You’ve no reason to believe this, because I don’t believe in posting predictions, but back in April I told my wife the Angels would win 95 games and win the division by eight games. They finished 94-68 with a six game margin over Seattle. I didn’t think the Mariners would finish second — I figured it would be Oakland — but the important thing is they’re going to the post-season.
My regular readers know I think Billy Beane, Moneyball and sabermetrics in general are vastly overrated, and in some cases are exploited by con artists trying to extract a buck from the gullible. That’s a subject for another time. So is the A’s 76-86 record, one game out of last place. Sometime this winter, I’ll write about how Beane’s lab-rat approach to the A’s has run a once-proud organization into the ground.
But the issue at hand is the playoffs. The Angels face Boston, while the Yankees take on Cleveland. Boston has the home field advantage. Games 1 and 2 are in Boston, Games 3 and (if necessary) 4 are in Anaheim, and Game 5 (if necessary) is back in Boston.
The Red Sox have worried me all year long. Frankly, I think the Sox are the team most likely to go to the World Series. But I do think there’s also an opportunity here for the Angels. If they can take one of the two games in Boston, then they return home for Games 3 and 4. The Angels were 54-27 at home, the best home record in the league. So if they win a game in Boston, then win Games 3 and 4 at home, they take the series. But that’s more easily written than done; the Sox at home were 51-30, and 45-36 on the road.
The Angels’ bullpen has been shaky in recent months, as both Francisco Rodriguez and Scot Shields have been less than slam-dunk.
Rodriguez’ ERA pre-All Star break was 2.33, post-All Star was 3.45. I have more thoughts about Frankie’s future, which I’ll also save for another column. Interestingly, against Boston this year his AVG was .118. Overall he averaged 4.5 walks per 9 IP, but against Boston it was only 1.9. Of course, in a five-game series long-term trends really don’t mean much. But for now we’ll hold onto that optimistic note.
If you’re a pessimist … Since the All-Star break, if you got a runner on base against Frankie, you stood a pretty good chance of scoring him. His ERA with runners in scoring position post-All Star was 9.31. With the bases empty, it’s 0.57. With RISP, his WHIP was 1.66, his OBP was .356, and his SLG was .351. With the bases empty, his WHIP was 1.15, his OBP was .284, his SLG was .333.
So the best way for Boston to beat Frankie is to work him for a walk.
Anyway, on to other matters …
I’m currently working on processing the Arkansas Travelers photos I shot last June. I’m about one-fourth through them.
I’m also still working on editing video highlight clips from the recent trip to the Arizona Instructional League.
All this, of course, depends on available time. My wife returns Monday evening from Australia so my free time will be less than the last couple weeks. But I’m plowing on.
Michael Colangelo was injured in his major-league debut with the Angels on June 13, 1999 — and never played for the Angels again.
Michael Colangelo took the fast track to the big leagues.
He was a 21st round draft pick out of George Mason University when the Angels selected him in June 1997. There was no reason to think he’d ever see the majors, but a hot bat rocketed him through the system.
At the plate, Mike was the late 1990s version of Howie Kendrick — an unknown who simply hit for high average at every level.
He began the 1998 season at Low-A Cedar Rapids, posting an AVG/OBP/SLG of .277/.378/.518 in 22 games. That got him a promotion to High-A Lake Elsinore, where in 36 games he hit .379/.448/.600.
And Mike wasn’t so unknown any more.
He suffered a hand injury at Lake Elsinore, which cost him most of the year, but in 1999 he started the season with a promotion to Double-A Erie, and kept on hitting. In 28 games, his line was .339/.433/.514. So the Angels moved him up to Triple-A Edmonton — and he hit .362/.442/.448.
The parent club, meanwhile, suffered injuries to many of their outfielders, and so it was that on June 13, 1999, Mike was called up to Anaheim to start in left field against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’d played a total of 112 minor league games, less than one full season.
Mike had three plate appearances that day. He reached base twice, with a single and walk. He also threw out Arizona baserunner Andy Fox, who tagged up on the rookie outfielder and tried to advance from first to second on a routine fly ball. Mike nailed him.
No good deed goes unpunished, though, and in the top of the 7th Fate intervened.
A line drive was hit up the alley in left-center field. Colangelo raced to his left. Center fielder Reggie Williams raced to his right.
Each heard the other call for the ball, hesitated, then realized the other had slowed so they both accelerated.
It was a head-on collision.
Mike lay face-down in the outfield for ten minutes. He was unconscious for a while.
He was placed on a backboard, lifted onto a cart, and taken off the field through the bullpen gate to an ambulance that raced him to the hospital.
Initially he was diagnosed with the concussion and a torn thumb, which sidelined him for the rest of 1999.
In the spring of 2000, Mike’s non-throwing shoulder was bothering him. The doctors finally decided he’d suffered a torn labrum in the collision that had somehow gone undetected. So Mike underwent surgery again, and missed all of 2000.
At the end of the year, disabled lists are deactivated, so clubs have to either protect a player on the 40-man roster so move him through waivers to a minor league roster. The Angels tried to sneak Mike through waivers, but he was claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. They had ten days to put him on their 40-man roster, but they didn’t, and he was claimed by the San Diego Padres.
And so began an odyssey that took Mike from team to team, hoping to recapture what had once been.
2001 was with the Padres. 2002 was with the A’s. 2003 was with the Blue Jays. 2004 and 2005 were with the Marlins.
He had brief opportunities here and there to return to the majors — 50 games in 2001 with the Padres as a reserve, 20 games with the A’s in 2002 mostly as a pinch-hitter or late-inning specialist. In 71 games overall in his major league career, he had 116 at-bats, posting a line of .233/.305/.371.
In 2006, Mike returned to the Marlins and was sent to Triple-A Albuquerque. He suffered yet another injury, and since then has undergone multiple surgeries.
I heard from Mike in e-mail the other day. He said he runs a baseball school at home in Northern Virginia called Fundamentals of the Game. It averages about 875 students a year and is reportedly the largest operation in Virginia.
This is the time of year when minor league free agents are about to hit the market, and organizations start looking to hire coaches and roving instructors. I’d love to see Mike come home to the Angels, either as an outfielder at Salt Lake, or maybe as a minor league hitting coach. Mike has unfinished business with Fate and the Angels, and maybe the karmic scales would be balanced if he had one more chance to wear the halo.
Baseball America named Jordan Walden the top pitching prospect in the Pioneer League.
Back from Arizona, trying to return life to normal …
My wife is in the South Seas for two weeks. Her high school friends go off somewhere on Planet Earth for a few days each year. This time, they started in Samoa, then on to Hobbiton — er, New Zealand — and now they’re in Sydney. I asked her to look up P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Lane, but she says the closest she’ll get is the Sydney Opera House.
(And if you don’t get those references, you must have missed Lord of the Rings and Finding Nemo.)
I keep thinking about how fortunate Angels fans are to have such smart management, from top to bottom. Hall of Fame sportswriter Ross Newhan gets it, publishing an article in today’s Los Angeles Times about the Angels’ success under Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia.
Of course, should the Angels fall in the playoffs, the loonies will be spamming the boards with demands that Stoneman and Scioscia be fired, if not shot.
Newhan’s article reminds us that, before the Stoneman/Scioscia era, nobody expected the Angels to be perennial contenders. In fact, he writes that Stoneman and Scioscia were shocked when the Marketing people asked during their first meeting with management which individual players to promote since they assumed the team wouldn’t be competitive.
Continuity is one important factor in the Angels’ success. I grew up in an era when the Dodgers were the perennial contenders in town. Walter Alston always returned as manager, until he retired and then it was Tommy Lasorda. The coaches were usually the same, the farm and scouting directors were the same, and the minor league instructors didn’t turn over much. There used to be a saying, "Once a Dodger, always a Dodger," and Dodgers management rarely traded away prospects, choosing to take the long view and build for the future with young talent like Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch … and some kid named Mike Scioscia.
Today’s Angels are built on the model of the old Dodgers, and I’m surprised more people can’t see that, especially with Scioscia at the helm and ex-Dodgers Mickey Hatcher, Alfredo Griffin and Ron Roenicke on the coaching staff.
In the minors, the Angels have several managers and coaches who’ve been around for years — managers Tom Kotchman and Ty Boykin, pitching coaches Zeke Zimmerman and Kernan Ronan, and part-time instructor Bill Lachemann. Let’s not overlook former Dodger Bobby Mitchell, who managed this year at Rancho Cucamonga.
We’re also starting to see former Angels minor leaguers now become coaches and managers. Ty Boykin is one. Salt Lake manager Brian Harper, likely to depart this winter, is another. Todd Takayoshi is now the roving hitting instructor, and Tom Gregorio succeeded him as the catching rover. Brandon Emanuel, who just retired as a pitcher last winter, was the pitching coach this summer at Tempe. Infielder Keith Johnson, who came out of the Dodgers’ farm system years ago, was the hitting coach this year at Double-A Arkansas. 1980s Angels shortstop **** Schofield was the hitting coach this summer at Tempe. You can also point to former Angels major leaguers Craig Grebeck and Eric Owens, who were the hitting coaches this year at Rancho Cucamonga and Cedar Rapids.
Watching the instruction last weekend at fall instructional league, it became increasingly obvious that an entire generation of Angels prospects are being taught a system that one day they might pass along to the next generation. How refreshingly different — and intelligent — from the Gene Autry era when the "Win one for the Cowboy!" mentality destroyed player development in the name of instant gratification.
Jordan Walden was named the top pitching prospect in the Pioneer League. Click Here to listen to an interview I recorded on Friday with Jordan. I also interviewed Trevor Reckling; Click Here to listen to Trevor’s interview. If you read the on-line chat with John Manuel, the analyst who wrote the Arizona League report, he seems to regret leaving Reckling off the list.
He literally was No. 21; if you listen to today’s podcast you’ll hear my buyer’s remorse on Reckling. He’s young, he’s got a good curveball, an upper-80s fastball, some projection . . . I probably should have ranked him. At some point you just have to go ahead and pick 20, and when I did it, I left him out; it sounds like [Mariners pitching prospect Jacob] Wild has upside for his age and could move quickly. But on a true prospect-meter, I should have ranked Reckling ahead of him for being younger & lefthanded and possessing less stuff but more projection.
My personal impression of Reckling — who’s been given the nickname "Reck" — is that he’s hungry to soak up as much knowledge as possible. He seems hungry for the game, and for success. Sometimes you see a player with that kind of personality and you fall in love with him because you know he wants it so badly that he’d throw himself on a grenade to succeed.
Anyway, with life somewhat back in order and the bills paid, I’ll get back to editing video from the fall ball trip. I filmed a lot of the pitchers, but all three games were played on fields with chain-link backstops which usually makes for crummy video since you can’t shoot very well through the metal. I’d like you to see Walden, Reckling, and the others, but if it’s not worth watching, I won’t post them on-line. Just keep watching the FutureAngels.com home page for updates.
I’m also starting to work on my annual Top 10 Prospects report, which should see the light of day sometime near the end of November.
Finally, a reminder that nobody pays me to go out to Tempe and film this stuff. It comes out of my personal savings. If you enjoy watching the videos, please consider a donation or voluntary subscription to support FutureAngels.com. As happens from time to time, I was approached in Tempe by a fan who asked how I pay for all this. I told him that it comes from savings, and that I lose a couple thousand dollars a year. He complimented me for how much better my site was than those who charge you a fee to see their content (which is often just lifted from somewhere else). I’ll never go to a mandatory subscription, but keep in mind that if the debts get too high, the web site goes on the shelf. That’s what happened in 2006, and it can happen again in 2008 if you don’t do your part.
No, beer isn’t on tap in the minor league clubhouse, but when this neon sign is lit it means the Tempe Angels won that day.
“Deliveries don’t throw strikes. Deliveries protect your arm.” — Pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman lecturing a group of young pitchers on Friday.
The rain that passed through Southern California Friday night and Saturday worked its way to Phoenix by the middle of Saturday afternoon. As the last out was recorded, the first drop fell, and within a few minutes a deluge drenched Tempe Diablo.
Before that, the Angels’ fall instructional league team won 6-4 over the Maryvale Brewers.
This was the second game for rehabbing Dallas McPherson. After playing third base for three innings on Friday at the Cubs’ camp, Dallas was the DH in Saturday’s game. In three plate appearances, he homered, walked, and singled. He was then replaced at DH by Chris Pettit.
Click Here to watch Dallas’ home run. You need Windows Media Player and a high-speed Internet connection (cable modem, DSL) to watch.
Jordan Walden got the start for the Angels. I should mention that "start" doesn’t mean much in these games. Typically the "starter" goes two innings; if he exceeds his pitch count, he can be relieved early. The next guy in line is often a starter himself. Innings three and four on Saturday belonged to Mike Anton, who was a starter during the summer for Tempe. After them came Tremayne Holland, Ryan Brasier, and Lou Green, all three of which were relievers this year. Holland worked the 5th, then Brasier had the 6th and 7th. Ryan ran into trouble in the 7th, so Green relieved him early and also worked the 8th.
If you look at the day’s roster, you’ll see a "JIC" next to certain pitchers’ names. That means "Just In Case." Because Green relieved earlier than scheduled, the Angels used a JIC to pitch the 9th. Mason Tobin, a Tempe starter who also pitched for Orem, was the 9th inning JIC.
The Angels got out to an early 5-1 lead, but the Brewers rallied against Brasier. With two outs in the top of the 8th, Green relieved Brasier. The Brewers had runners on 1st and 3rd. On the first pitch, the runner on 1st took off for second, hoping to draw a throw from Angels catcher Anel de los Santos. As Anel threw down to 2B Wil Ortiz, the runner on first froze midway as the runner on third broke for home. Ortiz threw the ball right back to de los Santos, who blocked the plate and applied the tag for the third out.
You’ll hear a Brewers fan next to the camcorder complain the runner was safe, but I looked at the tape frame-by-frame and saw he was out. Anel’s foot blocked the front of the plate, causing the runner’s lead foot to bounce off and around Anel’s ankle. Anel slapped down his mitt to apply the tag an instant later. The umpire got it right.
I mentioned in an earlier entry the stats for instructional league games aren’t reported because the rules aren’t always enforced. Saturday was one example. Although the Angels won, the bottom of the 9th was played anyway because the Brewers had a pitcher who needed work.
I could see a massive storm cloud approaching from the south, so it was a question of whether he could record three outs before the cloudburst arrived. The first drops fell as he delivered his final pitch, and by the time the out was recorded it was raining.
That didn’t stop the Angels coaches from holding a post-game drill, though, as the position players were led over to another field for work in the downpour.
As Dirty Harry said, a good man knows his limitations, and I drew the line at standing in the rain, so I headed inside to wait it out. It stopped raining about 30 minutes later, and I started the six-hour drive for home.
(I refilled the gas tank in the Arizona desert for about $2.45/gallon, or 30 cents/gallon cheaper than in SoCal. Travel tip: if you’re driving between California and Arizona, always gas up on the Arizona side.)
Inside the clubhouse delivery entrance is a neon sign with an Angels logo and a Coors Light ad. No, beer is not on tap in the clubhouse. (Nor is there any alcohol I’ve ever seen.) But you do see various knick-knacks such as the neon sign. Apparently these are collected from vendor shows, samples given to the parent club, personal acquisitions, etc. Some stuff came over from the clubhouse at the Angels’ former facility, Gene Autry Park (AKA "The GAP") in Mesa.
Long-time Angels fans know of the tradition that the halo on the old Big A scoreboard by the freeway is lit after every win. A similar tradition was started this year at Tempe by Dan Ricabal, who was the Tempe pitching coach until Pedro Borbon Jr. resigned in May as the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ pitching coach. Dan was sent to Cedar Rapids to replace him. But before he left, Dan started a "Light the Halo!" tradition at Tempe. If the Tempe team wins, the neon sign is lit for the rest of the day.
I’ve posted on FutureAngels.com video highlights from Day Two. Click Here to watch the highlights. The 13-minute video includes some great instruction sessions with Bruce Hines, Zeke Zimmerman and Tom Gregorio, along with game highlights. Day Three highlights will be on-line in the next couple days.
My thanks and gratitude to all the managers, coaches, front office staff, and players for their patience over the last three days. I’ve always found "fall ball" so fascinating. This is where the young players first learn how to really play the game — and yet almost no fans are ever around, although they could be, to listen and observe. Where else could you sit down and listen to a Bruce Hines, a Zeke Zimmerman, a Kernan Ronan — all with decades of experience — teach how to play Angels baseball? And it doesn’t cost you a penny. You just have to show up. But no one ever does.
Except the ******* with the camcorder and the good sense to get out of the rain.
Dallas McPherson played three innings Friday in his first rehab game of 2007.
“The f***in’ problem is the f***in’ DH!” — An instructor commenting on last night’s headhunting by the Mariners’ Jorge Campillo at Vlad Guerrero.
Although the big leagues are far removed from the Arizona Instructional League, last night’s dustup between the Mariners and Angels was very much a topic of conversation.
Minor league field coordinator Bruce Hines gathered the young players around him to discuss the incident. It’s not my place go into detail, but he made it very clear to them that the Angels’ organizational philosophy is NOT to throw at opposing batters. That comes straight from Mike Scioscia. The best way to retailiate is to win the game. There are other ways, all legal, to retaliate.
One coach who I won’t name expressed his opinion that the designated hitter has led to more headhunting episodes. In the old days — and it’s still played this way in the National League — a pitcher might think twice about throwing at a batter because that pitcher has to bat himself, and might find himself knocked on his butt. If he’s not around, his catcher might suffer the same fate.
Losing cool under pressure manifested itself on September 14, when the Orem Owlz upset the Great Falls White Sox for the Pioneer League title. The Owlz won a 3-2 game in 16 innings at Great Falls. The White Sox had three players ejected from the game, and their manager too.
I asked Zeke Zimmerman, Owlz manager Tom Kotchman’s pitching coach who’s here as an instructor, when was the last time Kotch was ejected from a game. He thinks it was about eight years ago, and believes it’s been that long for one of Kotch’s players to get tossed too.
That says a lot about how smart the management is in this organization. They teach discipline, they teach calm under fire, and most importantly they teach how to pressure the other guy into losing his calm under fire.
I recorded two interviews this afternoon. One was with Jordan Walden, the Owlz’ ace pitcher who was on the mound that night in Great Falls. Jordan is quickly becoming one of the top pitching prospects in the Angels organization. He’s scheduled to pitch tomorrow, so hopefully I can get video and post it on-line after I return home late Saturday night.
The other interview was with Trevor Reckling, an 18-year old lefty out of New Jersey. Trevor attended a small prep school in Newark, but despite the obscurity of his amateur career was drafted by the Angels this year in the eighth round. He had knockout numbers in the Arizona Summer League — a 2.75 ERA in 36 innings, striking out 55 and walking only seven! Trevor seems very excited by the opportunity to soak up so much baseball knowledge from people like Zeke, pitching instructor Kernan Ronan and Tempe Angels pitching coach Brandon Emanuel. As Trevor will tell you in the interview, any meaningful instruction was pretty much non-existent at his high school.
Today’s game was against the Cubs at Fitch Park. The Angels lost 8-4. More importantly, the game marked the return to action of Dallas McPherson. Once destined to replace Troy Glaus at third base for the Angels, Dallas suffered a series of back injuries and underwent increasingly drastic surgeries in an attempt to fix the damage. His last surgery was in January to have a herniated disk removed and a bone spur shaved down.
Dallas started the game at third base and played three innings. In two at-bats, he grounded out and then drilled a ball off the right-field wall. His baserunning was definitely in first gear, although the Cubs’ pitcher forced him to dive back into second on a pickoff play.
I have video of Dallas’ at-bats and will post them this weekend after I return to California. I also shot plenty more footage of the morning instructions. My favorite was Zeke working with the young pitchers on what’s called the strap drill. (Get your minds out of the gutter …) Zeke began by saying that what he was about to explain was passed on to him by Marcel Lachemann, the Angels’ famous pitching coach and manager in the 1990s. So although Lach is long gone from the organization, his pitching philosophies remain, and Zeke is passing it along to a new generation — including Tempe pitching coach Brandon Emanuel, who not too many years ago was a young pitching prospect himself learning from Zeke.
Oh, an update on Hank Conger … He suffered a left hamstring strain in yesterday’s game. The early belief is that he won’t play again in the Instructs, but he was previously scheduled to join Team USA in the Arizona Fall League starting in mid-October so it appears the Angels will shut him down to quiet the hamstring and then let him get his extra work with Team USA.
Tomorrow’s game is at 10 AM. My game plan is to check out of the motel, go work the game, then drive home to Orange County. Since it’ll probably be around 8 PM PDT before I get home, watch the home page at www.futureangels.com for the video updates from Day 2 and Day 3.
P.S. Yes, it’s still hot here.
Trevor Bell pitched two shutout innings to start today’s 10-0 Angels romp at the A’s complex in Papago Park.
I’m in Tempe, Arizona at the Angels’ minor league complex for the first three days of the Arizona instructional league.
"Fall Ball," or “The Instructs,” is often confused with the Arizona Fall League. They’re two different things. The AFL is a six-week top prospect league organized by Major League Baseball, with six teams each having players from five organizations. Fall Ball lasts four weeks, with informal games played between minor league camps.
Statistics aren’t available, because the games aren’t formal. Although teams keep their own numbers, they’re not reported anywhere. You’ll see games with two DHs, you’ll see the bottom of the 9th played when the home team has already won, and other oddities.
They’re serious about that word "instructional" in the title. Each day, and each game, is heavy on instruction.
I’ve posted a video with clips from various instruction drills today. (The link is at the bottom of this article.) You’ll see pitchers and catchers being taught to communicate. You’ll see longtime pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman pass along some pickoff tips to young pitchers.
You’ll also see a drill that’s classic Angels "Contactball" preparing the players for the parent club. Two coaches go to center field, and set up cones in shallow center that are to the left and right of second base. The hitters are expected to drive a soft-toss ball between those two cones, then run as fast as possible to first base. They must do it twice, and their times are logged. The times ranged from under 4.0 to about 4.6 seconds. If you watch the parent club, you see how skilled they are at driving the ball up the middle and pressuring the defense. This is where they learn how to do it.
Today was the first game of the four-week schedule. The Tempe Angels were at the Phoenix A’s.
The A’s minor league complex is in Papago Park, north of the Phoenix Zoo and Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Just my opinion, but I think the A’s complex is the most beautiful of all the Arizona complexes. It’s blended into the nearby desert landscape, up against a butte. The facility is more like a campus. The trees and plants are all native xeriscape. and many bloom green-and-gold, the A’s colors.
The A’s bullpen pitchers relax beneath a tree that’s part of the bullpen.
There are many fields at this complex. The minor league games are usually played on the same field. I noticed this time that the A’s bullpen is on a slight hill behind the third-base dugout. The bullpen pitchers sit on a bench under a tree! I took a photo, which is to the right. Tough life, huh.
The visitors’ dugout is on the first base side, and their bullpen is down the line. (No tree.) Pitchers for both sides who have the day off sit on concrete steps behind home plate. Some pitchers chart or work the radar gun. The photo below shows both teams’ pitchers sitting side-by-side behind the backstop.
As for the game, the Angels romped 10-0. (So much for Moneyball.) It was classic Contactball. Singles, doubles, stolen bases, take the extra base, pressure the defense. You’ll see some of the highlights in the video.
Trevor Bell pitched the first two innings and was nails. I think he struck out something like four hitters, but I’ll post the video when I get home this weekend and we’ll get it right. For those of you who’ve seen Trevor before, he’s shorn his locks to a fine fuzz. I asked him about it afterwards; he said he’s just trying to change his luck. It worked today.
Both teams’ pitchers sit behind the backstop on concrete steps, all part of the unique design at Papago Park.
After Bell came the other Trevor, Trevor Reckling. You’ll see both Bell and Reckling strike out batters in the video.
The bad news is that Hank Conger injured his left leg running the bases. You’ll see that in the video too. Hank reached first on a single, then headed for second when Ryan Mount singled. Hank rounded second full-speed then applied the brakes, tweaking the leg above his knee. He was removed from the game. I’ll check with the Angels’ front office tomorrow morning to find out what I can tell you about the injury.
Tomorrow we have a 12:30 PM game at Fitch Park in Mesa against the Cubs. I’ll try to film more instruction. I’ve also tentatively scheduled a couple of interviews, but let’s see if they actually happen first.
Click Here to watch the Day One video. You need Windows Media Player and a high-speed Internet connection (cable modem, DSL) to watch.
Jean Ardell (third from the left) was the guest speaker at last Saturday’s book club meeting.
My wife belongs to a small women’s book club that meets monthly. A few months ago, they met at our place and we discovered they were all rabid baseball fans. Most of them are Angels fans.
The members rotate who gets to choose the book for the next session, so I suggested to my wife they read Jean Ardell’s Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime. Jean was a guest on FutureAngels.com Radio last June. I think it’s one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read.
Jean’s a friend. I met her through Dan Ardell, an original "future Angel" who played in the Angels’ minor league system in the early 1960s and briefly for the parent club in September 1961. (Click Here to listen to an interview with Dan.) Since Jean and Dan live here in Orange County, I thought it would be a treat for the book club to actually have an author participate. Jean said yes.
And so they gathered last Saturday at our home. Most of them wore Angels gear.
I pretty much stayed out of it, since I don’t belong to the club, but I also wanted to eavesdrop on what a group of women would say about their perspective on an all-male game.
I was really surprised to hear the undertone of resentment many of them felt, that they had been denied an intimate access to the game because of their gender. It’s a theme voiced throughout Jean’s book. After telling her of my observation, Jean said she often heard it when lecturing about her book.
Women have made some inroads into the game. You’ll find a few women executives, such as the Dodgers’ Assistant General Manager Kim Ng. They seem to be more common in the minors, such as the Orem Owlz’ Assistant GM Sarah Hansen and Information Technology Manager Julie Hatch. And a female umpire or two occasionally make a run at the majors, such as Ria Cortesio in the Double-A Southern League. You can find a few female trainers in the college ranks.
But a woman who wants to play will find herself pressured to settle for softball.
Baseball and softball are two different games. Similar, but not identical.
Even if a woman chooses to play softball, she can only go as far as her senior year in college and then she’s relegated to the weekend beer leagues.
Granted, as a rule women lack the physical strength of men, so it’s unlikely we’ll see a woman any time soon who could play professional baseball in the majors, much less the minors.
What’s really needed is a baseball version of the WNBA. Call it the WMLB, for argument’s sake.
I’d had hopes the Colorado Silver Bullets, funded by Coors Beer, might one day play women’s ballclubs funded by other companies. But it never came to pass. The Silver Bullets started out playing minor league teams and were overmatched. They never had a home field, barnstorming all year. At the end, they were playing amateur and semi-pro teams, and finally folded.
Certainly there are four megacorporations out there with the deep pockets and minds open enough to start a modest women’s league. Put teams in minor league stadia near New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Orlando. Play a 36-game schedule, 12 against each team, and have the top two teams play each other in a best-of-five Women’s World Series.
With all the ****, er, variety on cable TV these days, hopefully someone out there would buy the telecast rights. After all, A League of Their Own is one of the more popular baseball movies on the DVD rack.
Will it be painful to watch in the early years? Of course. But compare the WNBA now to when it began play ten years ago, and you’ll see a lot of progress has been made there too.
At the college level, we have women’s basketball and women’s hockey. A nascent women’s football league is trying to form.
So why not baseball?
Of the four major sports, it’s the one with the least physical contact and the one where size matters least.
It would be nice if Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB would take the lead on this, just as the NBA Board of Governors voted in April 1996 to create the WNBA. But if they won’t, then private enterprise should step forward and fill the void.
It’s time for Bill Stoneman to be named Executive of the Year. (That’s original Angels farm and scouting director Roland Hemond in the background.)
He’s not glib, he doesn’t swap gossip, he doesn’t seek headlines by making short-sighted convoluted trades.
But with the Angels headed for another post-season appearance, while protecting one of the deepest farm systems in the business, it’s time to give Stoneman his due.
Stoneman’s contract allows him to retire at the end of this season. His run as the Angels’ GM is the most successful in the organization’s history. Not only did he deliver their first world championship in 2002, but in eight years he’s sent four teams to the post-season and built a highly respected minor league system.
When he took the job in November 1999, Baseball America was about to rank the Angels the worst organization in baseball. Stoneman took flak when he hired former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia to be the Angels’ new manager. And the local media flamed him when he failed to blow up the roster, choosing instead to build upon a talent base that was better than what the pundits claimed.
In July 2000, I wrote the below passage in a column on FutureAngels.com:
Baseball America last October ranked the Anaheim Angels organization the worst in baseball. According to urban legend, it was the reading of this article by Anaheim Sports Inc. President Tony Tavares that led to a total overhaul of the Angels’ front office and field management during the winter.
While the Angels were ranked last, the Oakland A’s were ranked #1.
Sportswriters and media pundits enjoyed kicking the Angels while they were down. The columnists for The Orange County Register unanimously picked the Angels to finish last in the American League West this year. Some so-called "experts" predicted the Angels would lose 100 games.
Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "the Angels have done virtually nothing to shake up their roster this winter" and claimed "someone forgot to hand [General Manager Bill] Stoneman a broom, because the former Expo executive has seemed paralyzed in his efforts to bring change." Of the new manager, DiGiovanna wrote, "It appears [Mike] Scioscia, unproven and untested with only one year of minor-league managing experience, will begin his first major-league managing job with the same core — some would say rotten core — of players that forced [Terry] Collins and [Bill] Bavasi to depart."
The Angels are playing exciting baseball. The team is being led by players produced by the supposed worst farm system in baseball. Darin Erstad and Troy Glaus were sure-fire major leaguers when they were selected a few years ago. But what about Brian Cooper and Bengie Molina and Scott Schoeneweis and Jarrod Washburn and Seth Etherton? Veterans like Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, and Troy Percival came out of this farm system. Speaking of Percy, Bob Clear and Frank Reberger were smart enough in 1991 to convert him from catcher to pitcher, creating one of the most dominant closers in the game.
DiGiovanna’s "rotten core" has been led by "unproven and untested" Scioscia into contention for a division title and wild-card spot. DiGiovanna, so far, has yet to admit he was wrong.
Here we are seven years later, and to my knowledge DiGiovanna still hasn’t admitted his error, but it’s been a long time since he’s written a similar cheap shot, so I suspect he realizes he got it wrong.
Part of the problem is that Stoneman isn’t colorful. He speaks quietly, and measures his words. Some people interpret that as meaning Bill is slow-witted. Quite to the contrary. You don’t get a job as a banking executive, followed by executive positions with two major league organizations, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
For years, media pundits and impatient fans have demanded Stoneman flush his minor league talent for a feel-good quick fix that would make a headline and be quickly forgotten days later. He ignored them, and kept top prospects that are now in the majors taking the Angels to the playoffs — John Lackey, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Howie Kendrick, and many more.
That depth also protected the Angels this year when the inevitable injuries depleted the roster planned out of spring training. Remember when people complained that Stoneman wouldn’t trade away top pitchers to get a "big bat"? But when Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver were hurt, and when Ervin Santana faltered, Dustin Moseley and Joe Saunders were there to step in. When Casey Kotchman got hurt, Kendry Morales was available. Garret Anderson? Reggie Willits. Chone Figgins? Maicer Izturis. And when Izturis was hurt, Erick Aybar stepped in.
Jeff Mathis, dismissed as a "bust" by some, progressed to the point where Stoneman could trade Jose Molina to the Yankees for minor league reliever Jeff Kennard. When Mike Napoli got hurt, Mathis stepped into the starting catcher role and may have a lock on the job for the rest of the decade.
Over the last five years, the Angels’ average minor league talent ranking by Baseball America was 3.4, the best of any organization. The Boston Red Sox, who are the Angels’ likely challenger for the A.L. crown, averaged 17.6. The Oakland A’s, the darling of the stathead crowd, averaged 20, and with their 2007 season in the toilet it’s becoming harder and harder for the Moneyball zealots to credibly argue that Billy Beane is some sort of baseball god.
But Beane is often described as a "genius" by the baseball media, while Stoneman is never mentioned.
My theory is that it’s because Beane is glib, swaps gossip with reporters, and makes short-sighted convoluted trades that give sportwriters something to fill a column with. That makes a GM popular with the people who vote for Executive of the Year.
While the A’s system is increasingly devoid of top prospect talent, the Angels have re-armed with a new wave. Brandon Wood should be a regular within the next year or two, and not far behind him is young pitching ace Nick Adenhart. On the horizon are the talented group who were at Cedar Rapids this year, evoking memories of the group from the early 2000s that included Kotchman, Mathis, Santana, Dallas McPherson and more. This new group includes Hank Conger, Sean O’Sullivan, Mark Trumbo, Matt Sweeney, Chris Pettit, Trevor Bell, and Warner Madrigal. Orem ace Jordan Walden might catch up to them with a superlative spring training.
So if there’s any time for Stoneman to get the award, it’s now. And if not … name one other GM with a better track record — major league win-loss record, post-season appearances, farm system productivity — over the last five years. I don’t think anyone can.
It took 16 innings and a solo homer by Jay Brossman to lead off the top of the 16th, but the Orem Owlz won 3-2 tonight over the Great Falls White Sox to win the Pioneer League pennant.
And Tom Kotchman gets his third ring in four years.
Tom Kotchman never phones it in when it comes to managing.
Tom Kotchman is a man who proves the adage that when you’re handed lemons, you make lemonade.
In his seven years managing Provo and Orem, "Kotch" has gone to the post-season every year. He did with teams blessed with talent, and teams stocked with players who will never be more than a line on a stat sheet.
The 2001 Provo team was probably the most talented roster. Among the players to wear the Provo Angels uniform that year were his son Casey, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson, Ervin Santana, Pedro Liriano, Jake Woods, Nick Gorneault and Steve Andrade — all players who later appeared in the majors. Despite a 53-23 record, that team was eliminated in the championship series 2-0. (Pioneer League championship series are best-of-three.) Part of the problem was losing Casey, Mathis and McPherson to injuries, and Greg Porter leaving early to play college football.
The 2004 squad was the first to win the pennant. They finished 44-32, and defeated Billings 2-0 in the title series. That team didn’t have many high-profile names. The only player to reach the majors so far is infielder Alexi Casilla, who was with Provo for four regular-season games and the post-season, and he did it with Minnesota after being traded to the Twins for J.C. Romero. Three years later, the only top prospect is Sean Rodriguez, who projects as a gifted utility player.
The franchise moved down the road to Orem for the 2005 season. That team was only 38-38, but had the league’s lowest team ERA at 4.16, and that was good enough to upset Helena for the title.
Despite a 37-39 record this year, the Owlz upset South Division champion Idaho Falls (46-30) in the division title series. On Wednesday night, they beat the North’s champion Great Falls (51-24) by a 7-5 score at Orem.
I really dislike the Pioneer League’s post-season best-of-three format. One team gets Game #1 at home, then goes on the road for Games #2 and #3. Who gets the home-field advantage for #2 and #3 is alternated between divisions from year to year, instead of the team with the best record getting to choose their preference. With only three games to decide the champion, the host team for Game #1 is pretty much in a must-win scenario, because if they lose Game #1 they have to win #2 and #3 on the road to claim the title. At least the championship should be best-of-five to make it more equitable.
So the Owlz had their collective backs against the wall Wednesday, and won when they had no choice.
Now they go to Great Falls. The White Sox’ starter for Game #2 is Aaron Poreda, a 6’6" lefty who turns 21 on October 1. Poreda finished with a 1.17 ERA in 46.1 IP, a 48:10 SO:BB ratio, and opponents’ .181 batting average. He gave up only one homer. Kotchman was quoted by a local paper as saying Poreda has a 97 MPH fastball, and implied he’d pretty much written off the game.
That’s classic Tom Kotchman psychology.
One thing Kotch understands is how to play to an athlete’s psyche. Some managers post bulletin board material quoting players on other teams. Kotch will do that, but he’ll also find subtle ways to challenge his players to show him they’re better than he seems to think they are.
That works because from Day One these players see how hard Kotch works. In the ten years I’ve been running FutureAngels.com, I’ve never seen a manager more prepared than Kotch.
Before the 2005 season began, Kotch let me follow him around with a camcorder as he instructed the position players on their first day of practice. Although he worked from prepared notes, much of his lecture was off the top of his head, as if he were the Delphic Oracle. Kotch expects much of his young charges, but no more than he expects of himself. By season’s end, most of the players have bought into it, and are willing to follow him into the gates of **** if it’ll get them a ring.
I was in Provo for the 2004 title game. In the clubhouse before the game, I saw Kotch had taped on his office door his rings from prior titles — including his Angels 2002 World Series ring. Point made. I forget the exact caption, but it was along the lines of “If you want one, it’s out there for you if you work hard enough.”
I was told that on the team bus during the 2005 playoffs, he’d shown them the movie Miracle about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team that upset the Soviets and later won the gold medal. There’s a lot of Herb Brooks in Tom Kotchman.
Because he’s also a scout in Florida for nine months, he’s gifted at evaluating the talent that shows up on that first day. Some of them, he hand-picked — not necessarily because they’re top prospects, but because he knows they have a skill that will complement the rest of his first-year roster, that he will plug in somewhere, sometime.
This year’s example is Gordie Gronkowski, the 24-year old first baseman and DH drafted in the 49th round of the June 2006 draft out of Jacksonville University. Gronkowski suffered a major back injury in college, but Kotch was familiar with his circumstances and realized that "Gronk" might have enough power to protect raw younger talent in the Orem lineup. Kotchman has nursed Gordie’s bad back through a season where he posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .344/.415/.520.
From time to time, someone will question Kotchman’s talent. If he’s so great, why isn’t he in the big leagues? He could be, if he wanted it. But Tom decided long ago that he wanted to be at home with Casey and his daughter Cristal as they grew up, so he gave up managing full-season minor league baseball to take the Florida scouting gig. He spent summers first in Boise, then in Provo and now Orem, and for most of those years Casey joined him as a clubhouse rat. I remember watching Tom pitch batting practice at Boise, and after his players were done he’d pitch B.P. to Casey.
With Casey in the big leagues and Cristal off to four-year college, Tom may be reaching the point where he decides to change course in his baseball career. He could probably have any job he wanted in the organization if there were an opening. Should Ron Roenicke move on to another organization, Kotch would be my first choice as bench coach for Mike Scioscia.
Even if Great Falls wins the next two games and the championship, Tom will have taken his team farther than anyone imagined. He’ll counter Poreda with his own top pitching prospect, Jordan Walden. If there’s a Game #3, he’ll go with lefty Robert Fish, who pitched the game of his life on September 9 when he struck out 13 in eight shutout innings. If they lose, they lose with their best, and that’s all anyone can ask.