"The race in the West," said Fregosi after last week's three disheartening losses to the A's, one a 4-2 affair in 13 innings, "will be close all year. No one is going to run away with it. We have fine spirit, the best in all my years here. We all think we can win it. Sure, we have to go out and do it."
The average age of the Angel team is 26, and the man who assembled it, 45-year-old General Manager Dick Walsh, will come out either charmer or curt curmudgeon (take your pick, everybody else does) no matter how the season goes. Walsh, who has been called, among other things. The Smiling Python, used to be with the Los Angeles Dodgers. As their director of stadium operations, he helped make Dodger Stadium one of the finest, cleanest and best-run arenas in the world. In 1966 he became commissioner of the United Soccer Association, but returned to baseball when Owners Bob Reynolds and Gene Autry offered him the general managership of the Angels two years ago.
"When I was general manager of the Dodgers," says Buzzie Bavasi, "I used to let Dick negotiate some of our player contracts and he was involved in some of the discussions we had about trades. He learned baseball from the ground up in the Dodger farm system and was very good on details. He is a stable, honest man and he has made some good trades for the Angels. I wrote him last season to tell him I thought he and Lefty Phillips had done the best job in baseball. If Dick ever made a mistake when he was working for the Dodgers, it was this: he would say the thing everybody knew was correct, but that nobody wanted to hear."
By adding Ken Berry, Tony Conigliaro and Catcher Jerry Moses to the Angels over the winter, Walsh has fielded a team with only one front-line player, other than pitchers, who was developed in the California farm system. (Seven of Oakland's regulars are homegrown, as are five of the Twins'.)
But for all the newness at Anaheim, the freshest development in the West is Oakland's lefthander, Vida Blue. Called up late last season, Blue hit a home run in his first start, pitched a one-hitter in his second and a no-hitter against Minnesota in his fourth. Blue, who is from Mansfield, La., is a baseball rarity, a pitcher who has taken the time to learn to switch-hit, a talent that will keep him in games when other pitchers are being lifted for pinch hitters. He is also cool. Following a postgame television show last week he was congratulated on how well he had performed before the cameras. "Well, I'm not Sidney Poitier yet," he said. One thing he just might be, although it is absurdly early to make such predictions, is something of a black Koufax. Like Sandy Koufax, he strikes out lots of batters when he pops his fastball.
According to the observant Bando, "Vida has unlimited potential. He's the best lefthander in the league right now outside of Sam McDowell. He can throw the ball past good hitters. And he has a good curveball that he should throw more often. And he has an excellent attitude. He listens!"
Oakland's quick break from the gate has stirred interest throughout the American League. And the new, new California Angels, who won over Baltimore on Saturday night with a grand-slam homer by Roger Repoz, are drawing pleasantly large crowds to Anaheim. Now only Oakland fans have to be convinced. Maybe Dick Williams should talk to them. He gets action.