The 1984 California Angels
California labored through a miserable 1983 season, and the starting nine averaged 33 years of age. However, a youth movement was beginning in Anaheim, even if the Angels management resisted disrupting the all-star lineup that GM Buzzie Bavasi assembled.
Injuries to incumbent shortstop Rick Burleson, right fielder Ellis Valentine, and starting pitcher Ken Forsch provided openings that would be filled by rookies Dick Schofield, Gary Pettis, and Ron Romanick, respectively. There were growing pains to be sure. Pettis (.227, 115 K) and Schofield (.193) barely hit their weight, and along with veteran DH Reggie Jackson (.223, 141 K) and backstop Bob Boone (.202/.504 OPS), the bottom of the Angels batting order quashed many run-scoring opportunities. On the plus side, Boone, Pettis, and Schofield all contributed excellent efforts on defense.
|Ellis Valentine||28||.240/.719||Gary Pettis||26||.227/.632|
|Ken Forsch||36||4.06 ERA||Ron Romanick||23||3.76 ERA|
Juan Beniquez, the Angels fourth outfielder, entered the 1983 season with a .257 career batting average. A gold glove winner for the Rangers in 1977, he had only batted above .270 one time (.291 in ’75 for Boston). Beniquez proceeded to hit over .300 for the next four seasons, with his best performance in ’84. He batted .336 with an .822 OPS, and even garnered a vote in the American League MVP race!
Bavasi re-signed Rod Carew to a two-year deal in November 1983. Carew was 168 hits shy of 3,000, and might have reached the milestone in late 1984 if he remained healthy. Alas, Carew missed most of August with a neck injury, and played in only 93 games. He was voted to the All-Star Game to represent the American League for the 18th consecutive season.
27 Up, 27 Down
Mike Witt bounced back from a miserable 1983 season, and entered his final start of ’84 with 14 victories and an outside shot at reaching 200 strikeouts for the season. His performance solidified his spot in the California rotation after a demotion to the bullpen during the previous year. The Angels were playing for pride at this point, having been eliminated from the pennant race earlier that week. They were one game under .500, and one game between the Minnesota Twins for second place. Witt’s counterpart on September 30, 1984, was knuckleballer Charlie Hough. The Rangers’ veteran starter earned 16 wins on the season, and put forth a valiant effort on this day as well.
The Angels failed to capitalize on several opportunities early in the game. Mike Brown led off the third inning with a triple, but Bob Boone, Dick Schofield and Rob Wilfong were unable to drive him home. In fact, the game was scoreless heading into the seventh inning, when the Halos were finally able to break through. Doug DeCinces led off with a single, and advanced to second base on a passed ball charged to the Texas catcher, Donnie Scott. Brian Downing grounded out to 2B Wayne Tolleson, moving DeCinces to third. Reggie Jackson followed with a ground ball to 1B Pete O’Brien, but DeCinces beat the throw to the plate and Jackson was safe at first. Brown cracked a double, sending Jackson to third. Reggie was cut down at the plate on Boone’s fielder’s choice to 3B Larry Parrish. After a walk to Schofield loaded the bases, Hough pulled a Houdini as Wilfong tapped a comebacker for the final out of the inning. The Halos had the lead, 1-0.
Witt, perfect through six, started the seventh by striking out Mickey Rivers. Two wormburners to Wilfong by Tolleson and Gary Ward completed the inning. John McNamara made a defensive replacement in the eighth, inserting Bobby Grich at first base in place of Daryl Sconiers. Witt proceeded to slice through the heart of the Rangers batting order. After Parrish flew out to right, he struck out Pete O’Brien and George Wright. The Angels tried to scratch out an insurance run in the top of the ninth. With two outs, Mike Brown singled and the fleet-footed Gary Pettis pinch-ran for him. Pettis attempted to steal second, but Scott cut him down. Pettis stayed in the game in center field, with Fred Lynn moving to right. Derrel Thomas, acquired in early September from the Expos, replaced Downing in left. RF Tommy Dunbar became Witt’s tenth strikeout victim. Bobby Jones, batting for Scott, topped a grounder to Wilfong, leaving Witt one out away from perfection. Marv Foley, a .224 career hitter in parts of five seasons, pinch-hit for SS Curtis Wilkerson. It was the final at-bat of Foley’s career. He tapped Witt’s fourth pitch towards Wilfong, who fielded and fired the ball over to Grich at first base for the final out. Michael Atwater Witt had authored the ninth perfect game in major league history!
Down on the Farm
Southpaw Bob Kipper racked up 18 victories with a 2.08 ERA and a 1.146 WHIP for the Redwood Pioneers. The Angels dealt Kipper to the Pirates in 1985 after he made 2 appearances for the Halos (3.1 IP, 8 ER). He became a serviceable reliever for the Pirates and Twins after two sub-par seasons in the Pittsburgh rotation. 1B Wally Joyner batted .317 with 12 four-baggers for the Waterbury Angels. Darrell Miller’s .326 batting average and 12 homers earned him a call-up in August 1984. Miller served as a backup C-1B-OF for the Angels from 1984-1988. In limited action, he produced a .375 batting average in 1985. Stewart Cliburn’s 2.88 ERA in relief for the Edmonton Trappers earned him a cup of coffee after toiling in the minors for 7 seasons.
California limped out the gate with a 1-4 mark, but by the end of April, they had pulled into a first place tie with Oakland. From May 15 through July 5, the Halos retained sole possession of first place. A five game losing streak briefly knocked them from the top spot, but the Angels regained the lead spot from July 14 to July 27. Their lead never exceeded 4.5 games, and they were never behind by more than 5.5 games during the entire year. Entering September, Minnesota led the Western Division by two games over Kansas City, with California only 2.5 games behind. On September 16, the Royals and Twins were tied for first place, with the Angels one-half game out. Kansas City and California split a four game series at Anaheim, while Minnesota dropped 3 of 4 to Chicago. On September 17, Reggie Jackson connected for his 500th career home run, off Bud Black, the Angels’ sole tally in a 10-1 loss. The Twins rebounded with a sweep of the Indians to pull even with the Royals, who won 2 of 3 against the Athletics. The Rangers took 2 of 3 from the Angels in Anaheim, leaving California 1.5 games out of first with 8 games remaining, all away from home.
California traveled to Kansas City, looking to win at least 3 of 4 to give them a shot at the pennant. In the first game of a doubleheader played on September 24, the Royals rookie sensation, 20-year old Bret Saberhagen, hurled a 3-hit shutout, besting Geoff Zahn. Danny Jackson held the Angels in check, while LF Darryl Motley knocked in 6 runs as the Royals beat up on spot starter Rick Steirer. The following day, the Angels led 5-4 going to the bottom of the ninth inning. Don Aase, pitching his third inning of Mike Witt, walked CF Willie Wilson with one out. Wilson promptly stole second. Dane Iorg, batting for RF Lynn Jones, singled to drive home Wilson with the tying run. Iorg and the Royals delivered the stake to the Halos’ heart in the 12th inning. Iorg’s leadoff double off reliever Curt Kaufman was followed by an intentional walk to George Brett. Kaufman induced two fly ball outs from Jorge Orta and Darryl Motley, but Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni’s single scored pinch-runner U.L. Washington. California teetered on the brink of elimination, 4.5 back with 5 games to play. Ron Romanick twirled a 7-hit shutout to stave off the reaper for one day, and the Angels traveled to Texas clinging to slim hope. The Twins had lost 2 of 3 in Chicago, and had 4 games remaining in Cleveland. The Royals embarked on a three game road trip to Oakland to close out their schedule.
Cleveland swept Minnesota, knocking the Twins out of the race. The Angels lost a heartbreaker in Texas, 2-1. Reggie Jackson cranked a solo shot in the 4th inning, but the Rangers knotted the score at one apiece on a sacrifice fly by backup catcher Ned Yost. A career .212 hitter, Yost belted a solo home run in the sixth off Tommy John. Texas was victorious in the second game, 4-1, with Dave Stewart providing a complete game effort. California closed out the season with two consecutive shutouts, by Geoff Zahn (8-hitter) and Mike Witt (perfect game). Their final mark of 81-81 tied them for second place with Minnesota, 3 games behind Kansas City.
Doug Corbett (5-1, 2.12 ERA) rebounded from two sub-par seasons, and Don Aase (4-1, 1.62 ERA, 8 saves) rose from the ashes after an 18-month layoff due to elbow surgery. Fred Lynn led the club with an .840 OPS, and Brian Downing knocked in 91 runs. Geoff Zahn tied for the league lead in shutouts with 5, and his 3.12 ERA placed him fifth in the American League.
Gene Mauch returns, and the Angels and Royals battle down to the wire for the 1985 A.L. West crown.
27 Men Out: Baseball’s Perfect Games by Michael Coffey
References and Resources