The likelihood that the Angels would trade for McGwire was diminished by a rather startling development: Overachieving Anaheim had won 12 of its last 13 games through Sunday. "We're not going to shake up the core of this team when they've been playing real good baseball for a month," Angels president Tony Tavares said. "Why give up the boat now?"
Indeed, Anaheim was the hottest team in baseball, giving its part-owners, the Disney Co., another feel-good summer hit. At week's end, the Angels trailed first-place Seattle by only a half game in the American League West, thanks to a true team effort. No Angel had hit as many as 20 homers and only one had knocked in 70 or more runs. "You see stars like Ken Griffey Jr., and we don't have that," manager Terry Collins says. "We have a bunch of guys with 40 RBIs and a few with 10 homers, and what that tells me is that different players have stepped up and come through when we've needed them."
On the pitching side Anaheim is getting such effective performances from starters Jason Dickson, Chuck Finley, Dennis Springer and Allen Watson that the Angels are experimenting with a four-man rotation, at least until Mark Langston returns from the disabled list in August. The pitchers have been aided by stellar defense, especially from Jim Edmonds, who has made some spectacular catches in centerfield.
Anaheim's fortunes began to improve on May 18, the day the Angels acquired Tony Phillips in a trade with the White Sox. Before Phillips arrived Anaheim was 20-19 and misusing Darin Erstad in the leadoff spot. Since then the Angels had gone 34-24, scoring a half run more per game with Phillips at the top of the order and Erstad batting second.
Phillips was a member of the 1995 Angels, who had an 11-game lead on Aug. 9 and eventually lost a one-game playoff to the Mariners, and he is one of many on the club who are motivated by that experience. "Seattle came back and got us that year, so why can't we return the favor?" he says. "My mind isn't set on the wild card. It's set on payback."
Front Office Flap
As stunning as last week's firing of Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine appeared to be—New York had the fourth-best record in the National League at the time—perhaps it should not have been a complete shock. According to team sources, co-owner Fred Wilpon had been unhappy with McIlvaine's work habits almost since the day McIlvaine, who was in the Mets front office for 10 years before going to the Padres as general manager in 1990, was rehired in '93. One source says Wilpon wanted to fire McIlvaine earlier this season, but only in the past few weeks did he persuade co-owner Nelson Doubleday that McIlvaine was ill-suited to his job. Steve Phillips, McIlvaine's 34-year-old assistant, replaced him.
"Joe had no interest in doing the kind of executive work that goes along with the job," one source told SI. "He's a scout's scout." Said another source, "He was told [to change], but it never got any better."
For instance McIlvaine rarely traveled with the Mets; he resisted Wilpon's urging to carry a cellular phone; and he disliked Wilpon's penchant for holding front-office conference calls about once every two weeks. One time this season the Mets could not locate McIlvaine when they needed to make a roster move because of an injury. According to a source, Phillips made the roster move and McIlvaine "read about it in the next day's paper. It didn't bother him."
McIlvaine set his travel schedule—much of which was devoted to minor league scouting—at the start of the season and adhered strictly to it. "He was almost obsessive-compulsive that way," a source said. "If he happened to be traveling from Port St. Lucie [home of both the Mets' Class A and rookie league teams in Florida] to Kingsport [home of their other rookie team, in Tennessee] when Fred wanted a conference call, he wouldn't change his schedule. Joe is the kind of guy who would rather watch a minor league game than be with the major league team."