Sunday, December 31, 2006
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Considering I've pretty much blown my wad on posting today, I'm struggling to come up with any deep insight into this signing, other than I think it's pretty damn good.
While Shea Hillenbrand has been hit or miss in his career, signing him to a 1-year contract pretty much ensures that we're going to get his best, as he'll be a free agent again next year and is certainly going to want to have good numbers for that contract.
And, as he can play 1st or 3rd base, this gives us a lot more solidity in the infield. While he's not the huge bat Arte promised us, this is another step toward bringing the offense up to where it needs to be.
So, welcome to the Angels, Shea! Come to play, come to win, and we'll love you here!
It hasn't been very widely reported (because it's not like this happened to David Ortiz or anything), but Juan Rivera broke his damn leg playing winter ball. That's right. Winter ball.
Just a few weeks after we read about the Cubs not allowing Soriano to play, Juan Rivera goes out there and shows us why. And with a break like that, there's no way he's going to be 100% by April.
So, where does that leave us? Keeping in mind that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' that they do for 'opportunity' (yes, I stole that from a movie, so not only am I unoriginal, but it may be wrong too), this is the perfect excuse for Stoneman and Arte to pull of that "something big" move that they've been talking about all year.
Now would be a great time to make a move that would have been impossible just a few days ago. Right now, we could make that trade for Manny Ramirez. We could sign Sammy Sosa and not worry about where to put him. We could let go of a pitcher to bring in a bat in the outfield, and we have every reason to do it.
This is very disappointing. I enjoyed watching Rivera mature into a major league hitter last year, and was looking forward to him in the outfield or DHing this year. But, fate works in her own way, and now that outfield is a lot thinner until he recovers.
So let's go, Stoneman! This is an opportunity, and we fans expect you to use it!
Friday, December 22, 2006
We've followed his leadership, and through him we've begun to believe. It's truly an exciting time to be an Angels fan, whether you've been here your whole life or have just caught on to how great it truly is to watch baseball in Anaheim with the 2002 World Series. Sure, we have just that one moment of past glory, but unlike other teams whose winning legacy only haunts them (Yankees) or whose recent World Series wins have negated decades of disappointment (White Sox, Red Sox), that first one was, for us, just a launching point. Seven games that proved to us that yes, we can experience the highest highs with our team, too.
With that, 2006 was (to me, at least) a great season. Not in terms of on-field success, as it certainly did suck to watch the playoffs this year and see three California teams competing for the ultimate prize and the Angels were NOT among them. It was great because missing the playoffs showed the true mettle of the current crop of Angels fans.
We collectively said "Well, we wish we'd have made it, but it was a great season nonetheless. We'll get 'em next year!"
And it's that attitude that makes me love Southern California fans all the more. I am very guilty of having an elitist attitude as an Angels fan. I get pissed when I think back to the lean years, back to the time when you'd see more of the opposing team's jerseys in the stands than you would of our own. I get pissed when I realize that the same people who came to the ballpark in 2001 to root against the Angels were there in 2002 rooting FOR them. I put myself on a pedestal, I break my arm patting myself on the back, I get awfully lonely up on that cross I put myself on when I talk about myself as a lifelong fan and look down at those who only came when the Angels started winning.
But then I realize that fandom is never an avenue to elitism. Sports and religion have a lot in common. They both require a great deal of faith. They both require absolute love of something you have no control over. And what enlightens you will not necessarily enlighten others.
So now I look at the newer fans not as "fair weather" but as new converts, men, women and children who have finally come into the light. And sure, many of them will fall by the wayside once again if the Angels do not continue winning, much as many people new to religion fall to the side when God does not answer their prayers. But for many of them, the 2002 World Series was a moment of supreme enlightenment, a moment that made them feel the spirit, and they are now hooked for life.
It doesn't matter if they've only been here for five seasons (or less). All that matters is that they feel the same way I do about this ball club.
Arte Moreno inherited a great team and a brand-new fan base when he bought this team. Yes, "brand-new" each of us, as even those who remember seeing games at Wrigley Field in LA or Dodger Stadium (or "Chavez Ravine" as they called it during Angels home games) were "born again" by the World Series win in 2002, erasing the cursed history of a losing team as well as putting each and every fan on a new, level playing field.
With that, Moreno has had a good grace period as owner, a great three-year honeymoon that included two Western Division Championships since his first full season as owner in 2004 and a damn fine run this season.
But, the honeymoon may finally be over, and if it is, it's due to that dreaded "foot in mouth" disease.
His promise of "something big" this offseason had us all titillated, all full of wonder and hope for 2007 as, unlike most every other sports franchise on the face of the planet, we have not yet learned to loathe and mistrust our owner. We got into the A-Rod fever, following every at-bat in the playoffs, reading every tabloid rumor about his relationship with the Yankees, and the Yankees relationship with him. We kept hoping that the talk coming from the Yankees was just a smokescreen, and that soon enough we'd bid adieu to Ervin Santana, Chone Figgins, and a prospect in order to have #3 (not that blasphemous #13 he wears in New York) at third base and protecting Vladamir Guerrero in Anaheim next year. We followed the bidding first for Aramis Ramirez, then Alfonso Soriano, each time getting taken by surprise when they signed with the Cubs.
We clapped politely when we signed Gary Matthews, Jr, but we knew he wasn't filling the desperate need for power hitting.
We knew he wasn't something big.
And now chances are we aren't going to see anything near what we were expecting from that comment. We are, undoubtedly, a stronger team than we were a few months ago. We've solidified our bullpen, making one of the best pitching staffs in baseball even better. Matthews has filled out a need for defense in Center Field.
But the need for a power hitter, something big, still looms.
And if we miss the playoffs again this year, you bet that statement is going to come back and bite Arte in the ass. Not only will it be played in headlines across the country, but it will run through the heads of every Angels fan as they watch four other American League teams battle it out in the playoffs next October.
Make no mistake, it will be a disappointing season if the Angels do not make the playoffs. God forbid, if they don't, fans will start to look to Arte Moreno with a jaded eye, with the beginnings of mistrust that permeate all other fan-owner relationships.
So, with that, how does Arte Moreno recover? The first, obviously, is to make that huge move. Trade for A-Rod or Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols. Yeah, I know, that ain't gonna happen. But somebody in the tier down from them, a player of the value of Aramis Ramirez or Alfonso Soriano. That'd do fine, as long as we don't get screwed in the trade.
But that is becoming increasingly unlikely. So, what else to do? Well, if a big acquisition doesn't happen, Moreno is going to have to "hang a lantern" on his problem, apologize to the fans for not coming through then spend all season making fun of himself for saying it. Already he has offered refunds to season ticket holders, but to me that seems a bit defensive. He just needs to remind us that he's going to constantly work to improve our team. (And lowering concession prices a bit as a peace offering wouldn't hurt, either.)
But, my friends, there is a third option. One that combines the two. At this point, an option he has is to follow the example of the A's in 2006. Give a former superstar a chance with a small contract with incentives. And right now, there's a perfect one on the market.
That's right, Sammy Sosa. I know that, were I to have scores of readers, I'd probably get lambasted for this suggestion. Yes, I'm aware of his past. Yes, I'm aware of his abysmal 2005 season. To make it clear, I have full knowledge of the baggage he'll bring with him.
But with that, he's shown he is serious about coming back. And, with that baggage behind him, we can get him on the cheap, just like the A's did with Frank Thomas last year. We're a contender every year, and Sammy has never been on a champion, so it shouldn't be tough to sign him to a 1-year, incentive-laden contract.
It's a gamble, but if we're paying him a base salary of near what Thomas was paid last year, then we're out a very small amount if he's a bust. If he has a comeback season like Thomas did, Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman will look like geniuses.
Of course, there's the whole steroids issue. I personally think it's a non-issue. Even if he was more juiced than a Welch's factory, there's no way he's stupid enough to still be on it, especially after he watched his teammate Rafael Palmiero destroy his legacy with a positive test in 2005. If Sosa fails a doping test, it's 100% on him, and he knows that.
Sure, people will be reluctant to embrace him. But if he comes to Anaheim, does some duty at DH, a bit in the outfield, and maybe some at first base, and hits 30 or so home runs, he could be exactly what we need.
Besides, it would be really neat to see somebody hit a big milestone home run, like Sosa's 600th, in "The Big A."
This isn't the answer to Arte's "something big" promise. But it could pull his ass out of the fire for making that comment, and it's a very low-risk proposition for the Angels.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
One of the reasons I have such ample opportunity to pursue a blog project like this is because I am, for lack of a better term, unemployed. That is, I have no job that brings income and the ability it gives to partake in American capitalism that comes with said employment. However, I do in fact have a job. My father is a paralyzed veteran, and has been in a wheelchair without use of the lower half of his body for more than 40 years. And I live at home and take care of him.
With him sick, as he's been for a few weeks, I lose interest in everything that normally occupies my downtime. With him in the hospital, while I gain a bit of personal freedom, I lose my sense of purpose.
He's OK, and should be home in a few weeks, but his lifestyle is going to have to drastically change. For the first time, his blood test results showed poor function of his liver. Considering that in the past five years he's developed a painkiller addiction like he's competing with Rush Limbaugh, I'm frankly surprised that it's taken this long.
With that, my sob story is over, and onto a bit of sad (if ultimately good) news.
There's a moment in recent Angels history which haunts every die-hard, obsessive Angels fan, though nobody outside Orange County remembers it. While everybody remembers the 2004 ALCS, where the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to spank the Yankees into the biggest choke in playoff history and went on to sweep the World Series from the St. Louis Cardinals, very few remember the 3-0 sweep the Red Sox handed the Angels in the ALDS.
And even fewer remember the way it ended.
In extra innings, David Ortiz came to the plate in Anaheim. Wanting to play the odds, Mike Scioscia wanted to bring in a left-handed reliever to pitch to the lefty Ortiz, which, considering how clutch Ortiz has been, was a smart managing move.
The Angels had no left-handed relievers.
Not a one.
So, Scioscia brought in the only lefty he did have. Starter Jarrod Washburn.
Who promptly threw one pitch. Which Ortiz belted over the right-field wall.
So, needless to say, while our pitching has only gotten better since the 2002 World Series, our lack of lefties in the bullpen has been an Achilles heel to us for many a year. And while Siebel is a prospect (a 28-year-old prospect, but a prospect nonetheless), it's nice to have a southpaw when needed.
So, while I'll miss Brendan Donnelly and wish him luck, I think this was a smart move. Let's all cross our fingers, knock on wood, and pray that I'm right.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
But, with that, it should be noted that Daisuke Matsuzaka signed a 6-year, $52 million contract with the Red Sox today, less than 24 hours before the negotiation window closed and he would have to go back and pitch in Japan for another year.
So, with that, the Red Sox have now spent over $100 million on a guy who's never thrown a ball in North American baseball.
If I ever have a son, I'm teaching him to throw from the time he can pee.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Danny, I'm sorry you no longer live in the area, as I can think of nothing I'd rather do this summer than take you to a game, have a beer or two, and enjoy watching our Angels and the fans at Angel Stadium.
That's the beauty of baseball, and all sports for that matter. Cheering for a team is one of the greatest common denominators out there. For all I know, SecondBestDad and I could have polar viewpoints on politics, religion, sexual preference, or anything else people can have opinions on. We could be from completely different backgrounds, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status. We could be two people who never would, nor never should, meet each other.
But, with our love for a baseball team, none of that matters.
Because from the time the umpire shouts "Play Ball" to the last out of the game, we have everything in common.
And it's like that with any team, any sport, and any fan.
So Danny, when you read this, I'd appreciate it if you'd shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I don't have mailing lists or any crap like that, so don't fear for your email inbox (though I should fear for mine after posting that!)
It's just such a nice thing to meet new fanatics.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
For Danny, AKA Secondbestdad - My one fan.
Earlier today, I logged in and found this comment to my "Winter Meetings" post:
Flash back to 1990. I was a sophomore in High School, going into my Junior year as that summer was dominated by the California Angels. My friends and I made the trip to Anaheim Stadium enough that you'd think we had season tickets that year. We'd head up to the ticket counter, buy the $3 tickets in any section they had available, then sneak down and sit on the field. We went to maybe thirty or forty games that year, cheering a team that had no chance to make the playoffs but had nonetheless earned our fandom and our hearts. On September 14, we watched an event that has been replayed every year since before the Home Run Derby as Ken Griffey Sr. hit a home run in the first inning, followed by his son, Ken Griffey Jr., in the very next at bat. At the time we thought it was cool, neat, a curiosity, without realizing how monumental the back-to-back home runs by father and son really was. We watched Jim Abbott pitch, knowing even then at such a young age that we were seeing something miraculous. We watched Mark Langston struggle in his first season after signing a huge contract. We saw Lance Parrish and Bert Blyleven in their last hurrah in the Major Leagues, as well as the waning years of Wally World.
But above all, we were there to see Dante Bichette.
We weren't the only ones. Dante was a HUGE fan favorite. Sure, he was a part-time outfielder who struck out more than a blindfolded Reggie Jackson and he hit only 15 home runs that year, but to us it felt like 50. It almost seemed like every game we went to where Dante actually played, he'd knock one into dead center field. Our only complaint was how much Bichette sat.
We wanted more of him. So, of course, the Angels traded him.
And it wasn't that they traded him. It was that they traded him for Dave Parker, a 40-year-old has-been who had no chance to contribute but part time at DH.
Were we surprised? Not a bit.
This was par for the course with the Jackie Autry era Angels. Whereas William Wrigley, when he built Wrigley Field for the Cubs, knew that he could not guarantee a winner, but could guarantee a good experience at the ballpark, Jackie Autry's philosophy might have been "I don't care about a winner, I care about asses in the seats" and fulfilled that by getting big names in Angel uniforms. Now, that wouldn't be too far off the modern day Yankees, but the Angels got these superstars when they were cheap: In other words, when they were well past their primes.
Dave Parker, Lance Parrish, Bert Blyleven, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson. That's just a short list off the top of my head of past-their-prime superstars that ended up (and, in many cases, ended their careers) in Angels uniforms. And while most were free agent signings, not all were.
It seemed for a long time that every time a young Angel was approaching stardom, he'd be traded away shortly before his contract came due. Time and time again we'd grow to love a player, only to see him shipped out and kicking our ass in Anaheim the next year. And those who went to the National League, back before interleague play? Unless we played them in spring training, we were never to see them again, as the only way to do so would have been in the World Series.
Back in the old PCL, The Los Angeles Angels were the main farm team for the Chicago Cubs. It seems that in the 80's and 90's, we were the main farm team for most of Major League Baseball.
Disney coming in as owners in the mid-90's didn't help this a bit. Their theme park philosophy ascribed to their sports ventures put stupid "beer-league softball uniforms" (a la Chris Berman) on the players' backs and dancing teddy bear mascots on the dugout roof, but didn't add much to the lineup or rotation. Disney tried to make it a pleasurable experience, but was never concerned with winning as they should have been.
Of course, this argument is blown out of the water by the 2002 World Championship. No, not really. If you look at that team, it was filled with nothing but farm-grown Angels, most of them young, and other castoffs from other teams. It was not talent that brought them to the World Series so much as it was teamwork and immaculate team management.
It's because of this history that I can understand the shyness of GM Bill Stoneman when it comes to trades, even when it means missing opportunities. As a fan, though, I have that natural 20/20 hindsight and have criticized him for failure to move in the past.
Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman, and Rob Quinlan have all seemingly passed their expiration dates and will continue to deteriorate in value for trade. It's easy to criticize Stoneman for not trading one or more of these guys when their value was high, but any Angels fan who knows team history gets very nervous when trades for young players are mentioned, and I am not an exception. Having electrifying young talent on a team that usually tosses it aside at the nearest opportunity is new to us, and we want to hoarde it like a kid with Halloween candy.
So when talks of trading young stars like Chone Figgins and Ervin Santana come up, we geta little hesitant.
There is not a trade out there right now that would not make me nervous. Chone Figgins has proven that, though he's an exciting utility player, as a full-time player he's a jack of all trades, master of none. And while Ervin Santana led the team in wins last year, we are absolutely stacked with good, young pitching, and the loss of one pitcher in a trade would not hurt us as it would most other teams. In fact, if it brings in the power at the plate that we so desperately need, it would probably be a great move.
But there's still that image of Jackie Autry dancing around in my head.
So every time I hear a trade mentioned, my armpits sweat a little bit. I feel a bit like a virgin on prom night: I know I'm going to have to eventually, so why not cross my fingers, roll the dice, and hope it turns out for the best?
It's the virtue in being a baseball fan, in loving something absolutely that we have no control over whatsoever. You hope for the best, and earn the right to complain when it turns out for the worst.
After all, with Arte Moreno in the owner's box, there's always next year.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Starting tomorrow morning, Mickey & Company won't be the most entertaining thing in Disneyworld, Florida as the owners, general managers, and everybody remotely affiliated with Major League Baseball congregates for the Winter Meetings.
It's been a long time since an off-season has created as much excitement as this one has, and thus far it appears that endless rivers of cash that have been flowing into the coffers of free agents is just the tip of the iceberg.
Expect the next few days in Orlando to become a feeding frenzy of press and franchise posturing as the 2007 offseason continues to be much more interesting than the 200 MLB season. Keep checking your local team's blog and every baseball news site you can think of, as the rumors will keep piling on, flooding the internet and pushing reputable baseball news to the furthest backburner. Expect your favorite team to be bragging on top of the highest nosebleed seat about the amazing deals they made, or facing the press and explaining why your team didn't get a slice of this pie.
I just hope I can expect a baseball season starting in April that has been filled with the mystery, suspense, and intrigue that this off-season has produced thus far.
And I have a feeling that whether or not those hopes come true hinges directly on what Bill Stoneman and Arte Moreno can pull off in the next four days.
Here's hoping that, come Friday, every Angels fan has a smile so big that their cheeks will still be sore in August.
Here's hoping that whatever they pull off, whether we fans agree with it or not, turns out to be exactly what we need.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Not every year can be a winning one, and sometimes you start the season knowing your team won't be playing for a championship. But sometimes it's enough just to kick the snot out of another team and dash their championship hopes, especially if it's your hated rival.
And it's oh-so-sweet when you're a huge underdog, and the team you beat and deny a chance for a championship has a sense of entitlement, acting like they own the damn trophy.
So, while Trojans fans tonight are trying to convince themselves that playing in the Rose Bowl is just as good as playing for the NCAA Division 1 Championship, and that they're the better team because they won the PAC 10 title, all that matters is what happened on the field at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena this afternoon, where the Bruins stopped USC cold, along with their championship dreams.
In honor of that, I present to you the UCLA Fight Song (Click HERE to listen)*
“Sons of Westwood”
We are Sons of Westwood,
And we hail the Blue and Gold;
True to thee our hearts will be,
Our love will not grow old.
Bruins roam the hills of Westwood,
By the blue Pacific shore;
And when they chance to see a man from USC,
Ev’ry Bruin starts to roar.
U! (3 claps)
C! (3 claps)
L! (3 claps)
A! (3 claps)
U-C-L-A! Fight! Fight! Fight!
*Clickies today in Baby Blue, to honor my UCLA Bruins