Tagged: Angels

The Adenhart Tragedy

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The
senseless and horrific car accident that took the lives of Angels’ right-hander
Nick Adenhart and two of his friends is tragic on so many levels. First and
foremost, three young people who were about to enter the primes of their lives
have been lost. Additionally, Adenhart appears by all accounts to have been a likeable and friendly guy. From a baseball standpoint, the promising career of the 22-year-old Adenhart,
projected by some scouts to be a No. 1 starter, has been snuffed out
after only four games. And then there is the feeling that this tragedy was so
avoidable, brought upon by the carelessness of a drunk driver.

 

In
addition to the inevitable sadness that we’re all experiencing, I’m feeling
angry about the cause of Adenhart’s death. Drunk driving is one of our most
detestable crimes. It needs to be punished with even stricter laws. Driving is
dangerous enough when everyone on the road is sober; when buzzed and drunk
drivers take the wheel, it becomes demolition derby.

 

Unfortunately,
the Adenhart tragedy is only the latest in a long line of incidents that have
plagued the Angels from the mid-1960s to the current day. Let’s consider the
following events–afflictions, controversies, and outright
tragedies–that have hit the star-crossed Angels over the past 45 years.

           

*In
1965, rookie pitcher Dick Wantz makes the Angels’ Opening Day roster, only to
be diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor shortly thereafter. Wantz dies just a few
weeks after making his major league debut, passing away on May 13 at the age of
25.

 

*In
1966, highly-touted bonus baby Rick Reichardt sees his first full and productive
major league season interrupted by a serious ailment that necessitates removal
of one of his kidneys. Although Reichardt returns to normal health, he fails to
achieve the same level of play, prompting the Angels to trade him to the
Washington Senators in 1970.

           

*Slugging
first baseman Don Mincher misses over 40 games in 1968, the direct result of a
Sam McDowell beanball. Mincher struggles to regain his stroke after returning
from the injury, prompting the Angels to make him available to the Seattle
Pilots in the 1969 expansion draft. Mincher resumes a productive career with
both the Pilots and then the A’s, while the Angels having nothing to show in
return. 

 

*A
horrifying car accident after the 1968 season ends the career of promising
young reliever Minnie Rojas. Although Rojas survives the car crash, two of his
children lose their lives in the accident, and Rojas himself suffers permanent
paralysis from the neck down. In 1967, Rojas had led the American League with
27 saves while winning the circuit’s Fireman of the Year honors.

 

*In
1971, defending American League batting champion Alex Johnson clashes with
teammates and management, both of whom express outrage at his repeated failure
to run out ground balls. The situation comes to a head when Johnson and utility
infielder Chico Ruiz engage in a nasty clubhouse incident in which Ruiz
allegedly wields a gun. Johnson eventually undergoes psychiatric treatment, but
the Angels decide to rid themselves of the problem by trading Johnson to the
Indians after the season. In a tragic twist, Ruiz is killed in an off-season
car accident shortly after being released by the Angels.

 

*In
another scarred chapter of the team’s tumultuous 1971 season, the vision in
Tony Conigliaro’s eye deteriorates so badly that he decides to retire as an
active player. “Tony C” had just enjoyed one of his finest seasons in 1970 ,
reaching career-highs with 36 home runs and 116 RBIs for the Red Sox. Shortly
after being traded to the Angels, Conigliaro’s eyesight becomes so bad that it
makes him virtually helpless at the plate.

 

*During
spring training of 1974, Angels minor leaguer Bruce Heinbechner dies in a Palm Springs traffic
accident. Highly regarded by the organization, the 23-year-old left-hander was
considered a candidate to make the Angels’ Opening Day pitching staff.

 

*On
January 6, 1977, 23-year-old infielder Mike Miley, a top-flight minor league
prospect, dies in a car accident. The Angels had considered the switch-hitting
Miley their shortstop of the future.

 

*On
September 23, 1978, star outfielder Lyman Bostock is killed–the innocent victim
of a drive-by shooting in Gary,
Indiana. Bostock, who was hitting
.296 at the time of his death, had been signed by the Angels as a free agent
after batting .336 and .323 for the Twins the previous two seasons. Loaded with
talent, including a sharp line-drive swing and explosive speed, Bostock
appeared to be in the prime of a promising career.

 

*Leading
the 1986 American League Championship Series three games to one, Angels closer
Donnie Moore surrenders a key, two-run, ninth-inning home run to Dave Henderson
of the Boston Red Sox. Boston
rallies to win the game–and the series. Three years later, Moore
commits suicide, with his agent claiming the talented reliever had never
recovered from the emotional distress of allowing the home run to Henderson. 

 

*In
1992, the Angels team bus veers off the New Jersey Turnpike and crashes while
on a New York-to-Baltimore
trip. The accident results in serious injuries to manager Buck Rodgers and
lesser injuries to other team members, but all survive the crash.  

 

*In
1997, Anaheim’s
dynamic lead-off man Tony Phillips is found to have cocaine in his hotel room.
The Angels suspend him for four days before deciding to bring him back, which
makes the Players’ Association happy but causes a public furor in Southern California.

 

*The
original owner of the Angels, the beloved Gene Autry, dies in October of 1998.
Although Autry lived a full life of 91 years, he never did fulfill his personal
dream of seeing the Angels reach the World Series, which wouldn’t happen until
the world championship season of 2002.

 

 

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Card Corner–Paul Schaal

Schaal.jpgAs kids growing up in Westchester County, we found it both foolishly fun and humorously cruel to repeat the quirky names of certain ballplayers over and over. One of those players was Paul Schaal (pronounced PAWL SHAWL), one of the few big leaguers whose last name rhymed with his first. Along with Don Hahn and Greg Legg, Schaal must have taken his share of verbal abuse about that as a child.

 

A couple of other intriguing facts come to mind when thinking about Paul Schaal. He was the Kansas City Royals’ last regular third baseman before a fellow named George Brett burst onto the major league scene. A certified Hall of Famer and the owner of the most attractive batting swing of the late 20th century–I’ll put him just ahead of Ken Griffey, Jr. in that regard–Brett made most Royals fans forget all about Schaal. Still, Schaal was not a bad ballplayer. Beginning with the California Angels in the mid-1960s, he established a reputation as one of the game’s finest fielding third baseman. One member of the Angels even called Schaal the equal of Brooks Robinson, generally regarded as baseball’s most divine defensive third baseman of all-time. 

 

Offensively, Schaal showed promise as a youngster, until he was hit in the head by a pitched ball during the 1968 season. The injury left the Angels understandably worried about his future, so they left him exposed in the expansion draft that winter. As one of four new teams entering the major leagues, the Royals snapped up Schaal, hoping that he could recover fully from the beanball incident. After initially clashing with Royals skipper Charlie Metro, Schaal settled in nicely as KC’s cornerman. In 1971, he used remarkable patience at the plate, walking 103 times to formulate a .387 on-base percentage, while playing in every Royals game that season. He slumped to a .228 average in 1972 before rebounding to hit .288 with eight home runs the following season. Unfortunately, Schaal’s game fall off badly in 1974, prompting a trade back to California, where he finished out his career with the Halos. In the meantime, Mr. Brett staked permanent claim to Kansas City’s “hot corner.”

 

While Schaal never achieved much more than temporary stardom with the Royals and Angels, he has managed to become one of the most successful of ex-ballplayers in his post-playing days. Schaal is now Dr. Schaal, which sounds an awful lot like Dr. Scholl, the foot doctor. But it’s Dr. Schaal, practicing back specialist. More specifically, the good doctor runs the Schaal Health & Wellness Center in Overland Park, Kansas, and is considered an expert in network spinal analysis. As the doctor’s website points out, “At Schaal Health Center, we use Young Living Essential Oils daily to diffuse the air with their therapeutic aromas.” And that sounds pretty good to me.

 

A Smattering of Intelligence–Abreu, The Donkey, and Posada

What a bargain! That was my initial (and subsequent) reaction to hearing that the Angels had signed Bobby Abreu to a one-year contract worth $5 million–quite a paycut from the $16 million that the Yankees paid him last season. Now Abreu does have his faults; he’ll never again hit with the power that he did during his Phillies prime and he’s become a horrendous defensive right fielder whose problems go well beyond his notorious fear of outfield walls. Still, at $5 million he’s a steal, a durable and consistent performer who will reach base 40 per cent of the time and hit the century marks in both runs and runs scored. Even at 35, he’ll be a good fit in the Angels’ lineup, hitting in front of Vlad Guerrero and behind Chone Figgins. One suggestion for the Angels: give Abreu a first baseman’s glove this spring and make him take hundreds of grounders as a hedge against Kendry Morales completely flopping at first base…

 

The Nationals paid more than the Angels did in signing Adam Dunn to a two-year deal worth $20 million, but it still ranks as another winter bargain on the freefalling free agent market. The “Big Donkey” has become a remarkably consistent player. He’s a lead pipe cinch to hit 40 home runs (he’s hit that exact mark four years running), drive in 100 runs, and walk 110 times. Dunn will also help balance a Washington lineup that leans precariously to the right, with nary a left-handed power bat to be found. I just hope that the Nats have the good sense to put Dunn at first base, where Nick “The Stick” Johnson has become unreliable because of a long injury history. The Nationals already have six major league outfielders–Elijah Dukes, starting center fielder Lastings Milledge, Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham, Wily Mo Pena, and Willie Harris–with at least four capable of playing every day. Given his immobility, Dunn will cause less damage defensively at first base, while allowing Manny Acta to better sort out the playing time in the outfield corners…

 

The Yankees open up spring training on Friday, which will result in Tampa turning into the Alex Rodriguez Question Show for the weekend. The mainstream media might be obsessed with the story regarding A-Rod’s failed steroids test and his pseudo-admission of guilt, but this issue will likely blow over by May. A far bigger question affecting the Yankees’ playoff chances will involve one of the catchers arriving in Tampa on Friday. That would be Jorge Posada, whose return from shoulder surgery ranks as New York’s No. 1 concern. The number of games that Posada can catch in 2009 will serve as a gauge to the Yankees’ success this season. If he can play 110 games behind the plate, the Yankees could be a 100-win team. If he can play only 90 to 100, the number of wins could fall off by two or three. If he plays fewer than 90, that could mean third place in a stacked division–and no postseason for the second straight summer. 

 

 

 

Postseason Notebook–October 7, 2008

The Red Sox have become the Yankees. The Yankees of 1996-2001, that is. The Red Sox do everything that a great team is supposed to do. They hit in the clutch. They score runs with two outs. They make above-average plays, and sometimes spectacular ones, in the field. And they pitch, everyone from staff ace Jon Lester to new middle man Justin Masterson to hyperactive closer Jonathan Papelbon.

The Red Sox have plenty of talent, but talent alone is not what makes the Red Sox exceptional. They also have a mental toughness that helps them come back late in games, and helps them win so many one-run games in the eighth and ninth innings. In addition, their players are unselfish. Both veterans and rookies alike switch from position to position, but without making federal cases about the alleged hardship of such inconvenience. Mark Kotsay, a career-long outfielder, plays first base like he’s ready to win a Gold Glove. MVP candidate Kevin Youkilis switches seamlessly from first to third base. Rookie infielder Jed Lowrie plays shortstop one day, then third base the next, and looks fine either way. They all do it without complaint. A few other teams, like the Yankees of today, should take note of the versatility–and the selflessness.

None of this means the Red Sox are guaranteed to win the American League pennant over the next week. The rival Rays are playing almost as well, and will have home field advantage in the first two games. The Red Sox will also have to make do without Mike Lowell, and perhaps Josh Beckett, who isn’t anywhere close to 100 per cent, even if he’s able to pitch. The Red Sox could lose this series, largely because the Rays have become a very good team almost overnight and have the kind of pitching that could put the shackles on David Ortiz, Jason Bay, and J.D. Drew. But the Sox won’t lose this series because of their own ineptitude. The Red Sox will only lose if the Rays play an outstanding series, with the kind of pitching and defense that Boston displayed against Los Angeles. The days of the Red Sox shooting themselves in their collective feet are over…

A few other notes from the Red Sox’ five-game win over the Angels: As highly as I regard Terry Francona as a manager, I did have some questions when he pulled Jon Lester, his newly emerged staff ace, after seven innings. Lester had thrown 109 pitches at that point, but had shown little fatigue through the sixth and the seventh innings.  If he was laboring at all, I must have missed it. The move almost cost the Sox the game, as relievers Hideki Okajima and Masterson combined to allow the game-tying runs to score in the top of the eighth. Masterson then escaped trouble in the ninth, as Erick Aybar (one of many goats for the Angels) completely missed a bunt attempt on a suicide squeeze…

While Mark Teixeira raised his bargaining power with a terrific four-game performance, no Angel lost more value than Howie Kendrick. Other than his two-hit effort in Game Three, Kendrick was an offensive nonentity throughout the series, as he continually swung at (and missed) outside breaking balls, especially down and away. Kendrick also looked shaky in the field, getting mixed up with Torii Hunter in Game Three and botching a possible double-play ball in Game Four. He simply didn’t look like the player that the Angels have touted as their second baseman of the present and the future…

Sean Casey is a better hitter than Mark Kotsay, but the latter’s range at first base, along with the speed that he brings to the bottom of Boston’s lineup, make him a logical candidate to play first base against right-handers in the upcoming Championship Series. The tougher question for Francona is this: how does he configure his lineup against left-hander Scott Kazmir? Does he let Kotsay start against a southpaw, or does he move Youkilis back to first, slide Lowrie over to third, and let Alex Cora take shortstop? It might be the toughest question that Francona faces as he prepares for his return trip to the ALCS. 

Postseason Notebook–October 6, 2008

Despite a number of gaffes in the field and on the basepaths, and a continued inability to hit with runners in scoring position, the Angels find themselves alive in their Division Series against the Red Sox. In a series filled with talented position players on both sides of the field(Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter, and Chone Figgins for the Angels, and Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Jason Bay for the Red Sox), none has been as impressive as Mark Teixeira. He has hardly had a bad at-bat in the series, working the count masterfully and handling pitches both up and down in the strike zone. He has treated his first postseason experience in such a graceful, relaxed manner that he has actually increased his already high level of marketability this winter, when he becomes the cream of the free agent class. He may not get the ten-year contract that has been whispered, but he could come close, maybe eight years at better than $20 million a season…

Torii Hunter narrowly escaped becoming the goat of Game Three. His failure to take charge on Jacoby Ellsbury’s shallow fly between center field and second base allowed three runs to score, giving Boston an early 3-1 lead. Hunter also allowed a catchable fly ball to clang off his glove in Game Two, lending some credence to the belief that his reputation for sterling defense in center field is a tad overrated. Another Angel who has struggled is second baseman Howie Kendrick, who did pick up two hits in Game Three, but has otherwise looked clueless at the plate. Kendrick was supposed to be the next Bill Madlock for the Angels, but he has hit more like Jon Matlack…

In the National League, the Cubs certainly did not provide us with a representative display of their abilities in their three-game sweep at the hands of the re-charged Dodgers. But the series did underscore a Cub weakness; as good as they can be offensively, they are top-heavy from the right side, leaving them vulnerable to an opponent with good right-handed pitching like the Dodgers. With Jim Edmonds contemplating retirement and Kosuke Fukudome trying to scratch his way out of a second-half funk that put him firmly in Lou Piniella’s doghouse, the Cubs need a premier left-handed bat for their order. They have several options, one of which is free agent left fielder Adam Dunn, which would then force them to move Alfonso Soriano to center or right, or trade him. Another possibility would be dealing Soriano for a left-handed bat of similar ability, if the proper match can be found.