A few days ago while in my basement fixing some plumbing, I came across a heavy box of magazines I had for some reason saved. I knew the box was there because I've moved about 4 times (once across country) and I remember hauling it down there. It probably would still be in my basement if it weren't for the leaking kitchen drain, as the pipe was dripping onto the box and I had to move it to fix the leak. I got curious as to the contents of this box and considering it was pretty flimsy from getting wet, I decided to go through it a see if there was anything worth keeping. The box contained all of the baseball magazines I had bought from 1989 until 1995. Apparently I'm a pack-rat. Some of the magazines were soaked and ruined, but most received just a small amount of water damage with the biggest flaw being a weird smell.
Before the internet, these types of magazines were about the only place to get baseball information for teams from other cities. Each year I'd buy a Street & Smiths, The Sporting News Yearbook, Athlon Sports and various fantasy baseball magazines and I'd spend my free time devouring the information each contained. I hadn't bought one of these magazines in a long time until this year...and that was by accident. I was at the mall with my family and I didn't feel like walking around looking at stuff we couldn't afford so I bought a Athlon Sports Baseball Preview at Barnes & Noble and read it while my wife shopped. What I noticed about this magazine was the news seemed old. The internet has spoiled me with its up-to-the-minute updates and breaking news coverage, making these printed outlets seem dated. It was interesting to read some of the team outlooks, but obviously they lacked the latest signing (it did have Brian Fuentes as the Angels closer, so it wasn't too bad). But in 1989, there was no other place to get this type of coverage and I looked forward to each magazine's release.
I thought it might be interesting to go through some of these issues to see what they had written regarding the Angels. Most of the issues cover an era during which the Angels weren't very good, but it'd still be interesting to go back and re-live previous pre-seasons outlooks.
From the 1989 Street & Smith's team preview of the California Angels -
"The Angels take pride in their home-grown infield of Wally Joyner, Mark McLemore, Dick Schofield, and Jack Howell, but the unit has to become more involved in run production...second baseman McLemore (.240, 2, 16) was injured, benched, and finally returned to the minors. Shortstop Schofield committed just 13 errors, but may be on his last Angel legs off another sub-par offensive year (.239, 6, 34). Third baseman Howell (.254, 63 RBI) hit 16 homers in his first season as a regular after 23 as a part-timer in '87. He struck out 130 times in 500 at-bats."
Sounds kind of familiar to the 2008/2009 version of the Angels home-grown infield - an injured second baseman, a good fielding / no-hitting shortstop (actually, Aybar isn't too bad with the bat), and a rookie third baseman with power potential who strikes out a lot. The only thing missing in the '89 infield was a rookie first baseman. The '89 version did have the 1986 rookie of the year runner-up, Wally Joyner who would lead the team with 30 HR and finish second on the club with 79 RBI. Johnny Ray ended up playing the most games at second base (McLemore finished the season with just 103 at-bats due to shin splints if I remember correctly). Howell and Schofield both hit a terrible .228. Although Howell struck out 125 times, he did hit 20 HR which was third on the team. Schofield managed to get on base less than 30% of the time and slug just .318. Needless to say, the infield was a mess.
"The outfield can only get better defensively. Right fielder Chili Davis led the team in RBIs (93) in his first season in the American League but made 19 errors. Converted from second base, Johnny Ray had great difficulty in left field and may end up back at second now that ex-Yankee Claudell Washington has signed. Devon White is coming off and off year from arthroscopic knee surgery in May."
Chili Davis ended up in left field, Washington started 91 games in right and Devon White played 152 games in center field. The magazine was right in stating Ray would probably move back to second base (see above). 1989 was the only full season Claudell Washington played in Anaheim as he traded back to the Yankees (with Rich Monteleone) in 1990 for Luis Polonia. Washington hit a decent .273/.319/.428, while Chili Davis became a fan-favorite hitting 22 home runs, leading the Angels with 90 RBI and hitting .271/.340/.436 (120 OBS+). The on-base percentage black hole was Devon White. Although he made the all-star team in '89 primarily based on his 44 stolen bases, White managed to compile a microscopic OBP of .282. What made this awful OBP even worse was White led the team with 636 at-bats. How bad was the offense? No Angel with more than 60 at-bats hit higher than .290 and with the exception of Brian Downing, no regular had an OBP higher than .340.
But guess what? The Angels finished the season with a 91-71 record, just eight games behind the eventual World Series winning Oakland A's.
"The Angels are hoping Blyleven will respond to the proximity of home 10 minutes from Anaheim...Kirk McCaskill is the key to California's turnaround...At 28, he's just entering his peak years...Chuck Finley is the only left-handed starter. He seems on the brink of stardom, especially if he finds his control...his goal is complete games"
The 1989 Angels were led by pitching, having four starters with double-digit wins and three with sub-3.00 ERAs. At 38 years-old, Bert Blyleven had one of his best seasons for the Angels in 1989. He led the club in wins (17) and IP (241) while compiling an ERA of 2.73. McCaskill wasn't the key to the turnaround, but he was a big part winning 15 games and having an ERA of 2.93. Street & Smith's was right about Chuck Finley being on the brink of stardom. Finley made his first all-star team appearance in '89 and while his control didn't get much better, he led the Halos in strike outs (156) and ERA (2.57) while adding in 16 wins. I thought it was interesting that Finley's goal was to have more complete games. I think if you asked any of the starters on this year's staff about their goals for the season, none would even mention complete games. Rookie Jim Abbott had 12 wins in 29 starts without pitching an inning in the minor leagues. The Angels pitching staff was among the league leaders in ERA (2nd), wins (3rd), complete games (1st), shutouts (1st), hits allowed (3rd), runs allowed (2nd), home runs allowed (5th), walks allowed (4th) and strike outs (5th).
"Bryan Harvey will be brought along slowly following the removal of a loose fragment in his arm. He needs more setup help. The club hopes it will be provided by Sherm Corbett, who gained control at Double A Midland. Greg Minton did his best last season, but he's 37. Stu Cliburn is still around as is DeWayne Buice."
The Angel bullpen was led by Bryan Harvey and his 25 saves, but 37 year-olds Greg Minton (2.20 ERA, 90 IP) and Bob McClure (1.55 ERA, 52.1 IP) had solid seasons setting up Harvey. Sherm Corbett pitched just 5.1 innings, DeWayne Buice was traded to Toronto in March of '89, and Stew Cliburn never pitched in the majors after 1988.
Angels top salaries in 1989:
Chili Davis - $1,475,000
Mike Witt - $1,400,000
Brian Downing - $1,250,000
Bert Blyleven - $1,225,000
Lance Parrish - $1,000,000
It's interesting how much the game has changed in just 20 years, but it's also interesting to see how many things are similar with the '89 Angels and the present day team. The home-grown infield with its heath issues and rookie questions, the importance of outfield defense, and reliance on pitching. The '89 Angels finished the season with 91 wins. I think many fans in 2009 will be very happy if this year's team can match that total.