Magnet Night

How to attract the fans to a loser

/4/ Going absolutely nowhere last season, the Angels had an opportunity to trade Finley, who was going to be a free agent at the end of the season, to a contender—Cleveland was especially interested—for some prospects for Anaheim's woeful farm system. Instead, the team asked for too much, and Finley stayed in Anaheim. After the season, Finley, who won a remarkable 135 games for the Angels in the 1990s, signed with Cleveland. The Angels received bubkes.

/5/ It's not entirely accurate to say that everyone is picking the Angels to do horribly. Bill Stoneman, the team's new general manager, has been positively upbeat about the team's prospects, though his attitude seems more than a bit forced. In preseason interviews, Stoneman said he expects the Angels to contend for the division crown, though management has done little to improve on a very bad team. When called on this, Stoneman's m.o. is to go into one of those denial modes popular with Mike Wallace interviewees. "So, what are you going to do about pitching?" "Pitching? I think our pitching is great." "But all your pitchers are either hurt or aren't very good." "I know that. Don't you think I know that? It's so funny that you don't think I know that." "So, what are you going to do?" "About what?" "The pitching." "Pitching? Pitching isn't a problem."

/6/ So why have the Angels been giving pitchers away? And not just Finley. Omar Olivares led the team in ERA last season and was shipped off to division rivals Oakland. Now the A's, in part because of Olivares' presence, are division favorites. If the Angels were going to get rid of someone, why couldn't it be Ken Hill, who is bad enough to be the team's No. 2 starter? Hill's not a very good pitcher, but at least he makes up for it with having terrible timing. At the tail end of a bad spring-training campaign, Hill told reporters he would no longer be speaking to them; he would let his pitching do the talking. He then went out and gave up six runs in four innings. When reached for comment, Hill's pitching said, "D'oh!"

/7/ The hallmark of successful teams like the Braves, the Indians and the Yankees is that they are always looking to improve their team. Witness the Yankees trading for Clemens last year. The difference is that these are teams with long-term plans for success that are constantly looking to upgrade. Upon arriving at Indians camp this spring, Finley said it was such a pleasure to be with a team that actually had a plan instead of one that just tried to patch something together each spring.

/8/ A week after this phone call, the Angels obtained St. Louis pitcher Kent Bottenfield, as well as rookie second baseman Adam Kennedy, in exchange for Jim Edmonds. Edmonds had become persona non grata for reasons that were never really explained. In a league with Ken Griffey Jr., Edmonds was generally acknowledged as the league's best defensive outfielder. In seven seasons, he'd hit .290 and hit 25 or more homers four times. Nonetheless, he was said to be wearing on his teammates and management. The term most often used in relation to Edmonds was "enigma." Exactly what that meant was never made clear. (Certainly one should be careful when using that term about a pro ballplayer. One reporter once called former Angel Reggie Jackson an enigma, and Jackson fumed that he had been racially slurred.) Perhaps because Edmonds was a free agent after this year, the Angels were afraid of repeating the Finley fiasco and wanted to make sure they got something for him. What they got is the 31-year-old Bottenfield, who the Angels are proud to point out was an All-Star last year. True. But it's also true that Bottenfield went 4-4 after the All-Star break with a 4.26 ERA and had to shut down his season early with shoulder problems. He went 18-7 last year, but in his previous six seasons, he had a combined 18-27 record. Bottenfield was reportedly stunned by the trade and struggling to come to grips with being shipped to the Angels. Oh, by the way, Bottenfield is a free agent after this season. Ta da!

/9/ You know times are desperate when the Angels feel the need to invoke the Dodgers to sell tickets. For years, the Angels' real opponent has been the Dodgers, whom they have battled, mostly unsuccessfully, for Southern California's attention. The '90s would have been a great time to make serious inroads against the Dodger mystique when that team was sold to Rupert Fucking Murdoch, but the Angels underachieved on a grand scale and traded Mike Piazza. The Angels in the mid-'90s, with a great young cast of players, seemed to be the team on the rise. A few years later, it's the Dodgers who still reign supreme, in large part because they traded malcontent Raul Mondesi to the Blue Jays for Shawn Green, one of the best young players in the game. Probably most galling for the Angels is that the national media have noted many times that Green is coming back to play for his hometown team. He's from Tustin.

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