#5 - VLADIMIR GUERRERO, OF
Arte Moreno purchased the Angels in May of 2003 for $183 Million, but his signature achievement was the offseason that followed. The new owner signed Jose Guillen, Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar to big-bucks contracts. Then in January he stealthily signed the best available free agent on the market - slugger Vladimir Guerrero.
The dividends were immediate. Guerrero won the 2004 American League MVP award as the Angels took the AL West for the first time since 1986. When Reggie Jackson signed with the Angels before the 1982 season he was the biggest star in the game. Vladimir Guerrero was the best star in the game that year and carried the team on his back.
Vladdy played for the Angels for only six seasons but they won the division five times in that stretch and Guerrero was integral to each division win. He was the face of the franchise for most of its golden decade. He would finish in the Top 3 MVP vote-getters three times as an Angel - all of baseball took notice. Other teams would announce an upcoming series with Anaheim as "Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels" coming to town ...and he helped everyone sell tickets.
And amidst all this, he never spoke a word of English. He was a sphinx, performing only on the field. If the uselessness of athlete interviews were not already painfully obvious in a sea of guarded cliches, that the most popular Angels player of the decade never needed to give one should speak volumes. Not talking to the media made him more popular. There were no quotes on the television, but there was a pine-tar covered helmet and a point to the sky as he stepped on home plate after rounding the bases in a home run trot. There were legend: of six kids fathered with five women and of his mother feeding every Angel and visiting player with her amazing cooking. There were the dreadlocks and the shaggy goatee, the smile at the teammate and the glare at the pitcher who threw inside. Few athletes ooze personality without saying a word like Vladdy did.
Vlad had an OPS+ of 157 in his MVP 2004 season, the sixth best mark in club history. Four of his Angels season recorded and OPS+ high enough to rank in the club's all time Top 50. His 141 OPS+ in 3,606 Plate Appearances is the best mark by an Angels player with substantial playing time with the club. His .927 On Base % Plus Slugging is the best by any Angels player with at least 2,000 PA, as his his .546 Slugging % - his .381 OBP ranks third best by an Angel.
But Vladdy was so much more than the numbers. He was the rare player who you mentally calculated how many batters away he was at any point in the game. When he would come up to bat in the sixth inning you could relax no matter what was going on in the game because you knew he would be up again before the contest finished. Pitchers could not pitch around him - the little poem was funny but true - from his noes to his toes, Vladdy hits it and it goes! Pitchers could not place the ball anywhere near the strike zone where Guerrero couldn't reach his arms out and make powerful, sweet-spot contact.
On the basepaths the Angels only got 52 stolen bases out of him but he was maniacal in going from 1B to 3B. He once went from second to home safely on a sacrifice bunt, exploiting the lackadaisical play of infielders who were following a routine play. Vladimir Guerrero was a buster of anything that smacked of routine. While it was maddening when he would make what appeared to be stupid outs on the bases or swung and missed at pitches that bordered on being a farce, there was an intelligent method to Vlad's madness. Other players would reveal that he would swing and miss badly at pitches to give a pitcher a false confidence. His base running antics were the manna from heaven for manager Mike Scioscia who loved to pressure defenses and knew that the worry something out of the routine might happen might be the thing that gave his team that millimeter of advantage for a misplaced defender to bobble a ball or a pitcher to miss a spot off the plate.
Vladdy's final season with the team, 2009, saw him play in only 10-0 games, and yet, when the Angels swept the Red Sox in the ALDS that year, it was Guerrero's ninth-inning single up the middle that capped the late rally to defeat the longstanding Halo playoff nemesis... and on their own field. Vladdy's highlight reel as an Angel packed in many memories and many division crowns adding up to a great Halo legacy.