#3 Brian Downing, C, OF, DH
From the kid from La Mirada in the wireframe glasses, Brian, thanks for everything.
Brian Downing was a core offensive contributor to three Western Division titles for the Angels. Recent research by Angel Lifer Matt Welch indicates that in 1979, Downing had the best season ever by an Angels Catcher, as well as the 3rd Best in 1978. Realizing his offensive prowess, and minimizing the injury risk (that curtailed his 1980 and 81 seasons), the club switched him to the outfield. Having been integral to the 79 title, he then helps bring home the 82 Western crown. In 1986 he is in the middle of everything that winning season.
Looking back on Brian:
Rich Lederer picked Downing #5 all-time:
Downing was a solid performer for 13 seasons... top three in G, AB, R, H, HR, RBI, and BB ...a hustling, overachieving, fan favorite.
Read more of Rich Lederer at his Baseball Analysts site.
Brent Carter picked Downing #4:
It feels unfair to put Downing at number four. He played so hard, for so long and with such great productivity. It still makes me sad to think that the reward of playing in a World Series eluded this great, great Angel. I still have yet to see a player match Downing in his focused intensity. Even a player like Pete Rose, who had incredible intensity as well, often seemed out of control. Downing had a way of channeling his incredible desire to win and this desire helped him maximize the natural gifts he had, which were undoubtedly less than many players whose career numbers don't compare to Downing's. I can't think of a player who got more out of what he had than Downing. This is also a testament to his tirelessness and hard work (spending hours in his home batting cage).
The greatest single at bat I've ever seen is still a battle Downing had one night at the Big A with one time Oriole ace reliever Greg Olson, whose wicked, filthy slider Downing must have fouled off six or seven times. Olson also had an incredible fastball, which Downing also fouled off several times. As I remember, the Angels had made a bit of a rally and the O's brought in Olson in the bottom of the 9th to shut the door. Downing eventually flied out to center, but the fact that he battled and battled, fouling off pitch after pitch, when must other mortals would have been out on three pitches of this wicked stuff, has never left my mind.
The Chronicler also picked Downing #4:
I think one of the great things about Downing is how he was never supposed to be as good as he was. When he was with the White Sox, he was a good hitter for a catcher, basically because of his walks; he had no power at all. When he came to the Angels, Downing started up a weight lifting routine. Nolan Ryan had done the same thing, of course, I don't know if that was connected (they were teammates in 1978-79). In 1979, Downing exploded, and never really looked back. He hit 326/418/462 -- his career highs had been 284/402/402, all in his last year in Chicago -- and did this mostly as a catcher (he caught 128 games, DH'ing in 18).
He was never quite that good again, but as he was 28 years old, that's somewhat to be expected. He got hurt in 1980, and in 1981 made the permanent shift from catcher to left field. He stayed there until 1988, when the Angels made him a full-time DH. Downing was huge on the 1982 team and the 1986 team. One of the other great things about him was that he could bat anywhere in the lineup -- Gene Mauch would bat him leadoff or cleanup. He always had a great eye, and when he bulked up, the power was something.
The Angels unceremoniously released him after the 1990 season - all he had done was hit 273/374/467, but he was 39 and had played in less than 100 games for the first time since 1981. So the Rangers picked him up and he put up two more years with OPS+'s in the mid-130s, and then called it a career.
The Angel main DHs in 1991 and 1992 were Dave Parker and Hubie Brooks, who put up OPS+ marks of 72 and 62, respectively, and combined for 19 home runs and 92 RBI -- in two years. Downing was understandably upset about how the Angels had treated him at the end, and has been a conspicuous absence as guys like Grich and DeCinces are still around. However, I did hear on the radio that he would be involved with an Angel Fantasy Camp, so hopefully Arte or someone has reached out to bring him back into the fold. He's the favorite Angel of a lot of longtime Halo fans, and it doesn't matter how many counting stats Garret Anderson puts up: Brian Downing is the greatest left fielder in franchise history, and it ain't close.
Read more of The Chronicler at his Chronicles of the Lads blog.
Downing was selected #2 Angel all time by the fortysoemthing set: Matt Welch, LA Seitz aka Shredder and yours truly, Rev Halofan.
May I add a personal plea to Angels management to retire Brian's #5 during this season, the 20th anniversary of the 1986 AL West Championship.