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Topsy Turvy
Tom Verducci
July 06, 1998
The Angels and Padres are up, and the Dodgers are down in a reversal of fortunes in Southern California
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July 06, 1998

Topsy Turvy

The Angels and Padres are up, and the Dodgers are down in a reversal of fortunes in Southern California

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An armed gunman walked into a sandwich shop last Thursday in the sublimely named Southern California town of Lemon Grove and swiped money out of the cash register. The perpetrator wore a purple suit set off by a yellow tie. How very SoCal. But that wasn't the area's worst fashion crime of the week.

The Anaheim Angels witnessed more severe indiscretions when they made an unprecedented seven-day tour of all three SoCal major league parks in the 137-mile 1-5 corridor. (That's as the crow, not the Lexus, flies.) Beginning on June 22, the Angels played two games in Anaheim against the Dodgers, two in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and three in San Diego against the Padres, who emerged from the unofficial tournament tied with the Atlanta Braves for the best record (53-29) in the National League. The Angels finished die week with a satisfying 4-3 mark—giving them 21 wins in a month for the first time in club history—while the Dodgers continued to stumble along three games under .500. In a reversal of traditional SoCal roles, San Diego and Anaheim cruised steadily in first place while Los Angeles lacked only a calliope to complete the circus atmosphere that has surrounded the Dodgers since Fox took over.

The team's spectacularly awkward makeover reached new fashion depths when Los Angeles debuted déclassé blue batting-practice shirts during the games it hosted against Anaheim. "I never thought I'd see the day when the Dodgers would wear anything but white," says Angels manager Terry Collins, who spent 14 years in the Dodgers' minor league organization.

It was only one of several bizarre changes by Fox that cast the Angels—the organization that in its 38 years of existence has changed names three times, uniforms six times and managers 22 times—as models of stability. The current Angels have more official team colors (seven, including periwinkle) than complete games.

The Padres committed their own fashion faux pas, though, unlike the Dodgers, they did so in good fun. San Diego opened its weekend series with the Angels last Friday with a Retro Night promotion. The first 1,000 fans wearing puka shell necklaces, bell bottoms or similar clothing and accessories from the '70s were admitted for $1, prompting mass confusion among ushers trying to tell the costumed customers from San Diego's groovy regulars. The Padres did their part by wearing '78 caps and shirts in the hideous combination of chocolate and mustard. Talk about bad taste.

"I turned on the TV and thought I was watching the Classic Sports Network," says Dave Winfield, one of the '78 Padres who visited Qualcomm Stadium last Saturday. "I was looking for myself when I saw Tony [Gwynn] and went, 'Whoa!' " Given the blue-plaid ensemble San Diego outfielder Greg Vaughn wore on a getaway day in Seattle three days earlier, the Winfield-era uniforms might not even have been the worst Padres suit of the week.

Appalling apparel aside, no one looked sharper than San Diego. The Padres took two out of three games from the Angels, giving them a 4-1 record against Anaheim and Los Angeles this year to go with a 7-2 mark against San Francisco. ("Do we get rings for being state champs?" Gwynn asked.) The team could have a losing record over the second half of the season and still break the franchise mark of 92 wins.

If the Padres and the Angels stay on track, two SoCal teams will reach the postseason together for only the second time. Until its trip to San Diego, Anaheim hadn't lost a series or back-to-back games in a month, despite a potentially ruinous spate of injuries. Even with the two losses to the Padres, it was a fine week to be an Angel, since it began with Anaheim taking three out of four games from its haughty neighbors to the north, the Dodgers, despite trailing in every game.

"I just want to win games, whoever they're against," Collins says. "But after those games were over, because of the way a lot of people think of the Angels as second-class citizens in Southern California, yeah, it made me proud of them. For a long time the Dodgers have been the standard everyone else looked up to."

No more. In a four-day span they hired a manager who was 27-41 in the minors this year (Glenn Hoffman); a 70-year-old Machiavellian general manager (Tommy Lasorda) who approved the firing of his own godson's father (bullpen coach Mark Cresse); a pitching coach (Charlie Hough) whose expertise is the knuckleball, which none of his pitchers throw; and a bullpen coach (John Shelby) who has been neither a pitcher nor a catcher for even a single day in his professional life. Perhaps worse than shelving the classic Dodgers uniforms was the sight of a convicted felon (junk bond maven, unofficial Fox honcho and Lasorda crony Michael Milken) yanking the microphone out of the hand of gentlemanly Hall of Famer Vin Scully during a television interview. The Fox bloodletting has claimed manager Bill Russell; general manager Fred Claire; players Hideo Nomo, Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile; and coaches Cresse, Goose Gregson and Reggie Smith—who collectively represent 124 years of service in the Dodgers organization.

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