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Topsy Turvy The Angels and Padres are up, and the Dodgers are down in a reversal of fortunes in Southern California

July 06, 1998
July 06, 1998

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July 6, 1998

Topsy Turvy The Angels and Padres are up, and the Dodgers are down in a reversal of fortunes in Southern California

An armed gunman walked into a sandwich shop last Thursday in the
sublimely named Southern California town of Lemon Grove and
swiped money out of the cash register. The perpetrator wore a
purple suit set off by a yellow tie. How very SoCal. But that
wasn't the area's worst fashion crime of the week.

This is an article from the July 6, 1998 issue

The Anaheim Angels witnessed more severe indiscretions when they
made an unprecedented seven-day tour of all three SoCal major
league parks in the 137-mile I-5 corridor. (That's as the crow,
not the Lexus, flies.) Beginning on June 22, the Angels played
two games in Anaheim against the Dodgers, two in Los Angeles
against the Dodgers and three in San Diego against the Padres,
who emerged from the unofficial tournament tied with the Atlanta
Braves for the best record (53-29) in the National League. The
Angels finished the week with a satisfying 4-3 mark--giving them
21 wins in a month for the first time in club history--while the
Dodgers continued to stumble along three games under .500. In a
reversal of traditional SoCal roles, San Diego and Anaheim
cruised steadily in first place while Los Angeles lacked only a
calliope to complete the circus atmosphere that has surrounded
the Dodgers since Fox took over.

The team's spectacularly awkward makeover reached new fashion
depths when Los Angeles debuted declasse blue batting-practice
shirts during the games it hosted against Anaheim. "I never
thought I'd see the day when the Dodgers would wear anything but
white," says Angels manager Terry Collins, who spent 14 years in
the Dodgers' minor league organization.

It was only one of several bizarre changes by Fox that cast the
Angels--the organization that in its 38 years of existence has
changed names three times, uniforms six times and managers 22
times--as models of stability. The current Angels have more
official team colors (seven, including periwinkle) than complete
games.

The Padres committed their own fashion faux pas, though, unlike
the Dodgers, they did so in good fun. San Diego opened its
weekend series with the Angels last Friday with a Retro Night
promotion. The first 1,000 fans wearing puka shell necklaces,
bell bottoms or similar clothing and accessories from the '70s
were admitted for $1, prompting mass confusion among ushers
trying to tell the costumed customers from San Diego's groovy
regulars. The Padres did their part by wearing '78 caps and
shirts in the hideous combination of chocolate and mustard. Talk
about bad taste.

"I turned on the TV and thought I was watching the Classic
Sports Network," says Dave Winfield, one of the '78 Padres who
visited Qualcomm Stadium last Saturday. "I was looking for
myself when I saw Tony [Gwynn] and went, 'Whoa!'" Given the
blue-plaid ensemble San Diego outfielder Greg Vaughn wore on a
getaway day in Seattle three days earlier, the Winfield-era
uniforms might not even have been the worst Padres suit of the
week.

Appalling apparel aside, no one looked sharper than San Diego.
The Padres took two out of three games from the Angels, giving
them a 4-1 record against Anaheim and Los Angeles this year to
go with a 7-2 mark against San Francisco. ("Do we get rings for
being state champs?" Gwynn asked.) The team could have a losing
record over the second half of the season and still break the
franchise mark of 92 wins.

If the Padres and the Angels stay on track, two SoCal teams will
reach the postseason together for only the second time. Until
its trip to San Diego, Anaheim hadn't lost a series or
back-to-back games in a month, despite a potentially ruinous
spate of injuries. Even with the two losses to the Padres, it
was a fine week to be an Angel, since it began with Anaheim
taking three out of four games from its haughty neighbors to the
north, the Dodgers, despite trailing in every game.

"I just want to win games, whoever they're against," Collins
says. "But after those games were over, because of the way a lot
of people think of the Angels as second-class citizens in
Southern California, yeah, it made me proud of them. For a long
time the Dodgers have been the standard everyone else looked up
to."

No more. In a four-day span they hired a manager who was 27-41
in the minors this year (Glenn Hoffman); a 70-year-old
Machiavellian general manager (Tommy Lasorda) who approved the
firing of his own godson's father (bullpen coach Mark Cresse); a
pitching coach (Charlie Hough) whose expertise is the
knuckleball, which none of his pitchers throw; and a bullpen
coach (John Shelby) who has been neither a pitcher nor a catcher
for even a single day in his professional life. Perhaps worse
than shelving the classic Dodgers uniforms was the sight of a
convicted felon (junk bond maven, unofficial Fox honcho and
Lasorda crony Michael Milken) yanking the microphone out of the
hand of gentlemanly Hall of Famer Vin Scully during a television
interview. The Fox bloodletting has claimed manager Bill
Russell; general manager Fred Claire; players Hideo Nomo, Mike
Piazza and Todd Zeile; and coaches Cresse, Goose Gregson and
Reggie Smith--who collectively represent 124 years of service in
the Dodgers organization.

"Everybody's numb," first baseman Eric Karros said after the
coaches were fired on June 24. "Nobody's immune to the things
that have been happening around here the past few weeks. You
just go to the park and hope you still have a uniform to wear."

The purge is likely to continue, especially with Hoffman on
unsteady ground as an interim manager, president Bob Graziano
losing favor with Fox executives and the always ambitious
Lasorda willing to trade top prospects to make a big splash. As
Expos manager Felipe Alou put it when asked how Lasorda will
fare as a G.M., "He didn't like Pedro Martinez, and he got rid
of John Wetteland."

Russell told the Long Beach Press-Telegram, "Tommy's just
vicious when he wants something. He did the same sort of thing
when he was a coach under Walter Alston and wanted Alston's job.
Tommy's been second-guessing me ever since I took over for him.
Why? I don't know. All I know is that we haven't spoken for
months."

Responded Lasorda, "That's ridiculous, a lie, and you can tell
Russell that. I haven't been in town that much this season, and
no way I've been campaigning for any job."

A team once regarded as an O'Malley family heirloom now seems
like just another bit of programming for a media conglomerate,
subject to frequent attention-grabbing bombshells. The Dodgers,
for instance, lost Hoffman's first game 6-5 in Anaheim on a
bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning. Or did they lose? The
buzz created by the dismissals of Russell and Claire helped the
telecast, as the Los Angeles Times noted, to a record rating for
baseball on Fox Sports West cable network. Also, the edition of
Fox Sports News that followed the game pulled down a bigger
audience than SportsCenter on ESPN, which is owned by Disney,
which operates the Angels.

The Fox-Disney competition has added a high-stakes corporate
subplot to what historically has been a one-sided rivalry. The
Dodgers, for instance, have not deigned to make a trade with the
Angels in 22 years, though they have made deals with every other
American League team since 1987. Los Angeles and Anaheim are
separated by 36 air miles and 49 World Series games--all of them
played by the Dodgers.

The Angels have one of the most hellish legacies in sports,
having blown a two-games-to-none lead in the 1982 American
League Championship Series, a three-games-to-one lead in the '86
Championship Series and a 13-game lead over the Seattle Mariners
with 55 games left in the '95 season.

They have played six games in which a victory would have put
them in the World Series--and lost every one of them. More
tragically, outfielder Lyman Bostock was shot to death in 1978,
closer Donnie Moore committed suicide three years after he'd
given up the decisive home run in a game that could have sent
the Angels to the '86 Series, and a team bus flipped on the New
Jersey Turnpike in 1992, seriously injuring manager Buck
Rodgers. And which team do you think was scheduled to play at
Yankee Stadium when that 500-pound steel beam fell earlier this
season?

"It's like the Clippers and the Lakers," lefthander Chuck
Finley, a 13-year Angels veteran, says about the greater L.A.
baseball landscape. "No matter what the Clippers do, the Lakers
will always be in front. That's how it's been with us and the
Dodgers. We've been trying to create our own identity for 25
years. It's time for us to do some good things."

The 6-5 and 6-4 wins over the Dodgers in Anaheim were a start,
especially with sellout crowds on hand. "That was the most
excitement I've ever seen in our place," says shortstop Gary
DiSarcina, playing his 10th season with the Angels. "Nobody left
early."

The same could not be said about the fans in Los Angeles, who
upheld at least one Dodgers tradition by bolting for the
freeways in the late innings of two one-run games that the teams
split at Dodger Stadium. A 3-2 nail-biter last Thursday gave the
Angels a 14-6 record (.700) in games decided by one run, the
best such percentage in baseball.

Anaheim produced its record-breaking June despite injuries to
second baseman Randy Velarde, catcher Todd Greene, rightfielder
Tim Salmon (limited to DH because of a foot injury) and three
fifths of its rotation--lefthander Allen Watson and righthanders
Jack McDowell and Ken Hill. Last year the Angels were tied for
first on Aug. 19 and then collapsed after similar devastation.
Recalling that, Collins held a meeting late last month to tell
his depleted team, "Quit worrying about the guys who aren't here
and just worry about the guys who are here."

Journeymen starting pitchers Omar Olivares and Steve Sparks and
rookie Jarrod Washburn have provided the mortar to hold the
staff together this time, going a combined 12-3. That's typical
of Disney, which shows no stomach for the star system that
drives Fox. No Angels player makes $6 million, and none have
been voted to start any of the past 11 All-Star Games. Anaheim
is such a low-profile club that reliever Greg Cadaret says "the
player we can least afford to lose" is their smooth-fielding
number 9 hitter, DiSarcina, who is hitting .307, with 28 RBIs.

The team's best player is 24-year-old Darin Erstad, such a
non-SoCal personality that he chafed at having to spend much of
the off-season there, rehabilitating his surgically repaired
right shoulder, instead of back in Jamestown, N.Dak., in the
modest home he shares with three buddies. "I hated it," he says.
"I was missing ice fishing."

Erstad is perfectly content to travel about Southern California
unrecognized, though he may be blowing his cover with a
breakthrough season. At week's end he led the Angels in home
runs (17), was second in the league in hits (108) and was on
track to become the first leadoff batter in baseball history to
drive in 100 runs. With Salmon hurting, Erstad willingly moved
from first base to leftfield, allowing erstwhile DH Cecil
Fielder to take over first, where he is truly a startling sight
in periwinkle trim.

Though Fielder hit a three-run rocket into Qualcomm's second
deck last Friday, the Angels scored only one other run in the
two losses to San Diego. The Padres cobbled together a 16-3
streak last month on the strength of starting pitching and the
perfect relief work of Los Angeles manager Hoffman's little
brother, Trevor, who has converted 32 straight save opportunities.

Vaughn, meanwhile, has become the unlikely linchpin of the San
Diego offense. During 1 1/2 years with the Padres in which he
hit .213, Vaughn flunked almost every test, including a physical
that nullified a trade that would have sent him to the Yankees
last year for lefthander Kenny Rogers. This season he
rededicated himself to being the player who hit 41 home runs two
years ago when he spent most of the season with the Milwaukee
Brewers. He lost about 10 pounds and established a routine,
beginning six hours before night games, in which he practices
karate, does eye exercises to sharpen his vision and reaction
time, and takes extra batting practice. At week's end he was
tied with Mark McGwire for the league lead in extra base hits
(47) and was third in home runs (26). Called Hootie by his
teammates because of his resemblance to the pop singer, Vaughn
conducts his routine to the beat of rappers like 2PAC and Snoop
Doggy Dogg. "I'm looking for my neighborhood attitude when I
take the field," says Vaughn, who drilled a home run and a
run-scoring single last Saturday, then heaved his bat in disgust
upon striking out in his final at bat.

The only thing deeper than Vaughn's bombs is his closet. He is
regarded by his teammates as a snazzy dresser, though they did
charge him with a rare sartorial error in Seattle last week. The
San Diego veterans had switched the clothes of six first-year
Padres so they had to wear the sort of garish attire better
suited to Retro Night. Vaughn, however, wore that outlandish
blue plaid three-piece suit, which led some Padres to figure he
was part of the prank.

The Padres may not be Mr. Blackwell's favorite team, but they
and the Angels are gaining ground in SoCal's pecking order. San
Diego has had the biggest attendance increase in the National
League this season; Anaheim has had the biggest boost in the
American League. Meanwhile, the Dodgers seem to be thinking
about next year. According to an American League source, they
have inquired to Major League Baseball about procedures to
change their uniforms for 1999. It is, after all, the
fashionable thing to do.

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO We shall overturn The Padres' Ken Caminiti upended Craig Shipley and San Diego took two of three from Anaheim, but both teams ended the week in first place.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH GETTING JUMPY The Dodgers' Juan Castro (in tacky blue) eluded Phil Nevin, but L.A. dropped three of four to the Angels.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH ALL OUT In an effort typical of the Angels' recent play, third baseman Dave Hollins dived, albeit futilely, for a line drive.COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Vaughnted offense After a prolonged power outage, the sartorially splendid Vaughn is now carrying the Padres. [Greg Vaughn batting in game]
"Everybody's numb," says Karros. "You just go to the park and
hope you still have a uniform to wear."
No Angels player makes $6 million and none has been voted to any
of the past 11 All-Star Games.