Friday, May 3, 2013

May 3- California Angels

It took me a while to get my thoughts together for this post as I really didn’t have anything to inspire where to start. If you haven’t noticed in any of my other New Era Cap posts you can get a sense of my mood on the day. Some times I can put together something truly extraordinary, while with others it turns into a bit of struggle and I find myself writing more about historical facts with little-to-no personal investment. With this one I sat at my computer for a solid two hours shuffling through You Tube videos and watching a bit of the day’s games to find something to help make the words come out, but nothing was working. As the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees game came to a close I hit play on the first song dialed in on my Itunes; “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin. Chances are you’ve heard it. And if you haven’t then may God have mercy on your soul. Here you are:

One thing that very few people know about me is that I’m a huge music buff. Even though the vast majority of my music collection is derived of classic rock hits from the 1960s through 1980s, I honestly can’t concentrate on my writing when I know all of the words to the songs. In most cases I end up writing out what I’m listening to. It’s kind of funny, but it really isn’t productive. Roughly three years ago I started experimenting with only instrumental songs; mostly scores and operatic melodies by the likes of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and even a few from Jaqueline Schwab who did the score for Ken Burns Baseball. What I soon realized is that I was able to articulate myself better and not just interject points in a rant style. In the case of “The Entertainer” I noticed that my brain was bringing up moments from my past; including old highlight reels from the earlier days of baseball. So, like today, I can put together a better story; because after all, it’s hard to take information of something I wasn’t alive to see and turn it into something that can provide visuals and a real-time experience for the readers. I’ve done this for 122 straight days and still have 243 days to go including today. That’s a lot of baseball and storytelling right there.

I’m a huge fan of “The Simpsons.” Yes, I’m one of those people who can rattle off quotes and otherwise useless knowledge of the show that very few people have ever given though to. One of the biggest things I’ve taken pleasure in over the years is outsmarting anyone who says they’re a big Simpsons fan themselves. Usually the conversation starts with one person making a reference, I laugh and then the person will remark something to the tune of, “Oh! You know that quote? Do you watch “The Simpsons” often? If you do, I bet I know more than you.” This has been a similar start of conversations I’ve had with people concerning rock and roll, films and of course baseball. To me, it’s amusing. To them it’s a slow, yet inevitable death. I don’t mean to brag about it; I have no control over the way my brain processes and retains information, but I am grateful for it. The reason I bring all of this up is because of the song I listed above, “The Entertainer.” If you know the song and you know “The Simpsons” you might remember the first episode of the ninth season called “The City of New York versus Homer Simpson.” In it Homer’s friend Barney Gumble loses Homer’s car in New York City and Homer has to go back to retrieve it as parking tickets have continued to pile up on his windshield. Homer doesn’t wan to go as his one and only trip to the city was met with folly as shown in an old-style black and white film form with “The Entertainer” playing in the background. Every time I look at the California Angels cap with this song playing the background I can’t help but have a similar story being told in my head. Not necessarily Sandy Alomar losing his car in New York City, but as system of poor playing resulting in a field of errors for the Angels that season. With that, here we go…

This cap is one of the more ingenious, but shortest-lived hats in the Angels history. It was only used for one season in 1971 to accompany the new uniforms the team had introduced which featured the lower-case “a” with a little halo in the top-left corner that said “angels” across the chest. Even though the team only used the hat for one season they used the jersey for an additional season in 1972 to pair with the upper-case “Å” cap that I wrote about back on February 25th; thus proving that questionable decisions have always been a longstanding part of the Angels organization.

’71: 1971 had to be one of my marks as a reminder of when the cap was actually used, but more important I couldn’t find the jersey number for their manager that season. ’71 was the final year of then manager Lefty Phillips who had his only stint as a Major League manager from 1969-1971, all of which came with the Angels. Lefty joined the Angels at the start of the 1969 season to work in the front office alongside his good friend, and former Los Angeles Dodgers executive Dick Walsh who had just been hired as the Angels’ general manager. Prior to joining the Angels Lefty had been the pitching coach for the Dodgers from 1965-1968, working with such notables as Don Sutton, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. I’m not sure what happened to those three, but I’m sure they all did good things in their careers. Kidding. All three went on to get elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Dodgers won the World Series in 1965 behind the trio. When Walsh took the job with the Dodgers he convinced lefty to follow, assigning him to the post of director of player personnel. Lefty only lasted in that position for a little over a month into the season before being assigned to take the helm of the Angels.

Lefty’s “rookie” season came as a midseason changing of the guard when the Angels fired then manager Billy Rigney who had been the team’s first and only manager since 1961. After going 11-28 to start the ’69 season he was replaced by Lefty who ended up going 60-63 for the rest of the year. In 1970 the Angels tied their best season record of 86-76, a mark previously set by Rigney and the 1962 Angels squad. In ’71 the Angels finished with a record of 76-86, which was far from the worst finish they had sustained in their 11-year existence; however, Lefty was still canned after 2 ½  seasons as the team’s skipper, as was Walsh as GM. He went 222-225 as manager, but was still retained by the Angels to carry-on as a scout as he had previously done in previous season with the Cincinnati Reds and Dodgers. On June 12, 1972 Lefty suffered an asthma attack late in the evening and died as result. He was only 53-years-old.

#11- If there was ever a person who I would consider to be the face of the Angels franchise I would have to go with Jim Fregosi. My sincerest apologies to all of you Tim Salmon and Garrett Anderson fans out there, but Fregosi takes this one. Originally a free agent signing in 1960, Fregosi was scooped up in the expansion draft at the end of that season and made his Major League debut on September 14, 1961, the same first day of the Angels organization in the Majors. His career with the Angels went from 1961 through, oddly enough, the end of the 1971 season. He played for another seven years for the New York Mets, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates until he hung up his spikes (as a player) at the end of the 1978 season. What’s most interesting about his time with the Pirates coming to an end was that the Angels had tapped him to take over as the team’s manager while he was playing and the Pirates released him so he could pursue that venture at the age of 36. To my knowledge that’s the only time I’ve ever known a manager to be hired while he was playing for another team.

1971 played an important part in Fregosi’s playing career as it was statistically one of the worst seasons he had ever recorded. This goes back to what I was talking about with “The Entertainer.” From 1964-1970 Fregosi had made the AL All-Star team every season except 1965. From 1963-1970 Fregosi had cracked the Top-28 or better in the American League MVP vote. In 1967 he won his only Gold Glove of his career as a shortstop, his natural position. That season was also the best of his career offensively too as he finished in seventh place for the AL MVP, his best finish, with a .290 average, nine home runs, six triples, 171 hits and 56 RBI. In 1971; however, Fregosi hit .233 with 81 hits including one triple and five home runs. He also knocked in 33 which I only added for a consolation prize. It’s not like very many Major League stars to be so consistently good for so many consecutive years only to have a personal-worst season of their career and never rebound from it. Actually, there is a viable explanation for what happened to Fregosi. Early on in the season when his numbers weren’t looking to hot he complained off-and-on about a pain in his foot. The team doctors looked at it, but really didn’t find anything wrong and sent him back out into the field. Finally the problem became severe to the point where Fregosi went to the hospital to have it looked at. It was then that doctors discovered a tumor. His season was over. The Angels, being the classy organization they are, were uncertain of his future in baseball and convinced the Mets to take him as part of a trade that sent Nolan Ryan to the Angels. Where the Angels lacked in compassion they certainly made up for it in “f---ing the other guy over hard.”

I suppose the Angels did make it up to Fregosi down the road with the whole managerial job thing in ’78. Hell, he and the Angels even made the postseason in 1979 for the first time in franchise history… and then, in classic Angels fashion, he was fired in the middle of the 1981 season after going 22-25. What’s even more ironic about this is that the Angels started doing poorly after Nolan Ryan signed with the Houston Astros at the end of the ‘79 season. So in short: the Angels and Nolan Ryan hosed Fregosi two times each.

It wouldn’t be until 1998 that the Angels would finally retire Fregosi’s #11; 28 years after he last played for them and 17 years after he last managed them. I just have to laugh and shake my head at this one. If you haven’t yet, play “The Entertainer” and go back and read this section on Fregosi and it will all make sense why I chose to write about it.

It’s also kind of funny that this hat ended up being my post for the day as it was one of four hats I had my mom mail out to me from Oregon as I didn’t quite bring enough to write about from my extended stay with my girlfriend Angie Kinderman (@sconnieangie). A few nights ago, when the Athletics beat the Angels in back-to-back nights, including a 19-inning thriller at the Coliseum, I made a few jokes on Twitter about the Angels bring back Fregosi and fire current manager Mike Scioscia. Only one person really got the joke, Carey Gallé (@CareyGalle). Carey and I cut it up with one another on a nightly basis as he’s a loyal supporter of the Halos, but even I was surprised that very few Angels fans knew what I was talking about. I think he’ll agree with me; Fregosi for life!

1 comment:

  1. Im a few days behind here, Ben. Catching up on some of your posts..this was spot on! Living down here Ive been going to a lot of Angels games, and learning a lot about the history of the Angels (sometimes more than I really want to hear), and I agree..Fregosi is one of, if not the most loved, classic Angel, and I would consider him the face of the franchise too. Not just for what he did for the team, but also kind of representing the bad decisions that had been made early in the life of the franchise. This one I would put as one of my top 5 faves that you have written..and putting "The Entertainer" in my head while reading it was a nice bonus. But now its stuck there. I blame you. :-P