What I Learned From Reading Tim Salmon's New Book

So in case you haven't heard, the Number One all-time Angel has a new book out, co-written with Rob Goldman, called Always an Angel: Playing the Game With Fire and Faith. I read it in two quick gulps over the weekend, and thought I'd help you decide whether you want to shell out the $13.57.

Is it good? It's an endearingly and appropriately modest, humble, dirt-free book. It deepens, and does not change, the way you probably think of Tim Salmon and the team already. If you found Goldman's Once They Were Angels book to be useful, you'll probably like this book.

There aren't too many team histories that take us successfully from the early '90s wilderness/rebuilding years to the late-'90s promise/disappointment years to the 2002 magic and the Moreno era, and there are some mild insights to all of that. Ballplayer autobiographies are not a particularly scintillating genre -- I found Matt McCarthy's minor league memoir Odd Men Out a much more interesting and revealing read, for example -- but if you care about Tim Salmon, and/or are an Angels obsessive, there are worse ways to spend 14 bucks.

What did I learn/re-learn about Tim Salmon? Guess I kinda-sorta forgot that he was beaned twice in the minors, once very seriously, and overcoming that was part of his professional creation myth. Did I know his brother played for the San Francisco 49ers? Probably, but I had forgotten. I knew he was a Long Beach kid born in 1968 (as am I on both counts), but I guess I assumed he'd been an Angel fan, instead of a Dodger fan. Oh well! I didn't know that Garret Anderson is "as good a friend" as he "ever had in baseball." And I had no idea the emotional/physical depths he plummeted during his awful 2001 season. You get a peek, and only that, into the brutally competitive drive and tunnel vision that motivated the Salmon boys as they bounced around from town to town in the Southwest, not always in the most ideal family circumstances.

What did I learn about the team? This and that. The hat on David Eckstein's head during the World Series celebration belonged to Gene Autry, and was there because Salmon was looking for a way to appropriately honor the Cowboy (he is very much like that). Salmon reveals that in the 9th inning of Game 7, he saw Jackie Autry and her entourage heading up the tunnel toward the dugout, and acted quickly & decisively to make sure they didn't make it there to jinx the situation. There's also a nice little anecdote about the pre-game chapel session that day.

For me, this was the biggest single reveal (which says more about me than Tim Salmon):

An interesting thing happened to me one year in spring training. I had a conversation with our then-manager Terry Collins and outfield instructor Sam Suplizio. They asked for my opinion. "We have a lot of outfielders here, and we're thinking about making a deal to trade one of them. Who would you trade?" At the time, Garret had spent only about a half a season in the big leagues. They had not ben around him long enough to really know what kind of player he would end up being. Because I had known him the longest they felt it was worth getting my opinion. At the time, we also had a young phenom in Ersty, Jimmy Edmonds and his amazing theatrics in center field, and me. My answer was, "You know, that's not an easy decision. But I will say this: get rid of me before you get rid of Garret Anderson." I knew that he was potentially the real deal, someone who could be counted on every day. There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to hit.

The dates on this don't totally add up -- Collins wasn't a rookie manager until 1997, by which point G.A. had already played 260 games, and the outfielder logjam was at least partly "solved" by trading J.T. Snow and Chili Davis just after the '96 season ended for a couple of bags of meat. But it's a window into the organization's flawed mentality at the time, which was to treat its very success/foundation -- the Four Young Outfielders, plus J.T. Snow -- as the thing that needed to be changed up in order to win, rather than doing a better job of finding even halfway decent supporting talent.

People I think more highly of after reading
: Chili Davis, by far, and also Rod Carew. Who knew that Carew was a big-time prankster, for example?

People I would think less highly of after reading, if Salmon ever had a bad word to say about anybody, including Mo Vaughn (no really, Salmon says super-nice stuff about Mo Vaughn): Salmon is so goddarned nice, it's almost hard to believe. For instance, he calls G.A. "the best hitter to ever wear an Angel uniform," and it's clear that he means it, even though evidence to the contrary stares out from his mirror every morning. So those looking for grudges and feelings of less-than-total respect have to read between the lines. What do you see there? Both Jim Edmonds and Chuck Finley, while depicted with the utmost of respect, nonetheless come off as self-absorbed flakes, a la they sometimes rubbed guys the wrong way, but never me! The above mention of Terry Collins, also, might be the only one in the book (couldn't tell you for sure because there's no index, dammit!). Meanwhile, Erstad, G.A., David Eckstein, Troy Percival and Gary DiSarcina are all portrayed as guys who Played the Game the Right Way. It's no accident that it was DiSar, not Edmonds or Finley, who got the call from the clubhouse after the champagne was popped.

About the closest thing to headline-making dirt: During the warm-ups before Game Five in the ALCS, Salmon reports, one of the Twins told him, "You guys take it to 'em in the next series!" THE TWINS ARE TOTALLY QUITTERS OMG, ETC. (Just trying to gin up some book-selling controversy.)

Section that will make Angelphobe heads pop: "Countless times I have passed by [Mike Scioscia's] office and seen him sitting at his desk scouring the stat sheets or reading the MLB rules handbook. He analyzes complex numbers and on-base percentages, thinking beyond the box and translating it into a game-day strategy. He can break down these 21st-century stats like very few other managers can."

Needless errors in this Baseball Reference/Retrosheet era? Unfortunately, yes. In addition to the Terry Collins/G.A. anecdote above, he writes that Edmonds was traded for Adam Kennedy before the 2002 season (it was 2000). In one of my favorite passages, he talks about how Bo Jackson, playing in what he figured (rightly) was probably his last game, gave everyone a calling card to be remembered by stealing second and third on consecutive pitches after singling in his last at bat. Actually, Jackson was picked off first in the dramatic 9th inning of that final game, and only reached second because the pitcher made a throwing error. He did not steal third (because Salmon was standing there), but the team did win. It's a small error, but totally avoidable in this modern era.

In closing: I'm glad I bought this ticket to "Timmy Land," and I'm guessing that chances are you will be too.

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