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Steve Wulf
September 01, 1980
While Kansas City charges to the playoffs and George Brett challenges .400, the rest of the American League West is fighting to survive
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September 01, 1980

How The West Was Lost

While Kansas City charges to the playoffs and George Brett challenges .400, the rest of the American League West is fighting to survive

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Those are all good alibis. But, as Milwaukee scout Walter Shannon says, "Injuries should hurt a club, they shouldn't collapse it. It has to be more than injuries." Owner Gene Autry suspects the same thing. The Singing Cowboy finally took a hot branding iron to his team after seven weeks of having the worst record in baseball. "Some of our pitchers don't have any guts," said Autry. "Some of our players have given up. We've had all those injuries, but the problems go deeper. There are times I've felt like calling up Salt Lake City and letting the minor-leaguers finish the season. At least they would get their uniforms dirty."

The players have taken to sniping at each other. "Defensively," says Pitcher Frank Tanana, "we stink." The team even blamed some of its woes on the Angel Ape, a guy in a gorilla suit who began to show up at games early this year. "All I know is, we started losing when he arrived," said Baylor. "Why blame me?" said the Ape, Joe Badame. "I'm not on the pitching staff."

Like an outfielder who uses his speed to outrun his mistakes, the Angels for years have been using money to cover up bad judgment. Last spring Nolan Ryan asked for a $2.2 million contract, but General Manager Buzzie Bavasi and Autry decided to wait him out. After Ryan took $4.5 million from the Astros, Bavasi had to go out and buy Kison for $2.5 million. He laughed off Ryan's defection by saying, "All I have to do is get two 8-7 pitchers." Chuckle. So far this year, the most wins by any Angel starter is seven. California could use Ryan's 280-innings-a-year durability, not to mention his 9-8 Astro record.

Take the California shortstops, please. Freddie Patek was given a three-year contract for $555,000. He looked like a million in one game against Boston, hitting three homers and driving in seven runs, but as of August the 35-year-old shortstop had been replaced by 38-year-old Bert Campaneris. Together they've made 26 errors, a lot considering their diminished range. In the past two years the Angels have traded away three young shortstops, Todd Cruz, Jim Anderson and Rance Mulliniks. Mulliniks went to Kansas City along with Willie Mays Aikens for Al Cowens. The Angels traded Aikens because they already had a left-handed-hitting first baseman in Rod Carew, and Baylor's best position is DH. But after two months they gave up on Cowens and traded him to Detroit for, you guessed it, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, Jason Thompson.


Manager Pat Corrales was sitting at his desk in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium not long ago, trying to make sense out of a 2-1 loss to New York's Rudy May. "I don't get it," he said. "We score eight runs off Tommy John one night, then get beat by a spot starter tonight. I can't figure out this whole season." At one point in his soliloquy, Corrales stopped to chide his son, Jason, a team bat boy, for putting on a sweat sock that had almost as many holes as his team. "Fregosi and I are close friends, but we haven't talked about this season yet," Corrales said. "He's got his problems and I've got mine. At least I don't have a bad stomach."

The Rangers' biggest problem has been the bullpen, where Jim Kern has gone from 13-5 last season to 3-11 and the disabled list this year. Sparky Lyle was unable to take up the slack, and Corrales has only recently begun to rely on Danny Darwin and John Henry Johnson. His aged starters have been adequate, but none has been a stopper.

Like the Angels, the Rangers have a quaint shortstop, Bud Harrelson, 36. They lured him out of retirement when Nelson Norman couldn't cut it, and Harrelson gave them inspired play until he got hurt. The job then fell to Pepe Frias, with Catcher Dave Roberts as his backup. Frias distinguished himself against California on May 28 by spiking the ball on what he thought was the third out. In fact, it was the second out, and his mistake let the winning run score. Obviously, not a positive situation. The Rangers are constantly reminded they once traded away Roy Smalley.

In fact, Brad Corbett, the former owner, traded away a lot of good young players. In 1975 he sent Smalley and Pitcher Jim Gideon to Minnesota for Bert Blyleven. It was bad enough giving up Smalley, but the trade haunted the Rangers for years because every time his front-office people tried to talk Corbett out of trading away a prospect, he would say, "You told me not to trade Gideon, too, and he's out of baseball now." As a result, the Rangers let go young pitching prospects like Len Barker, Dave Righetti, Mike Griffin and Paul Mirabella.

But there are very few signs that things have changed under new president Eddie Chiles. The Rangers decided to take the names off the backs of the players' uniforms because that would save $7,000. This kind of thinking will surely doom Texas to mediocrity. And sooner or later, probably sooner, the Rangers will give up on Corrales. "It happens to all of us," Corrales was saying that night at Yankee Stadium. Left open on his desk was a popular spy novel that Pitcher Doc Medich had recommended to him. "This whole season's been a mystery," the manager said.

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