The 1979 California Angels
The Angels’ franchise entered its 19th season without a single playoff berth. However, the club finished second in the previous campaign and expectations were high as GM Buzzie Bavasi acquired Rod Carew and Dan Ford in separate deals with the Minnesota Twins during the off-season. Jim Fregosi prepared for his first full season at the managerial helm after guiding the squad to a 62-54 record in ’78.
Get Into the Groove
Don Baylor posted a .354 BA in May, then slugged 11 round-trippers and plated 34 baserunners while hitting .349 in July. “Groove” earned his lone All-Star appearance and collected the AL MVP Award after establishing personal bests with 36 home runs, 139 RBI, 120 runs scored, 186 base hits and 33 doubles. “Disco” Dan Ford enjoyed a career-year, swatting 21 big-flies and recording 101 RBI while scoring 100 runs. Rick Miller patrolled center field and contributed a .293 BA.
Rod Carew produced a .355 BA through June 1 when he was shelved for six weeks due to an injured thumb. Bobby Grich launched 30 circuit clouts and registered 101 ribbies. Grich went on a tear in June, batting .365 while swatting 8 long balls. Carney Lansford compiled 188 base knocks and tallied 114 runs in his sophomore campaign. Brian Downing merited an All-Star selection as a backstop while placing third in the American League with a .326 BA and a .418 OBP. Shortstop responsibilities were handled by Bert Campaneris and Jim Anderson. Willie Aikens (.280/21/81) and Joe Rudi (.242/11/61) rounded out the Halos’ supporting cast on offense.
A Clear Path to the Promised Land
Mark Clear emerged as the Angels’ bullpen savior. The rookie right-hander claimed 11 victories and 14 saves, punched his ticket to an All-Star berth and placed third in the 1979 AL Rookie of the Year balloting. Dave LaRoche, Mike Barlow and the remainder of the relief corps were battered throughout the year, yielding a combined ERA of 5.32.
Nolan Ryan led the Junior Circuit for the fourth successive season in strikeouts (223) and tied with Dave Frost for the team-lead with 16 wins. Ryan whiffed 16 Tigers in a 9-1 rout on June 9 and one-hit the Yankees on July 13. Frost paced the Angels with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.266 WHIP while completing 12 contests. Frank Tanana missed nearly 3 months due to shoulder soreness. Jim Barr (10-12, 4.20), Don Aase and Chris Knapp filled out the rotation.
Down on the Farm
SS Rance Mulliniks finished fourth in the Pacific Coast League batting race with a .343 average. 1B Ike Hampton blasted 30 big-flies and plated 97 runs for the Salt Lake City Gulls and received a brief trial during Carew’s stint on the DL. John Harris produced a .325 BA and drilled 38 two-baggers while Pepe Mangual coaxed 110 walks and scored 115 runs. Steve Lubratich supplied a .322 BA for the El Paso Diablos. Mark Brouhard belted 28 round-trippers and drove in 107 baserunners.
Pennant Race? – Yes We Can
The Halos busted out of the gates with 15 victories in April including a 10-game winning streak in the middle of the month. California led Minnesota by a half-game heading into May then the team slumped to 4.5 games back on May 13. The Angels roared back with a six-game run followed by five consecutive wins a week later as the club regained the division lead on May 27.
California stretched the lead to five games by the middle of June before seven straight losses to Texas and Kansas City created a three-way tie on the 27th of the month. The Halos reclaimed control of the A.L. West on July 9 and maintained a small advantage until enduring another losing streak during the end of August. The Royals were perched atop the standings on August 30, but the Angels reeled off a 9-1 record in the next ten games to provide a four-game cushion.
The divisional race tightened as the Angels lost four of five contests leading up to home and away series with the contending Royals and Rangers. Kansas City demolished Knapp and three relievers in the opener by a score of 16-4, leaving California only two games ahead with 12 remaining. The Halos rallied to earn a split of the four-game set. Baylor, Downing and Grich dialed long-distance in an 11-6 win to close out the series.
Knapp and Frost twirled back-to-back complete games as the Halos eliminated the Rangers, but the Royals and Twins were still alive as the final week of the regular season began. Nolan Ryan edged Larry Gura 4-3 as Ford lofted a sacrifice fly to score Carew in the seventh inning. The Angels secured the first division title in franchise history on September 25, 1979. Tanana hurled a five-hit complete game in the 4-1 victory while Carew, Downing and Miller tallied three hits apiece.
The Angels journeyed to Memorial Stadium to face Earl Weaver and the Orioles. Baltimore won the American League Eastern division by an eight-game margin over the Milwaukee Brewers. Mike Flanagan (23-9, 3.08) topped the League in victories and secured the Cy Young Award. Dennis Martinez (15-16, 3.66) led the American League with 292.1 innings pitched and 18 complete games. The O’s pitching staff fashioned the lowest ERA (3.28) in the Junior Circuit. RF Ken Singleton (.295/35/111) and 1B Eddie Murray (.295/25/99) shouldered the offensive load.
Game 1 featured a duel between future Hall of Famers – Nolan Ryan and Jim Palmer. Dan Ford cleared the fences with a solo blast in the first inning, notching the first playoff run for the Angels in the history of the franchise. “Disco Dan” demolished a double to right field in the top of the third inning, scoring Rick Miller from second base as the Halos extended the lead to 2-0. The Orioles countered with two unearned runs in the bottom of the frame on a two-base hit by Rick Dempsey and a two-out single by Mark Belanger to knot the score at 2-2. Pat Kelly walked, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch to begin the Orioles’ fourth inning. Doug DeCinces lofted a sacrifice fly to right field and Kelly crossed home plate with Baltimore’s third run. Bobby Grich evened the score in the top of the sixth with a double to left field, scoring Rod Carew. The ballgame remained tied at three and both skippers called upon the relief corps as the contest entered extra innings. Don “Full Pack” Stanhouse relieved Palmer to begin the tenth inning and promptly retired the Angels in order. Doug DeCinces laced a single to left field off John Montague, who was working his third frame in relief of Ryan. Rich Dauer sacrificed DeCinces to second base. Terry Crowley pinch-hit for Dempsey and lifted a fly ball to center for the second out. With first base open, Jim Fregosi elected to walk Al Bumbry intentionally. Weaver sent John Lowenstein to bat for Belanger. Lowenstein quickly fell behind in the count 0-2. He sliced Montague’s third pitch to the opposite-field towards the left field corner. Memorial Stadium erupted as the ball cleared the fence and the O’s triumphed by a final score of 6-3.
Flanagan squared off against Dave Frost in Game 2. Ford quickly put the Halos on the scoreboard with a solo clout. Baltimore commenced the bottom of the first with a single by Bumbry and a free pass to Kiko Garcia. Singleton rapped into a 6-4-3 double play which advanced Bumbry to third base. Murray singled to center field to tie the score. Following a walk to Lowenstein, Pat Kelly knocked a base hit to drive Murray home with the O’s second run. DeCinces served Frost’s 1-2 delivery into right field and two runs crossed the plate as the Orioles took a 4-1 lead. Flanagan set the Angels down in order and Frost returned to the hill to start the second inning. Bumbry worked a walk with one out then swiped second. Garcia slashed a single to right and Baltimore increased the advantage to 5-1. Fregosi made a call to the bullpen and Mark Clear replaced Frost. Singleton greeted Clear with a base hit to right field. Murray belted the next delivery from Clear over the fence and the Angels stared at an 8-1 deficit. The O’s extended the lead to 9-1 with a two-out single in the bottom of the third by Garcia. Clear settled down and Flanagan retired 15 Angels in succession after Ford’s first-inning blast. Carew served a double to left field with two outs in the sixth then Lansford punched a run-scoring single to left. California notched another tally on Grich’s sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. Weaver brought Stanhouse into the contest after a Lansford knock closed the gap to 9-4 in the top of the eighth. A single by Baylor and sacrifice fly off the bat of Brian Downing shrank the margin to three, but “Full Pack” retired Grich on a grounder to Dauer to end the threat. Don Aase held Baltimore in check and pinch-hitter Larry Harlow coaxed a walk to open the top of the ninth. With one out, Willie Davis batted for Dickie Thon and slapped a double to left. Carew pushed another run across with a ground-out to second base. Lansford followed with an opposite-field single and Davis scored as California pulled within one run. Ford laced a single to right. Lansford beat Singleton’s throw to third base and Ford advanced to second. Weaver elected to walk Baylor intentionally, loading the bases with two outs to pitch to Downing. On a 1-1 pitch, Downing ripped a ground ball towards third base. DeCinces stepped on the bag and Baltimore escaped with a 9-8 victory. The series shifted to Anaheim Stadium with the Orioles ahead two games to none.
Frank Tanana opposed Dennis Martinez in Game 3. Tanana retired eight Orioles in a row before Dauer singled in the third inning. The Angels drew first blood again as Lansford singled, stole second and came around on another RBI single by Ford. Baltimore reached Tanana in the fourth. Singleton doubled to right-center and Tanana yielded successive base hits to Murray and Lee May. Baylor answered with a solo blast in the bottom of the fourth as the Angels reclaimed the lead, 2-1. Tanana faltered in the sixth frame as the middle of the Orioles’ batting order loaded the bases with two singles and a walk. Aase relieved Tanana and allowed a sac-fly to DeCinces which tied the game. Lowenstein batted for Gary Roenicke and drew a walk to load the bases, but Aase escaped further damage when Miller gunned down Murray at the plate attempting to score on a fly ball by Dauer. Bumbry scalded a one-out triple to right-center in the top of the seventh. Terry Crowley delivered a pinch-hit single to center field and Baltimore assumed a 3-2 lead. Martinez set down 11 consecutive batters before Carew doubled to left-center with one out in the bottom of the ninth to start the Angels rally. Stanhouse relieved Martinez and proceeded to walk Downing on eight pitches. Grich reached first when Bumbry dropped his fly ball and Carew scored the tying run with Downing advancing to second. Harlow drilled Stanhouse’s 1-0 offering to center field for a two-base hit and Downing raced home with the winning run as the Angels secured the first playoff victory in club history!
California strived to draw even with Baltimore in Game 4. Fregosi sent Chris Knapp to the hill against crafty left-hander Scott McGregor. Knapp struggled to a 5-5 record with a 5.51 ERA in 1979 after notching 14 victories in the prior campaign. Knapp matched McGregor through two innings but the Orioles loaded the bases with two singles and a walk to begin the third frame. Singleton’s sac-fly to left registered the first run of the afternoon. Murray rapped a single to right field, scoring Bumbry and bringing Fregosi to the mound. With the season hanging in the balance, LaRoche relieved Knapp. Weaver lifted Lowenstein for Roenicke. LaRoche dodged a bullet when Roenicke grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Dempsey pounded a two-base hit to drive in DeCinces as the O’s took a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning. Frost replaced LaRoche following a base on balls by Bumbry. The Angels mounted a threat in the bottom of the fifth. Downing and Grich delivered back-to-back base hits and Merv Rettenmund walked to load the bases with no outs. Miller’s fly ball to left was not deep enough to score Downing. Jim Anderson slapped the next pitch to third and DeCinces converted the 5-3 double play and killed the Halos’ rally. Baltimore put the final nail in the coffin with a two-out, five-run outburst in the seventh inning. Singleton hammered a double to left-center to score Dempsey, who had walked to lead off the inning. Following an intentional pass to Murray, Roenicke drove in Singleton with a base knock to left. Fregosi called upon Montague to face Pat Kelly. On a 2-0 pitch, Kelly launched a three-run blast which capped the Orioles’ output. McGregor went the distance, allowing six hits and no runs as Baltimore clinched the American League pennant.
The Angels set franchise attendance records in 1979 with over 2,500,000 visitors to Anaheim Stadium, breaking the mark from the previous season by 750,000. California delivered 88 victories in the regular season.
The Angels swiftly return to Earth.
Don Baylor – Get Well Soon!!
Jim Fregosi – Rest In Peace
References and Resources
Baseball Library – reference to Frank Tanana’s shoulder injury,
Baseball Library – reference to Rod Carew’s thumb injury, http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=Rod_Carew_1945