September 27, 2021

The 1982 California Angels

May 16, 2012 by · 3 Comments 

Two consecutive years of disappointment prompted the Angels ownership to react with a sense of urgency in the 1982 off-season. They made a big splash in the free agent pool, and several key trades positioned the franchise within reach of their first World Series appearance.

Jackson and DeCinces

Gene Autry outbid George Steinbrenner for Reggie Jackson’s services, signing Jackson to a five year deal on January 22, 1982. Reggie crushed 39 homers and knocked in 101 runs in his debut season for the Angels. Realizing that Butch Hobson was not the answer at third base, Angels GM Buzzie Bavasi traded OF Dan Ford to the Orioles in exchange for Doug DeCinces. DeCinces would establish career highs in virtually every batting category in 1982. He cracked 42 doubles, 5 triples, and 30 home runs, batting .301 with an OPS of .916! Bob Boone was purchased from Philadelphia, and he provided gold glove defense behind the plate. Boone cut down 58% off opposition base stealers.

Bavasi acquired shortstop Tim Foli from Pittsburgh in exchange for Brian Harper, after allowing utility infielder Bert Campaneris to leave as a free agent. Foli ended up as the starting shortstop after Rick Burleson injured his right shoulder. The Angels were left without a backup infielder, so they dealt prospects Tom Brunansky, Mike Walters, and $400,000 to Minnesota, in exchange for Rob Wilfong and Doug Corbett. Brunansky paid immediate dividends for the Twins, as the right fielder slammed at least 20 home runs in nine straight seasons (1982-1990). Wilfong filled in at multiple positions, but only managed a .208 batting average.

Downing Sets The Table

Left fielder Brian Downing, no longer dealing with the wear and tear of catching on a daily basis, busted out with 37 doubles and 28 home runs (his previous career bests were 27 and 12, respectively).  Downing scored 109 runs as the leadoff hitter, assuming the role after Burleson landed on the disabled list in early April. After batting third in the lineup for most of April, Rod Carew settled into the second slot in the order, leading the Halos with a .319 average and a .396 OBP. Fred Lynn rebounded from a poor showing in ’81, contributing a .299 average with 21 homers and 86 runs batted in. Bobby Grich tallied 19 round-trippers, but his overall numbers were well off the pace from the previous season. Don Baylor pounded 24 long balls and drove in 93 runs as the full-time designated hitter. It was Baylor’s final season with California, as he became a free agent and signed a deal with the Yankees in December 1982.

Zahn In The Zone

Geoff Zahn anchored the starting rotation, winning a career-high 18 games with a 3.73 ERA. Ken Forsch compiled a 13-11 record in 35 starts, with a 3.87 ERA. Zahn and Forsch each hurled 4 shutouts and completed 12 games. 21-year-old Mike Witt managed a 3.51 ERA and 8 wins. Steve Renko rounded out the starting staff with an 11-6 effort, albeit with a 4.44 ERA. Bruce Kison split time between the rotation and bullpen, finishing with a 10-5 mark and a staff-best ERA of 3.17. The bullpen consisted of mid-May acquisition Doug Corbett, and holdovers Don Aase, Andy Hassler, and Luis Sanchez. Corbett led the Halos with 8 saves, but he was pummeled for a 5.05 earned run average. Aase blew out his elbow in mid-July, and he would sit out the entire 1983 season and the first two months in 1984. Hassler led the relief corps with a 2.78 ERA, but he walked more batters (40) than he struck out (38).

Sanchez saved 5 games and won 7, while swingman Dave Goltz vultured 8 wins pitching mostly in relief. The Angels picked up Luis Tiant in early August. In his final major league season, “El Tiante” made 5 starts and struck out a batter per inning, but he did not appear in a game after September 4. On August 31, the Yankees traded starting pitcher Tommy John to the Angels for a player to be named later (minor league SP Dennis Rasmussen). John started 7 games, earning 4 victories while scattering 49 hits in 35 innings. In stark contrast to the Ryan and Tanana years, no Angels pitcher managed to strike out 100 batters. They let the opposing team put the ball in play, where the excellent Angels defense gobbled up the ball like Pac-men.

The Angels finished second in the American League with a .983 fielding percentage. Brian Downing accepted 330 chances in left field without an error.

Down on the Farm

C-OF Brian Harper teed off against Pacific Coast League pitching in 1981 (.350/28/122). He bounced around in several organizations for six seasons, until he finally earned a full-time assignment with a .325 batting average as the Minnesota Twins starting catcher in 1989. OF Gary Pettis stole 55 bases for the Holyoke Millers (AA) in 1981, and swiped 53 the following season for triple-A Spokane. Pettis utilized his speed and gold-glove defensive skills as the Angels starting center fielder from 1984-1987. 20-year-old starting pitcher Ron Romanick won 15 games with a 2.90 ERA for the Redwood Pioneers (A), in his first professional season.

Pennant Race

Three teams were within 5 games of the division-leading Angels on July 1, 1982. The Kansas City Royals were 2 games back, followed by the Chicago White Sox (4 GB) and the Seattle Mariners (4.5 GB). The White Sox remained in the race until the last week of September, finishing 6 games behind. The Mariners fell below .500 on August 17, losing 7 straight and ending the season in fourth place (17 GB). On September 15, 1982, the Royals led the Angels by 2 games in the American League Western division standings. Kansas City proceeded to lose 10 of their next 11 games, including 4 losses to California. Tommy John defeated them twice. The Angels won 8 of 12 in that stretch, moving 4.5 games ahead of Kansas City. The Royals applied the pressure, winning 5 of 6 to close out the season, but the Angels swept the Texas Rangers and clinched the division on October 2 (game 161 of their season).

Championship Series

California faced Milwaukee in the 1982 American League Championship Series, with the Angels hosting game 1 and 2 in Anaheim. The Brewers topped the American League with 95 wins (2 better than the Angels). The “Brew Crew” bashed their way to the division crown, leading the AL in runs scored (891) and home runs (216). Five Brewers surpassed 20 home runs and 90 RBI, including 1B Cecil Cooper, SS Robin Yount, LF Ben Oglivie, CF Gorman Thomas, and C Ted Simmons. 3B Paul Molitor was the American League leader in runs scored (136). On the Milwaukee pitching staff, Pete Vuckovich was the AL Cy Young award winner, posting an 18-6 record with a 3.34 ERA. Mike Caldwell earned 17 victories, and Rollie Fingers saved 29 games. An early September elbow injury to Fingers would prevent him from appearing in the playoffs.

California skipper Gene Mauch elected to start Tommy John in Game 1, while Milwaukee manager Harvey Kuenn countered with Mike Caldwell. The Brewers quickly jumped out to a 3-1 lead by the middle of the third inning, on the strength of a Gorman Thomas home run and a Cecil Cooper groundout. The Angels scored 7 unanswered runs in the next three frames. Don Baylor knocked home 3 runs with a triple and a single, and Fred Lynn capped the scoring with a solo round-tripper off reliever Jim Slaton in the bottom of the fifth. Tommy John pitched a complete game 7-hitter, and the Angels won, 8-3.

Bruce Kison squared off against Pete Vuckovich in Game 2. Vuckovich’s win total was deceptive. He allowed 234 hits and 102 walks in 223.2 innings, with a ratio of 1.502! California jumped on “Vuke” for 4 runs in the first four innings, including a Reggie Jackson solo shot, and a Bob Boone sacrifice bunt with the bases loaded. Milwaukee battled back with a 2-run inside the park home run in the fifth inning. Kison proceeded to set down the final 13 Brewers in order, and the Angels led the series, 2 games to none.

The action shifted to Milwaukee, as the Brew Crew would host the final three games (if necessary) of the 5 game series. Geoff Zahn would face off against 17-game winner and future hall-of-famer Don Sutton, who was acquired from the Houston Astros one month prior. Both starting pitchers allowed one hit through the first three innings. In the bottom of the fourth, the Brewers chased Zahn from the hill with 3 runs on 3 hits, a walk, and 2 sacrifice flies. Mike Witt struck out Charlie Moore swinging to end the threat. The Halos were having all sorts of problems with Sutton, managing just three hits and a walk through seven innings.

Paul Molitor cranked a 2-run homer in the bottom of the seventh. With Milwaukee leading 5-0, the Angels began to mount a comeback. Bob Boone delivered a solo home run. Downing flied out to center field, and Carew followed with a single. Reggie Jackson struck out, then Fred Lynn and Don Baylor hit back-to-back doubles to left field. Doug DeCinces grounded to Molitor at third base to end the inning, with California trailing 5-3. Andy Hassler retired the Brewers in order in the bottom of the eighth. Pete Ladd would do the same to the Angels in the ninth. Bob Grich grounded out to Jim Gantner at second base, then Rob Wilfong (batting for Tim Foli) and Bob Boone both struck out swinging to end the ballgame. California still led the series 2-1.

The second-guessing of manager Gene Mauch would begin with his announcement that Tommy John would take the mound on 3 days rest. Ken Forsch was available and well-rested. After an uneventful first inning, “Harvey’s Wallbangers” scored 3 runs on a wild play in the bottom of the second. John issued walks to Ted Simmons and Don Money, which set the stage for Mark Brouhard. Ben Oglivie took a seat against the lefthander, and Brouhard was playing in his first and only career postseason game. Brouhard grounded a single to center field, scoring Simmons. Money attempted to go from first to third. Fred Lynn threw wildly to third baseman DeCinces, who poured gasoline on the fire, throwing errantly to catcher Boone. When the dust settled, Money scored and Brouhard had circled the bases as well! The Brewers scratched out three more runs in the fourth inning, aided by 2 walks and 2 wild pitches. Mauch pulled the plug on Tommy John, calling for Dave Goltz with Milwaukee ahead, 6-0. In the sixth inning, Fred Lynn put California on the scoreboard with a double to right field, driving in Reggie Jackson.

But the Brewers came right back in the bottom of the frame, with a Jim Gantner single to score Brouhard. Moose Haas ran into trouble in the top of the eighth inning. Downing led off with a single, followed by a Carew double, putting runners on second and third. Reggie Jackson struck out, then Haas walked Fred Lynn to load the bases. Don Baylor stepped up to the plate and delivered. On Haas’ first pitch, Baylor crushed a grand slam home run, bringing the Angels within striking distance at 7-5. Jim Slaton relieved Haas, and escaped the inning without further damage. To cap Mark Brouhard’s magical day, he cranked a two-run homer off Dave Goltz in the bottom of the eighth. Slaton set the Halos down in order in the ninth, and the Brewers had knotted the series at two games apiece.

In a rematch of Game 2, Kison would face Vuckovich. The Angels drew first blood. Brian Downing led off the game with a double to right, and two outs later, Fred Lynn drove him home with a single to left field. Ted Simmons sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first tied the score at 1-1. Another Lynn single in the top of the third plated Bob Boone with the second run for the Halos. California struck again in the fourth, as DeCinces doubled and came around on a Boone base hit. A long ball off the bat of Ben Oglivie in the bottom of the fourth trimmed the Angels lead to 3-2. Mauch removed Kison from the game in the bottom of the sixth, replacing him with Luis Sanchez. Sanchez retired the middle of the Brewers lineup in order. Kuenn brought southpaw Bob McClure in from the bullpen after Carew worked a one-out walk from Vuckovich. Reggie Jackson grounded into an inning-ending double play, and the Angels were clinging to their slim lead.

Don Money led off the bottom of the seventh, and popped out to Carew. Charlie Moore and Jim Gantner hit consecutive singles, then Paul Molitor flew out to Downing in foul territory. Robin Yount battled Sanchez in an 8-pitch at bat, drawing a walk to load the bases with two outs. Left-hander Andy Hassler was warming up in the pen, but Mauch elected to stay with Sanchez to face Cecil Cooper. On the 1-1 offering, Cooper delivered a two-run single to left field, scoring Moore and Gantner, and Milwaukee had the 4-3 advantage. Mauch visited the mound and called for Hassler to pitch to Ted Simmons. “Simba” struck out, but the Angels had only six outs remaining to keep their season alive. The Angels and Brewers went quietly in the eighth. Ron Jackson, batting for Tim Foli, led off the ninth with a single to center field.

Mauch sent Rob Wilfong into the game as a pinch runner. Pete Ladd relieved McClure. Boone sacrificed Wilfong to second. Downing grounded out to third, bringing Rod Carew to the plate with two outs. Carew tried to slice a hard grounder to the opposite field, but Robin Yount corralled the ball, and threw to first to seal the victory for the Brewers. Carew stated “… it was a hard, one-hop ground ball, and if Yount had moved like I thought he would, it would have gone through for a hit and we would have tied it.”

In the off-season, Mauch resigned as manager, and California hired John McNamara as his replacement for the 1983 season.

Silver Lining

Gene Mauch brought the Angels to the brink of reaching the World Series in 1982. It wouldn’t be the only time that he would lead them this far…

On Deck

Tony LaRussa and the White Sox steamroll the A.L. West in 1983, as the Angels are left wondering what happened in their attempt to repeat as division champions.

References and Resources


Baseball America – Executive Database

The Rod Carew quote is from Robert Goldman, Once They Were Angels, Sports Publishing L.L.C., 2006, pp. 158


3 Responses to “The 1982 California Angels”
  1. Paul says:

    The 1982 California Angels are one of my favorite teams ever. Thank you for this article.

    Back in the early aughts, I often remarked to my friends that Brian Downing was the first “modern” ballplayer – ahead of his time, certainly. He was one of the pioneers of modern weight-training for baseball players. It’s hard to imagine now, but when Downing first gained 25 pounds of muscle coming into spring training in 1979, he was widely criticized. It was thought at the time that increasing muscle would hamper, not help ballplayers. He also was not a prototypical leadoff hitter. Downing had over 2700 plate appearances in that slot, but only 12 career steals as a leadoff hitter.

  2. Cliff Blau says:

    I’ve really been enjoying this series. I think every team should have something like this, for every season.

  3. Mike Lynch says:

    That’s good to know, Cliff. Maybe I’ll do something like it for the Red Sox, and try to get some of the others to do the same for their favorite teams.

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