December 6, 2019

The 1983 California Angels

May 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The Angels had captured 2 pennants in the last four seasons, and they were highly optimistic about their chances in 1983 after retaining most of the core players from their 1982 division winning squad. The team suffered a big loss in free agency, with slugger Don Baylor heading east to the Yankees. The Angels inked Ellis Valentine as Baylor’s replacement. Valentine produced several excellent seasons for the Expos from 1976 through 1980 (.289 BAVG/.809 OPS, with 91 home runs and 340 RBI), before enduring two sub-par seasons and a trade to the Mets.

Baylor vs. Valentine

As the rest of the Angels lineup remained intact from 1982 to 1983, let’s focus on the only significant transactions in the 1982-83 off-season. By allowing Don Baylor to walk as a free agent, the Angels had several options available to them. They could have given fleet-footed Gary Pettis a chance to win the center field job in spring training, moving Fred Lynn to right field and Reggie Jackson to designated hitter. Essentially the Angels’ brass came to this conclusion in 1984. In an attempt to defend their division crown, GM Buzzie Bavasi decided to sign Valentine, a veteran ballplayer who was still in his prime.

  Don Baylor     Ellis Valentine  
Seasons Age BA/OPS Seasons Age BA/OPS
1972-1976 23-27 .268/.760 1976-1980 21-25 .289/.809
1977-1982 28-33 .262/.785 1981-1983 26-28 .250/.676
1983-1986 34-37 Pettis 83-86 25-28 .251/.674

 

In hindsight, Bavasi could have re-signed Don Baylor and received four additional seasons of production, not to mention Baylor’s presence in the clubhouse. It also seems likely that a platoon situation with Gary Pettis, Juan Beniquez, and others would have generated statistics similar to Valentine’s. With the money saved from Baylor’s contract, Bavasi could have set his sights on dealing for a relief pitcher. Alas, the search for a stopper would have to wait until Donnie Moore’s arrival in 1985.

Another Run At .400

Rod Carew mounted a serious challenge in 1977 at the gold standard for hitters – the .400 batting average. He would make another run during the ’83 season. The last .400 hitter was Ted Williams in 1941. Both Carew and George Brett (.390 in 1980) came up several hits shy of the mark in the previous five years. On the morning of May 7, 1983, Carew was batting .500 (48 for 96). Two months later, Carew entered July with a .404 batting average. He experienced a sub-par stretch (for his standards) in which he hit .253. By the end of the year, Carew eclipsed .300 for the 15th consecutive season (.339). Ron Jackson on Carew: “Rod Carew was a great guy, teammate, ballplayer, that I really admired. It took a lot of concentration to win a batting title seven times.”

Down on the Farm

After spending three seasons as a backup catcher for the Yankees and Mariners, Jerry Narron found himself back in the minor leagues. He feasted on triple-A pitching, leading the Edmonton Trappers (AAA) with 27 home runs. Narron earned the privilege of becoming Bob Boone’s caddy from 1984 through 1986. OF Mike Brown earned a mid-July promotion after crushing PCL pitching to the tune of 22 round-trippers and a .355 batting average. Dick Schofield batted .284 with 16 HR for the Trappers, earning a late-season recall. Kirk McCaskill won 10 games between Redwood (A) and Nashua (AA), with a 3.27 ERA. Urbano Lugo earned 13 victories along with a 3.04 ERA and 1.165 WHIP, splitting his time between two single-A affiliates. Tony Mack matched Lugo’s win total and fashioned a 3.48 ERA while twirling for the Redwood Pioneers. In 1985, he started 1 game for the Angels, allowing 8 hits and 4 runs in 2 1/3 innings. Mack continued to toil in the minor and independent leagues until 1999, but he never received another opportunity in the majors.

A Tale Of Two Seasons

California picked up where they left off in ’82, winning 13 of 21 in April. The Angels led the division for 53 days, and they were tied with the Texas Rangers at 44-37 on July 10.  Bobby Grich put up solid numbers (.292/16/62) despite missing the final month of the year. Fred Lynn tallied 14 homers and 43 RBI at the all-star break, and he cranked a grand slam off Atlee Hammaker in the mid-summer classic. Brian Downing struggled in the first half (.223/5/15), missing 37 games due to injury. His power output returned in the second half (.258/14/38). Reggie Jackson battled through a season-long slump, failing to crack the Mendoza line (.194/14/49). Ellis Valentine was out of action for the entire month of April, and never lived up to the promise of his Montreal production. On the pitching staff, Tommy John gave up 287 hits in 234 2/3 innings pitched. T.J. twirled 13 scoreless innings on September 14 against the Royals, allowing 13 hits and no walks. He exited the game in a 0-0 tie, and the Angels lost 1-0 in 14 innings. Ken Forsch logged an 8-4 record with a 3.33 ERA in the first half, but only won 3 of 11 decisions down the stretch (4.89 ERA). Geoff Zahn supplied a solid effort throughout the season (9-11, 3.33 ERA), despite a stint on the disabled list in June. Bruce Kison won 7 of 8 entering July (2.93 ERA). Mike Witt lost his first 3 starts of the season, and manager John McNamara banished him to the bullpen. Witt did not return to the rotation until the end of July, and he labored to a 7-14 record (4.91 ERA).

Opposition batters teed off against the Angels hurlers in July, amassing an .833 OPS along with a .312 batting average, which contributed greatly to the Halos 9-20 record for the month. The starting staff went 9-17 with a 5.45 ERA, while the bullpen melted down with a 5.46 ERA and an unsightly WHIP of 1.833! Bruce Kison contributed to the miserable month by allowing 51 hits in 30 1/3 innings pitched, yielding an ERA of 8.31. Byron McLaughlin started 4 games and finished July with a 10.50 ERA and 2.333 WHIP. John Curtis sported a 6.20 ERA and 2.133 WHIP out of the bullpen. The Halos offense wilted in the summer heat as well. After cruising into July with a batting line of .267/.338/.414, the team averages dipped to .242/.296/.356. The July swoon coincides with Doug DeCinces stint on the disabled list. DeCinces, batting .313/15/46 at the time, missed 50 games, and the Angels only managed to win 19 of those contests. Ellis Valentine (.221), Juan Beniquez (.220), Bob Boone (.219), Reggie Jackson (.200), Tim Foli (.200), and Bobby Clark (.189) all struggled during this stretch. The Chicago White Sox assumed the division lead on July 18 with a record of 46-42, and never relinquished the top spot. They won 53 of their final 74 games, blowing away the competition in the process. The Royals finished in second place (79-83, 20 GB), with the Angels limping home in a fifth place tie with the Twins (70-92, 29 GB).

Silver Lining

CF Gary Pettis (.294/.842 OPS/8 SB) and SS Dick Schofield display their talents in September, earning a chance to win starting jobs during the spring of 1984.

On Deck

Johnny Mac and the Halos regroup and battle the Royals and Twins for the title in ’84, but would any team in the American League West finish above .500?

References and Resources

Baseball-Reference
Baseball America – Executive Database
The Ron Jackson quote was taken from a telephone interview that I conducted with Mr. Jackson on July 12, 2009.

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