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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Angels having another 'T 'n T' party

Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout inspire a nickname, but it's not original. Lee Thomas and George Thomas gave the team a lift 50 years ago.

June 07, 2012|By Andrew Owens
  • Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo give the Angels two homegrown starting outfielders for the first time in nearly a decade.
Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo give the Angels two homegrown starting outfielders… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

During a recent trip, when the Angels started a winning streak that vaulted them back into contention in the American League West, a television analyst referred to Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout as "T 'n T" — a dynamite combination.

And who could argue? With each mammoth home run and diving catch, youngsters Trumbo and Trout were putting a charge into a veteran team that had languished in the season's opening weeks.

The nickname was catchy, even accurate. But, as it turns out, not exactly original.

Fifty-one years ago, in the Angels' very first season, the team had another TNT tandem: Lee Thomas, 25, and George Thomas, 23.

Like Trumbo and Trout, the Thomases, who were not related, were fairly new to the big leagues — and highly productive.

Lee hit .285 with 24 home runs and 70 runs batted in while receiving a few MVP votes in 1961, and George hit .274 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs, helping the Angels to a 70-91 mark that stands as the best first-year record for an expansion franchise.

Lee came to the Angels early in the season from the New York Yankees, having left a club that would win 109 games and the World Series with a nudge from two of the team's biggest stars.

Recognizing that there was no room in the powerful Yankees lineup for Lee to play consistently, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris advised him to show up early for some extra batting practice before a game against the Angels.

"They said, 'Just go out there and try to impress them and maybe something will happen, because we heard some rumors,''' Lee recalled.

Apparently, those rumors were true. Three days later, Lee was on his way to California.

Lee got the news from Yankees Manager Ralph Houk, who called him around midnight saying, "You've been traded to the Angels."

"I think Mantle and Maris knew what they were talking about," said Lee, who is now a special assistant in the front office of the Baltimore Orioles.

The Angels picked up George Thomas later in the season in a trade with the Detroit Tigers, and he averaged a home run about every six games the rest of the way.

The current Angels can only hope Trumbo and Trout's surge lasts longer.

Although Lee Thomas had a great 1962 season — 26 homers and 104 RBIs for a surprising Angels team that led the AL as late as July 4 — George was recalled to military duty before the season and struggled when he returned to the club in late July. The next season, he was traded.

The Angels' current young stars — Trumbo is 26, Trout is 20 — "overshadow us a bit," Lee said.

"They have more power and they're both going to be real good players," he added. "I thought George and I were fairly decent players, especially on an expansion club. Trout and Trumbo look like they're going to be outstanding for a long, long time."

Unlike the inaugural rag-tag team amassed with players from the expansion draft, the Angels' in 2012 opened with a roster loaded with heavy artillery — more than $300 million in off-season commitments to Albert Pujols andC.J. Wilson alone.

However, it became clear early that the Angels hadn't simply bought their way to the top. The team stumbled out of the gate to an 18-25 record through May 21. It was then that the 2012 TNT boys sparked an eight-game winning streak that put the Angels back into contention — and rekindled an old nickname.

"I usually try to come up with a key to the game and relate it to a rock-and-roll song," said FS West analyst Mark Gubicza, who used the TNT reference not knowing about its 1961 origin. "I was scurrying in my head, thinking of songs for a game, and thought, 'Wow, TNT for Trout and Trumbo would be perfect,' with the way these guys have exploded onto the scene.

"I thought it was perfect with the guys both being young and full of energy, so I thought I might as well run with that one."

Trumbo leads the Angels with a .337 batting average, 12 home runs and 31 RBIs and became the first Angel since Rex Hudler in 1996 to homer in four consecutive games. Trumbo said he had not heard of the original TNT duo, and that the nickname might have come a bit early for him and Trout, though he has been very impressed by the play of his rookie teammate.

"He's as advanced as anyone you'll probably ever see for his age," Trumbo said. "Maybe there's little things here and there, but by and large he does a great job handling his business."

Trout insists he does not stop to think of how rare it is for someone his age to be making an impact like he has with a .329 batting average, five homers, 22 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 36 games.

"I'm just trying to have some fun," he said. "If you're not having fun, something's wrong. Staying positive is the big thing."

Gubicza, a former major league pitcher, said Trumbo and Trout have revived the Angels on the field and in the clubhouse.

"They bring a lot of personality, and energy is personality," Gubicza said. "They have a personality we kind of haven't seen a lot out of this team for quite some time."

The most outgoing personality on the team belongs to veteran outfielder Torii Hunter, who joked about the difficulty of becoming close with Trout outside of baseball.

"He's 20," Hunter said, laughing. "He can't go nowhere."

Which is where the Angels were headed before TNT exploded.

andrew.owens@latimes.com

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