In 2004, with the Angels entering Opening Day with less than two calendar years having passed since they shocked the baseball world and won the 2002 World Series, there was a heavy buzz in the air regarding the club’s chances at getting back to October glory. They followed up their miraculous ‘02 wild card championship season with a return to meh-ness in ‘03 (they finished 3rd in AL West), but the team hitting the field in ‘04 had a new, important addition that was ready to make a huge impact, not just on the team or on the league, but on the entire Angels fan base, as well.
Vladimir Guerrero was signed in the previous offseason by former Angels GM Bill Stoneman, raising eyebrows around various water coolers or bar tops around Orange and Los Angeles counties. The Angels had always had a rough relationship with big splash free agent signings, as they would often get burned or be let down in the long run, but Vlad was different right away.
He was a relatively unknown commodity, at least to the casual fan that mostly follows the Angels. Guerrero had been beasting in the National League for seven seasons prior to becoming a free agent and signing with his new team; he was a four-time All Star, had a few Silver Slugger awards, was 6th in voting for Rookie of the Year in 1997 and showed off not only a mind-melting ability to mash even the worst of pitches at the plate, but also his textbook “cannon-for-an-arm” throwing skills.
“Yep, Vladimir Guerrero is going to be different. This guy is going to be a stud, and he’ll help push the Halos back into the post-season”, said just about every friend I talked to at the time, which basically mirrored my own thoughts on the acquisition. The best part, of course, is that’s basically how it unfolded.
The 2004 squad, with a new face in the outfield, donning a #27 jersey and sporting the biggest and brightest smile you’ve ever seen, did indeed get back to the competitive level which they played at for most of 2002. Not only that, but the team would, at that point, become a regular fixture at the top of the AL West leaderboard come season’s end. For most of the 2000s, the Angels were one of the powerhouse teams; fans relentlessly ate it up, getting not only accustomed to that winning feeling but also pretty much expecting it year in and year out.
That’s in large part due to Vladimir Guerrero. The dude came on to this team and didn’t miss one beat from his days with the Montreal Expos, showing us all those amazing, highlight-reel plays in just about every game (or so it seemed), and he had the friendly, affable attitude and demeanor to go with that unparalleled skillset, which made it nearly impossible to NOT love the guy.
That’s why it’s such a joy to hear about him getting voted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame today, a feat which many knew was a foregone conclusion but now it’s an official done deal. Vladimir Guerrero is now a Hall of Famer, and Cooperstown couldn’t be getting a better person inducted into its wings. It’s not only a great day for Vlad himself, but a great day for baseball in general.
Vlad’s first time on the ballot was last year, and he just barely missed the cut; but now, in his second year of eligibility, he handily got the votes needed to get him in that vaunted group of historic ballplayers. (at time of this writing, with about 15 minutes left to go until the announcement time, Vlady has shown up on 94.7% of the public and anonymous ballots submitted to Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker, which he graciously puts together this time every year).
Joining Vladimir Guerrero in being voted into the Hall of Fame today is Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman ,and Jim Thome. We’ll see them all together in Cooperstown come July, when the actual induction ceremony takes place.
Guerrero, now 42 years old, finished his MLB career with an impressive 449 dingers, 1,496 RBI, 2,590 hits and a career OPS of .931. His best year with the Angels was perhaps that first one with the club, in 2004; he’d go .337 AVG/ .391 OBP/ .598 SLG/ .989 OPS that season, with 39 monster Vlady bombs, to boot. That was good enough for AL MVP, on top of his All Star and Silver Slugger honors he garnered. Talk about a good way to ingratiate yourself with the fans right away!
He would ultimately go for 16 seasons in Major League Baseball, finishing his illustrious career with a season in Texas and a season in Baltimore, although I prefer to ignore those stints in favor of daydreaming him never putting on another uniform other than an Angels uniform until the day he retired. Still, the reality is he did play for some other teams, but the most notable of those was the Expos, of course.
That is what’s causing the single biggest (possible) blemish on this wonderful Hall of Fame announcement: Which cap is he going to wear in the Hall of Fame?
As you may or may not be aware, the players no longer get to decide which team they represent in the HOF, and Vlad had lots of great years in Montreal, but he also had lots of great years with the Angels. He’s asked people their thoughts on this subject in recent years, usually through social media, and from what I gather, Vlad is torn between the two baseball caps, and has flip-flopped his decision a number of times, usually choosing whatever team’s fans are clamoring for it at any given time.
One day, he’ll say the Expos; the next week, he’ll say the Angels. The latter, of course, have yet to get a player in the Hall of Fame thus far, so that’s why, to this esteemed writer at least, that it’s a no-brainer he should step into the HOF as an Angel, not an Expo. Ok, so I’m an unabashed homer, so what? The problem, once again, is that Vlad doesn’t make this decision; it’ll be up to the HOF and I have a bad feeling that he’ll go in as an Expo. But hey...you never know, right?
Regardless of that minutia, the real story here is that one of baseball’s best players EVER, and one of baseball’s best all-around human beings EVER, is getting his due by being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Last summer, it was the Angels’ own Hall of Fame that he was inducted into, and a lot of Halos Heaven community members were on hand for the event. That was just the warm up, though, because now it’s time for the entire sport, not just his old team, to put him in the spotlight and make sure generations to come won’t soon forget the greatness that is Vladimir Guerrero.
Congrats, Vlady, and thanks for all of the amazing memories. See you in July in Cooperstown!