CALIFORNIA – JUNE 1, 1982
After 50 games the California Angels sit atop the American League West with a 33-17 record. In two short months, they have justified every hope and quashed every fear that had attended them in the preseason.
How, it was asked back then, could a team with four former Most Valuable Players—Rightfielder Reggie Jackson (Oakland, 1973), Centerfielder Fred Lynn (Boston, 1975), First Baseman Rod Carew (Minnesota, 1977) and DH Don Baylor (California, 1979)—possibly lose? Ah, but how could a club with a lineup averaging 33 years of age and a suspect pitching staff possibly win?
For the answer, consider the Angels’ current 4-game winning streak, which has come at the expense of Milwaukee and Detroit. Milwaukee might boast the AL’s most lethal lineup (non-California Division), and the average age of a player on the Detroit roster is only 27.1 years, ranking 12th of 14 in the league – a full 5 years younger than the average player on the oldest team in the league, the Angels.
But the Angels aren’t deterred by the mighty Gorman Thomas, Robin Yount and the team that’s come to be known as Harvey’s Over-the-Wallbangers. The Angels have scored 312 runs in 50 games – an average of over 6 runs per game that puts them on a pace to plate over 1000. That would make them the first team since 1950 to accomplish the feat.
And, of the youthful Tigers, the veteran Angels say p’shaw. It’s easy to see why: The nine regulars entered the season with a .278 career average, and through Sunday the team was cruising along at a productive .290. There’s the 36-year-old Carew, who is currently at .293 but figures to hit better than .300 for the 14th straight season. There is the Angels’ “youngest” regular, Freddy Lynn at 30 years old, the southern California native who has settled back into home and is batting a robust .349 with 12 HR and 42 RBI. Then there’s Doug DeCinces, known for his terrific defense all those years in Baltimore, who has taken advantage of the great opportunity to come to bat with men in scoring position seemingly every other time up, and who leads the team with 49 RBI.
Reggie Jackson has 17 home runs in the first 50 games of the season. He’s hitting .317 and he’s driven in 40. On pace to clear the wall 55 times this season, he’s a man on a mission.
The Angels’ Designated Hitter, Don Baylor, 33, says Jackson’s presence takes pressure off the others. Jackson says the others take pressure off him. But the Angels do bear his stamp. Even the dugout has become positively Jacksonian, rocking with the popular chant he originated, “Get the hammer out.”
In every sense of the word, Jackson is enjoying a homecoming. The chance to be nearer his homes in Carmel and Oakland was the biggest reason he chose California over Baltimore after becoming a free agent last fall. Whether the word modifies his team or place of residence, Jackson is a Californian through and through. “With this club there aren’t people asking players their view of management, as they did in New York,” he says. “The big difference for me is that I’m more relaxed.” Indeed, his face has never looked softer, and there’s a glint behind those glasses. Jackson has a condo in Newport Beach and is looking for yet another house in Laguna. He’s a familiar but unhassled sight tooling across Balboa Island on his Vespa motor scooter.
Jackson’s best friend on the team is Baylor. “In 1970 Reggie and I played for Frank Robinson in Santurce, Puerto Rico,” says Baylor. “Reggie grew up a lot that year. Charlie Finley had sent him to winter ball after the two of them had a salary dispute the spring before and Reggie’s homers dropped from 47 to 23 that season. In one game under Frank, Reggie hit a pop and just stood there looking at it. The fielder staggered under it, didn’t catch it and still threw out Reggie at first. When he got back to the dugout, Frank said, ‘If it happens again, it’ll cost you $500.’ Well, the exact thing happened a week later. Frank said, ‘That’ll cost you $500.’ Reggie said, ‘I’ll go home before I pay that.’ Frank said, ‘O.K., after this inning I’ll go inside and help you pack.’ Reggie went inside and paid the money. He was fine after that. He hit 20 homers in 50 games and we won the league.”
In 1976 Jackson was traded to Baltimore in a deal that involved Baylor. This year Jackson lived for a month with Baylor before finding his own condo. “A beautiful man,” says Jackson, who is as comfortable and cheerful as he has ever been in the majors.