The 1988 California Angels
In the eighteen months that followed the Angels’ 1986 pennant race, GM Mike Port orchestrated a major roster turnover. Bob Boone, Brian Downing, Wally Joyner, and Dick Schofield were still on the squad when the dust settled. Mike Witt and Kirk McCaskill retained their positions in the starting rotation. Port traded Gary Pettis to the Tigers in exchange for Dan Petry. This allowed Devon White to move to center field, making room for free agent acquisition Chili Davis. In the winter of 1987, the Angels allowed Don Sutton, Jerry Reuss, Gary Lucas, and Ruppert Jones to walk. Rookie reliever Bryan Harvey assumed the role of closer. Chuck Finley entered the starting rotation. Former Red Sox center fielder Tony Armas handled the majority of the left field role, after Johnny Ray was shifted to second base in late May to cover for the injured Mark McLemore.
Cookie Rojas assumed the role of manager after Gene Mauch’s retirement. Rojas was a former major league second baseman (1962-77) and 5-time All-Star. Since he retired as an active player in 1977, Rojas was a scout and coach for several teams. The 1988 season would be his first in the role of major league manager.
Collectively, the pitching staff experienced a sub-par season. The staff ERA (4.32) was next-to-last in the American League, and their hits, walks allowed, and strikeouts also placed near the bottom of the barrel. All members of the starting rotation posted ERA’s above 4.00 and WHIP’s above 1.400. Willie Fraser allowed a home run per start (33 HR in 32 GS), with a 5.41 ERA and a walk/strikeout ratio of 1:1. Staff ace Mike Witt struggled through his first sub-.500 season since 1983, with a 13-16 record and 4.15 ERA. Chuck Finley endured a 9-15 record (4.17 ERA) in his first full season as a starting pitcher. Kirk McCaskill (8-6, 4.31) and Dan Petry (3-9, 4.38) were either injured or ineffective. Terry Clark almost rescued the staff with a Cinderella story. Clark labored in the minors without a cup of coffee for 10 years, finally earning a call-up to the big leagues in July 1988. He proceeded to begin his major league career with 5 wins in his first 6 starts (5-0, 3.97). Alas, Clark was shelled for the remainder of the season (1-6, 6.04).
In the bullpen, Donnie Moore (4.91, 1.697 WHIP) and DeWayne Buice (5.88, 1.548) yielded the closer’s role to Bryan Harvey. Harvey’s rookie season included a 7-5 record, 17 saves, and a 2.13 ERA. Greg Minton posted a 2.85 ERA as the set-up man, while Stew Cliburn and Sherman Corbett were adequate in long relief.
Wally Joyner crushed 56 home runs in his first two major league campaigns. In 1988, Joyner managed only 13 long balls, a trend that would continue through the remainder of his career. Devon White’s power issues (11 taters after belting 24 in ’87) can at least be partially attributed to the injuries that he sustained during the season (torn cartilage in right knee, strained rib cage). Jack Howell fell from 23 to 16 “jacks”, even though he accumulated more playing time in 1988. Brian Downing cranked 25 out of the yard, but his .242 batting average was his lowest since 1983. Chili Davis maintained his usual production (.268/21/93), as did LF-2B Johnny Ray (.306/6/83).
Down on the Farm
Dante Bichette bashed 14 round-trippers and drove in 81 runs for the Trappers, earning a September call-up to the Angels. Jeff Manto enjoyed a stellar campaign for the double-A Midland squad (.301/24/101). Manto was dealt to Cleveland in 1990, and played 9 seasons in the majors. He belted 17 long balls for Baltimore in ’95. 1B James McCollom led the Texas League with a .343 batting average, and also contributed 32 doubles and 20 home runs. Colin Charland tore through the California League, posting a 17-5 record with a 2.51 ERA. He struck out 183 batters in 204 innings pitched, and completed 12 of 27 starts.
The Halos posted a mediocre April (10-13), followed by a putrid May (9-19), and never recovered. When the team headed to the ballpark on Sunday, June 5, 1988, they were 19.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics, in last place with a 19-35 record. The A’s were running circles around the rest of the Western Division teams as well, pulling out to a 10 game lead over the Minnesota Twins.
California proceeded to embark on a somewhat stunning comeback. They tore through their schedule, posting a 36-16 mark and had pulled to within 9.5 games of Oakland on August 2. The Angels’ 55-51 record placed them in 3rd, behind the Twins (6.5 games back). They held their ground in August (15-14), and were 75-75 on September 15. Then, the wheels fell off completely. When the dust settled, the Angels had lost their final 12 games, and Rojas had lost his job. Long-time Angels minor league manager and third-base coach Moose Stubing was the interim manager for the final 8 games. The Halos finished fourth in the A.L. West, 29 games behind the Athletics.
The Angels enjoyed one of their best amateur drafts. Their selections included Jim Abbott, Gary DiSarcina, Jim Edmonds, and Damion Easley, who all spent significant time in an Angels uniform during the next decade.
Doug Rader assumes the managerial reigns, and the Angels mount a charge toward another Western Division crown.
Derek Bain is a devoted husband and father of three wonderful children. In his “spare” time, he is working on a baseball simulator, along with several other video games for Tuatara Software.
References and Resources