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Angels In Full Flight
Ron Fimrite
October 04, 1982
The big names were on top of things as California swept Kansas City to take command in the AL West
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October 04, 1982

Angels In Full Flight

The big names were on top of things as California swept Kansas City to take command in the AL West

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Another Angel with something to prove is Downing. "I came to spring training with no job security," he says. He was but one of four aspirants for the leftfield job—the others were Tom Brunansky (since traded to Minnesota), Bobby Clark and Juan Beniquez—and, as a former catcher who hit only .249 in 1981, he wasn't even the favorite. Downing had only begun playing the outfield on a semi regular basis last season (56 games), and he had done so reluctantly. But when the Angels purchased Bob Boone from Philadelphia last December, Downing threw away his shin guards. "I knew that Boone could do much more than I could in leading the team," Downing says. "He was the type of catcher we needed. I always looked on myself as more of an offensive player, so I made the adjustment and moved to the outfield. I didn't even report with the catchers this year. I don't think like a catcher anymore. I don't even own a cup. I stay completely away from the pitching situation." Downing figures that as an outfielder he is stronger at bat, an opinion borne out by his .280 average, 104 runs scored, 28 homers and 83 RBIs.

But the biggest change in the Angels has been brought on by the new men—Boone, Jackson, DeCinces and Tim Foli, a journeyman who started the year as a utility infielder but became the regular shortstop in the second week of the season when Rick Burleson was felled by a rotator cuff injury. "Foli saved our butts," says Downing. DeCinces, traded west from Baltimore for Dan Ford, has a career-high 97 RBIs and a batting average of .302. And he has fielded brilliantly. At Baltimore he played third base in the shadow of living-legend Brooks Robinson. "I never felt it consciously," he says of the shadow, "but I did feel a certain release when I got here. Everything seemed so good. Then when we played Baltimore and I went out on that field again, I felt this pressure. I found myself saying to myself, 'Now, don't make any mistakes.' Subconsciously, I must have always felt that pressure."

DeCinces likes practically everything about the Angels. "This is a team with so many great individual ballplayers, and yet everyone is pulling for everyone else," he says. "When you're playing with so many stars you can be more relaxed. You can be your own player because you know that there is more than one guy here to carry the load. And we all have so much admiration and respect for each other. We came out of spring training molded. This is a team of professionals, men of character and sophistication."

And they're appreciated. Last Wednesday's crowd of 51,273 brought home attendance in Anaheim to an American League record of 2,672,377, breaking the Yankees' 1980 record of 2,627,417; the Angels anticipate that more than 100,000 will turn out when they return home this weekend to conclude the regular season with three games against Texas.

Autry's not the only beneficiary of the Angels' record ticket revenues. When Jackson signed his $3.6 million, four-year deal last winter, he also negotiated an "attendance clause" whereby he'd receive 50 cents for every spectator once the Angels reached 2.4 million. His haul so far: $136,188.50.

The Angels and the Dodgers, who play only about 30 miles apart, together will attract well over six million fans. Toss in San Diego and the attendance total for Southern California approaches eight million. "No reason why we shouldn't draw," Autry says. "With all the stars we've got, it's like putting Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne up on the same marquee."

The Anaheim fans, who have added beach-ball tossing in the stands to their divertissements, were treated to some furious baseball in the Kansas City series. Too furious in the eyes of some Royals. In the seventh inning of the Wednesday game White stretched to accept a force throw at second base from Washington, who had fielded Beniquez' ground ball in the hole between third and short. A double play was out of the question, and White, positioned much as a first baseman, received Washington's throw with his right foot pressed against the bag, his right leg extended. Jackson, coming from first, slid hard into the bag and across White's foot. White was obviously hurt and jawed at Jackson, as did First Baseman Greg Pryor. Both benches cleared but nothing happened.

Jackson, meanwhile, had unaccountably picked up White's cap. As he trotted off the field after the fracas, he tossed the cap into the box seats, further enraging White. Jackson left the game the following inning for defensive purposes, and the limping White left in the same inning for a pinch hitter. Jackson walked down the hall to the Royals' clubhouse to seek out White and tell him that he had meant him no physical harm. That seemed to be the end of it. But not quite.

White was unable to play in the Royals' subsequent three-game series at Oakland, and though he is normally a gentle and soft-spoken man, he was visibly upset. Jackson's "unnecessary" takeout play was keeping him out of the pennant race. "My foot feels like a brick," White said on Friday, two days after the injury. "It's sprained. Yes, Reggie came into the clubhouse afterward, but I did not accept his apology. That ball was hit in the hole. Reggie's been in the game long enough to know the difference between a double play and a force out. He ran right into my leg. I told him, 'Reggie, you could've ended my career.' Then he takes my hat and flips it into the stands, adding insult to injury. I wish the Angels would clean up their act. If we all played that way, there wouldn't be anybody left to play this game. Reggie used to be one of my favorite players. I don't hate him now. I'm just disappointed. I've lost respect for him. I've never been hit in a situation like that before. That wasn't just a hard slide. I think Reggie was just looking for attention. He likes that spotlight. He always knows where the camera is. He hadn't been doing much with the bat, so he just needed some attention. I like to be in games that really mean something, and these do, but I guess I should be thankful I don't have a broken leg."

The Wednesday loss was the Royals' seventh in a row. On Friday night they broke the abysmal streak with a 7-4 win over the A's. But this was a Pyrrhic victory—Otis reinjured a groin muscle, Lee May reinjured a hamstring pull and Hal McRae, the major league leader in RBIs, fouled a pitch off his left shin. They all joined White on the bench on Saturday, and the Royals, beset with injuries as few teams have ever been, lost to the A's 10-3. On Sunday Oakland won again, 5-4. In all, K.C. lost eight games on its nine-game road trip, the last, mercifully, of the season.

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