The 100 Greatest Angels: # 1 Tim Salmon

#1 Tim Salmon, RF, DH

Career Stats

The Chronicler and I compared Angel rankings in Early November and thus started this Top 100 Angels list (we both selected Tim #1, btw). Many people assisted in writing up particular Angels and commenting on the selections. None was more crucial to the success of this top #100 series than Rob McMillin.

So to discuss our #1 Angel of All Time, I present Rob McMillin and The Chronicler...

Rob McMillin of the 6-4-2 Southern California Baseball Blog gives us the Tim Salmon story...

Tim Salmon, "Mr. Angel", started his professional career with a fizzle: after slugging 15 home runs and 60 RBIs with Arizona's Grand Canyon University in 1989, Salmon figured he'd be a first-round draft pick. Instead, he fell to the third round, and the Angels failed to contact him until the ninth round, leaving Salmon to wonder just how low he'd gone. He signed almost immediately, and started with low class-A Bend, Oregon, in the Northwest League that same year. There he hit an undistinguished .245/.357/.418 -- and took a fastball right to the nose. He earned a promotion to high class-A Palm Springs in 1990 -- where another pitch hit him square in the face, shattering his jaw and forcing him to spend seven weeks with his mouth wired shut.

Despite those setbacks, the Angels continued to push their prospect, and he got yet another promotion, this time to AA Midland in the Texas League. There, he lived in the shadow of teammate Mark Howie, who in 1991 posted Texas League records for hits and batting average. But by 1992, promoted yet again to AAA Edmonton, Salmon overcame his high strikeout rate and proceeded to tear up the league, hitting 23 homers with an impressive .370 on base percentage. His minor league numbers would eventually win Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award, and the papers started wondering aloud when he'd get his callup to an Angels team almost completely bereft of offense. After several false starts, he finally got it on August 21, in the opening game of a three-game series against the Yankees. He popped up, struck out twice, and walked -- in the cleanup spot.

The next day, he singled.

On the third day, he got his first big-league homer, driving in three.

The Kingfish was on his way, though he didn't do so well that year, ending his first major league season with an anemic .177 average. He made up for it the next year, blasting through the league with a .283/.382/.536 line, with 31 homers and 95 RBIs, and garnering a Rookie of the Year award by unanimous vote. Proving he wasn't a one-year wonder, he put up similar rate stats (.287/.382/.536) in the strike-abbreviated 1994, but really caught fire in '95, ending the season with a .330 average, and clubbing 34 homers. He was, as Bill James described him, an "old-fashioned hard-hat kind of player, good arm, not too much speed, works hard and rarely goes into a slump."

When James wrote those words in 2000, he also predicted Salmon would hit another 200 homers. You can certainly excuse him for thinking that; after all, Salmon was still fairly young, only 31 at the time, and with a track record of precocious and steady hitting. The Angels thought so, too, but their prize slugger -- the best offensive player the team's farm system had ever developed, and the franchise leader in home runs -- had doubts about the club's direction under new GM Bill Stoneman and new manager Mike Scioscia. With his free agency looming after 2001, Salmon entertained thoughts of becoming a Diamondback, but after mulling it over briefly, he accepted a four-year, $40 million extension from the Angels in early 2001.

But James's prediction of a near-Hall-of-Fame career for Salmon never materialized, a shortcoming that became almost immediately apparent. For the first time since becoming a full-time major leaguer (in a non-strike year), Salmon failed to play in 140 or more games. It was the weakest full-season performance of his career, brought on partly by the effects of offseason shoulder and foot surgeries, and a spring training groin injury. Though Salmon was a notoriously slow starter even in good years (career .256 hitter in April), by May 20, Scioscia had seen enough. With the Kingfish hitting a piddling .203 (and a paltry .060 with runners in scoring position), Scioscia bumped Salmon to batting third, where he stayed for most of the rest of the year. But neither repeated lineup changes, bench time, visits to Dr. Lewis Yocum, nor anything else broke his slump. Salmon finished his awful 2001 with a .227 average and only 17 homers, his worst season since his 1999, when a wrist sprain cost him nearly all of May and June; the injury followed him into 2001, and may have partly explained his woes.

But regardless of the cause, Disney was concerned about their expensive star who suddenly looked like an albatross. Fans -- for the most part, quietly, remembering season after season of 30+ home runs -- groused about Salmon's performance, especially after his public reticence staying with the team the offseason before. It didn't help that Darin Erstad and Mo Vaughn also had years marred by injury, leading to an abysmal 75-87, third place finish.

Like the rest of the team, he got off to a dreadful start in 2002; by April 9, after seven games, he was hitting a miserable .125. He didn't clear the Mendoza Line -- a .200 batting average -- until May 10, when he started a burst of three multi-hit games in four, part of an eight-game streak that brought his average to a respectable .250. The Tim Salmon of old had returned, and the Angels' fortunes turned on it. Despite being hit by a pitch on the left hand in an August 10 contest, an injury which put him on the DL for nearly a month, the Kingfish finished strong with a .286/.380/.503 line, winning The Sporting News's Comeback Player of the Year award.

Salmon's 2002 postseason was a thing of beauty. He clubbed a pair of homers against the Yanks, including a two-run shot in ALDS Game 3 that put the Angels ahead for good, and collected an RBI single in the miraculous eight-run fifth inning of the clinching Game 4 that put the Angels ahead. Probably Salmon's most memorable moment, though, was his two-homer Game 2 in the World Series, a slugfest that saw six balls go over the fence. The first one, straight down the left field line, Salmon practically had to will fair a la Carlton Fisk. Salmon's second, though, was the biggest, giving the Angels the lead for good. No active player had waited longer to be in the postseason, and he was making the most of it. The dugout "was like a mosh pit," Salmon recalled after the game. "I wanted to go over there and crush everybody."

Salmon's 2003 was good, but his age had started to show with a significant reduction in his power numbers, hitting only 19 home runs in 148 games. He had become a half-time DH, and by 2004, age, recurring knee injuries, and the offseason acquisition of Vlad Guerrero forced him into a dedicated DH role. Missing all of May to the injury, new troubles with his rotator cuff and biceps tendon put him on the DL for good in late August; rehabs from multiple surgeries prevented him from playing at all in 2005.

Salmon became a free agent and signed a minor league contract with the Angels in December, 2005, with a stipulation that he be released by March 22 if he doesn't make the team. I don't know of an Angels fan who isn't pulling for him to be on the 25-man roster. Godspeed, Kingfish: a first-rate player and a class act in a time when both were at a premium.

A Halos Heaven Thanks to Rob.

And now it's...The Chronicler on Tim:

Tim Salmon in Ten Images:

1. Do you remember how good a defender he used to be when he came up? He had good range, a great arm - he was good going back on the ball, and made an art form out of the sliding catch on sinking bloopers.

2. He was a smart baserunner, too. He was never all that fast, but he could take an extra base like nobody's business, and would go first-to-third pretty often.

3. April 4, 1997, the Indians lead the Angels 6-4. It's the bottom of the eleventh. The Angels load the bases - Tim Salmon steps to the plate: grand slam. Angels win.

4. Why did Mark Langston cut off his throw home? You know what game I'm talking about.

5. June 17, 1997, the first interleague match-up between the Angels and Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers have a guy on third, fly ball to right - Timmy makes the catch and throws a bullet on a line to home, holding the runner. I think it was this game, because I remember being there, but this is something he used to do all the time.

6. I have no idea who this was against, but I remember Timmy driving a guy home with some relatively weak groundball or blooper or something, and actually being upset with himself when he got to first base.

7. I remember being a little sad in the late nineties when I realized Salmon was just a bit slower going back on balls than he used to be.

8. I still wish I had written Tim a letter of support when his wife was diagnosed with cancer.

9. I was there for this: Game 5 of the 2002 ALCS, and its aftermath, with Tim Salmon happily carting the AL trophy around the warning track, holding it up for us jubilant fans. No one on Earth was more deserving of that victory lap.

10. World Series, Game 2. The score is 8-8. Tim Salmon tomahawks a two-run homer to left. The Curtain Call: jubilant and triumphant, as Tim raises his helmet and shouts to the screaming crowd. My eyes tear up just thinking about it.

Read more of The Chronicler at his Chronicles of the Lads blog.

Thanks to each and every contributor and reader for making this project yield us all an enriching and fun offseason.

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