed to do theirs. I had no idea Erstad had given him an exemption too.

*

EVERYONE BUT Stoneman recognized the team needed more power after last season, but his love for prospects doomed this year's team.

"You're 100% wrong if you think we had our heads buried in the sand during the off-season," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We did everything we could."

I don't buy it. It all comes down to value judgments, and the value Stoneman placed on youngsters when discussing deals. As a result, he shortchanged the 2006 Angels.

It's his job to make something happen, especially knowing Garret Anderson has lost a step, and for a guy unwilling to run hard to first, that's not good ... especially knowing Erstad was an injury waiting to happen when shifted to center field ... and especially knowing Tim Salmon was a terrific feel-good story, but what were the chances he'd feel good all year long?

Anderson, Erstad and Salmon are injured, the kids are busts to date, Quinlan is still looking for a foul pop-up beyond first, and Vladimir Guerrero is pacing himself.

The Angels had a runner on second base, a major accomplishment, and Guerrero, who should be setting the tone for teammates, hit a ground ball to third. The Dodgers had Willy Aybar playing third, a clear indication for every opposing runner to run hard, but instead Guerrero did his Anderson imitation and trotted down the line.

Aybar's toss was high. What a surprise. Nomar Garciaparra left the bag, which might've allowed a hustling Guerrero to reach safely. But 43 games into the season, Guerrero jogged to first.

"Vlad plays the game all out and at a terrific pace," Scioscia said in defense of Guerrero, and I didn't know there was a defense for not hustling to first base -- four times a game. "He's banged up and desperate for a day off."

Scioscia said everything will be OK when the team is healthy again, ignoring the fact it'll still lack power. Right now they are last in on-base percentage with a small-ball attack built on getting someone on base.

I'm telling you, things are going so badly for everyone involved, I couldn't find my L.A. Angels baseball cap Saturday. It's a good thing they make Clippers hats.

*

I'M STILL waiting for Deacon Jones to make good on the $100 he agreed to donate to Mattel Children's Hospital two years ago. But in a huge surprise, Bradley Luster approached me at Staples Center, and because of the Clippers' success, he wrote out a $5,000 check for the hospital's pediatric cancer ward.

A day later I opened mail, and I pity the poor soul who has to check my mail before I open it, and found $1,300 in checks from Jack Kramer, president of Los Serranos Country Club, David Kramer and Greg Flores.

Flores did PR work for Los Serranos, but asked that his fee be donated to the kids in the hospital. Jack and David were so inspired by Flores' actions, they made contributions of their own. Maybe they'll inspire Jones.

*

DODGERS MANAGER Grady Little will be on the father-daughter gabfest today at 9 a.m. on 570. It's only a two-hour show, so we've asked Little to talk faster than normal.

*

TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from "an anonymous 80-year-old great-grandmother":

"I'm an avid Kobe fan. The manner in which you slam him in your column is despicable. It really makes me sick. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but yours stink and the only way I can get rid of my distaste of you is by writing this: Kobe Bryant is a BRILLIANT basketball player, a WONDERFUL human being and an INTELLIGENT man."

I didn't know Kobe had a great-grandmother.

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