July 14, 1985 - The list of Angels greats contains the names of superstars and expands as the seasons go on. The glory of the past recedes even when we visit it often as the present is so alive in front of us. The game was passed on to us by older family and friends and we pass it on to the next generation. And so it is my duty to pass on a little bit of what made Brian Downing my all time favorite Angel.
First take all the grit and determination of Darin Erstad. Downing had that intangible gamer in him. There was not a single part of his game that got phoned in. He had power, quantitatively less home run power than Troy Glaus but with a well rounded game that gave him a higher OPS+ overall in far more plate appearances. The counting stats of franchise history inevitably list Garret Anderson, Brian Downing and Tim Salmon in some 1-2-3 combination.
He was the first player to explore working out with weights and it made him a hulking spectacle - but in the pre-chemistry era, thank you very much as the absence of backne and not a hint of rage, coupled with a hairline that stayed in the same spot well into retirement indicate as clean baseball player as ever took the field.
But most of all, like Tim Salmon after him, he was an Angel through and through. When the club abandoned him he had a few great seasons in Texas and late in the year got a single against the Angels and, standing on the first base bag, had his retirement from baseball announced to the crowd. He wanted his last hit to be in Anaheim in front of US. That is the bond many of us shared with him but he made sure to show us that he shared it with us.
In this game against the Bobby Cox-manged Blue Jays, Bobby Grich hit a two out single in the ninth inning to score pinch runner Craig Gerber, making a 3-2 ballgame 3-3. Up stepped Downing. He hit a two run home run and won the game. FInal Score: Angels 5, Blue Jays 3 - it was the first of five walk off home runs that Downing would hit as an Angel, a record until Tim Salmon hit his sixth eighteen seasons later.