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BASEBALL
Tim Kurkjian
May 21, 1990
FALLEN ANGELS
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May 21, 1990

Baseball

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FALLEN ANGELS

Last Saturday, Angel manager Doug Rader slid his cap over his eyes and said, "I've never been so unsettled for this long in my life. From the first day of spring training—it stinks. I hate it."

At week's end, California—a team that some observers thought would win 100 games this season—was 12-20, had lost nine of its last 11 games and had fallen 11 games behind the American League West-leading Oakland Athletics. What's more, outfielder Dave Winfield, whom the Angels thought they had acquired from the Yankees on Friday, was, as he put it, in his "cab to limbo." New York neglected to clear the deal with him before announcing it. That angered Winfield, who as a 10-and-five player (10 seasons in the majors, the last five with the same team) has the right to reject any trade. However, there is an ambiguous clause in his contract that requires him to list seven teams each season that he either would consider being traded to or had authorized the Yankees to trade him to—depending on how one reads the clause. California was one of the teams Winfield had listed this year. Yet as of Monday he had refused to report to the Angels. An arbitrator was expected to decide this week where and when Winfield, who is no longer on the Yankees' roster, will play next.

The Angels, of course, hope it's in Anaheim. And soon. They have already called up reliever Cliff Young to replace pitcher Mike Witt, whom they sent to the Yankees in exchange for Winfield. California's 1990 plan didn't include dipping into the minors for pitching talent. Then again, it didn't call for a truncated exhibition season. "When we left spring training, the pitching wasn't right," says Rader. "We weren't in sync. No one was sure what he could do."

And no one has done much. The Angels are praying that Winfield, 38, not only reports but also becomes the standout player he was before missing last season because of back surgery. Angels general manager Mike Port says Winfield "was a great player, and he still may be a great player."

Winfield's performance so far this season (.213 average, two homers and six RBIs) isn't encouraging. But the Angels need him more for his leadership than for his bat. Until Saturday, when pitcher Bert Blyleven went into a tirade following a 7-1 loss to the Red Sox, nobody on the Angels had shown much emotion. It was as if everybody had already written off the season.

"One guy can't turn this——team around," said Blyleven, referring to Winfield. "Maybe he can breathe some life into our offense. Our offense is going through the motions. We don't even do batting practice right. For the first time in 20 years, I feel like I have to pitch a shutout to win. I'm tired of losing. But until everyone gets tired, we're going to keep losing."

In the off-season, Rader had hoped that free agent Robin Yount would be supplying California with, among other things, an injection of leadership this year. But Yount re-signed with the Brewers, leaving Rader with essentially the same everyday lineup that he had last October. And it has become clear that the 1989 Angels (91-71) played to their max and that the '90 Angels were overrated. Says Rader, "Every year you have to make a significant addition to your team, a personality change, or it will be virtually impossible to duplicate what you did the year before."

With Yount's return to Milwaukee, this season's significant addition became free agent pitcher Mark Langston, whom the Angels signed to a five-year, $16 million contract in December. But as of Sunday, he was 2-3 with a 3.46 ERA and had allowed 16 walks in his last 20 innings. Recently, California fans have begun to chant "What a thrill, 16 mil" when he pitches.

The Angels' woes extend far beyond Langston's mediocre performance. Blyleven, 17-5 last year, was 1-3 with a 5.21 ERA at week's end, and relievers Greg Minton and Bob McClure had been limited to a combined 6? innings because of injuries. The pitching staff allowed five or more runs 15 times in the first 32 games, and it had only one complete game. Last year it led the American League with 32.

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