#7 - DARIN ERSTAD, OF/1B
The number one pick in the 1995 draft was a punter out of the University of Nebraska. He would make his debut with the Angels less than a year after signing. After 57 games that year he became a full time Angel in 1997. Darin Charles Erstad would play eleven seasons as an Angel. He would appear in at least 125 games in eight of them.
His most amazing accomplishment as a Halo was not getting 240 hits in 2000, the season when he scored 121 runs and accrued 8.3 Wins Above Replacement and became the first player in baseball history to drive in 100 runs as a leadoff hitter. No, that amazing season, easily the best ever by an Angel not named Mike Trout, was not his most amazing accomplishment as an Angel.
That "Most Amazing" prize would go to his performance in the 2002 World Seires. Spiezio hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to make the 5-0 laugher a 5-3 game but the Giants did not allow another run to score. It was Erstad's solo home run in the bottom of the eighth that was the physical manifestation of the Rally Monkey. Erstad hit it into the second row of the Right Field seats - famously described by Joe Buck: "Smoked into Right, It's a one-run game." and the 5-4 game was suddenly, righteously winnable, despite the franchise reputation of losing playoff games in the clutch. In Game Seven he made an amazing catch to shallow center to snuff a rally and then a few innings later Rory Markus uttered those famous words: "Erstad says he's got it, Erstad... makes the catch!"
But Darin Erstad was more than his 2000 season and more than his 2002 postseason. He was the nicest red-ass to ever play the game. A "Red Ass" is a joykilling curmudgeon when a team has a dissonant clubhouse but he is a no-nonsense warrior chief when all 25 guys have their eyes on the prize. Erstad led the team by example for a decade, from the also-ran penant chase of 1998 and the disastrous implosion that was 1999, to becoming the best locker room watchman that new manager Miek Scioscia could have hoped for, through a Wild Card World Series run and past two strong division championships. Every one of those clubs looked to Darin Erstad to run the club house and he ran it with an order with which few Angels teams were ever blessed to have.
He is the only player to ever win a gold glove in the outfield and infield (CF & 1B). Derided as a groundout specialist by the self-satisfied second generation of sabermetricians, the third generation delivered defensive metrics that shut the pie holes of the Rob Neyer set who mocked Erstad's 2001contract extension. When the job was to ground out to the right side in order to move the runner over, Erstad unselfishly did it. His career stats certainly suffered but his team won and winning was all he was about. His defensive numbers with the Angels are astounding - the most Defensive WAR of any Angels player who was not a shortstop pr Catcher and the fourth most. 10.5, over all. His 4.2 dWAR in 2002 alone was the savior of that flyball-prone pitching staff. Erstad's amazing range went from the warning track to practically 2B on any given fly ball. He once got a disabled-list-bound concussion from landing on his chin while catching flyball falling into no-man's land.
His 818 runs scored ranks fourth all time for an Angel, as do his 1,505 hits, 279 doubles, 625 RBI, 170 Stolen Bases, 777 Runs Created and 2,186 total bases. All of those categories have him in the four spot. His .355 batting average in 200 is the highest single season total in club history as are those 240 hits. The 366 total bases from that year are tied with Vlad Guerrero's 2004 MVP season for most Total Bases in a single season by an Angel. Ever.
In the land of the intangible, Erstad always was a winner and just as the doubting Thomasses mocked him as a punchline the defensive metrics came to his rescue to show an all-around player. One of the greatest all around players to ever put on an Angels uniform. Not just an icon for catching that last out of the 2002 World Series, but an icon for everything he did as a California Angel, Anaheim Angel and Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim.