August 2011

The First Angels’ No-Hitter

A photo of Alan Flitcraft in the August 28, 1961 Statesville Record & Landmark.

The first no-hitter in the history of the Angels organization was thrown fifty years ago today, August 26, 2011.

Angels fans have been raised to believe that Bo Belinsky threw the first Angels’ no-hitter.  That was on May 5, 1962, for the Angels against Baltimore at Chavez Ravine (AKA Dodger Stadium).

But Alan Flitcraft beat him by 252 days.

Flitcraft pitched the no-hitter for the Statesville Owls, a team in the Class D Western Carolina League.  Statesville was one of two affiliates the Angels had in their inaugural season, the other being the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers.

It was the final day of the 1961 regular season, and Statesville was playing a makeup doubleheader at home against Newton-Conover.

Flitcraft joined the Owls in June that year after completing his college season at Manatee Junior College in Bradenton, Florida.  He was 19 when he arrived in Stateville.  Alan would appear in 11 games for the Owls, finishing with a 5-1 record and a 2.55 ERA in 60 innings.

As it is today, back in 1961 minor-league doubleheader games were seven innings each, so Flitcraft’s gem was not a “full-length” nine-inning no-hitter.  But it went in the record games as a complete game and a no-hitter.

Here’s the box score:

The last Angels’ no-hitter was thrown on July 27, 2011 by Ervin Santana. You might think there’s no possible connection between Flitcraft and Santana, but there is.

Flitcraft went on to become the baseball coach at Northern Arizona University from 1966 to 1981. One of his players in 1980-1981 was Kernan Ronan, who went on to a five-year professional career in the San Francisco Giants minor league system. Ronan was hired by the Angels in 1989 as the pitching coach for Palm Springs in the California League. In 2004, he was Santana’s pitching coach at Double-A Arkansas.

Angels’ minor league pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan reunites with his college coach Alan Flitcraft at Tempe Diablo Stadium in October 2009.

Might there have been some wisdom from Alan Flitcraft passed along to Ervin Santana through Kernan Ronan? Who knows, but at least indirectly the man who threw the first Angels’ no-hitter had a tangential influence on the man who threw the last one.

Alan and Kernan reunited at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona in October 2009 during a reunion of the 1961 Owls. They decided that they would like to reunite again, in 2011 at Statesville for their 50th anniversary.

That pledge was honored on June 18, when eight surviving members of the 1961 Owls gathered on the Statesville Stadium field to be honored by throwing out the first pitch.

Alan Flitcraft warms up at Statesville Stadium on June 18, 2011 — the same field where he threw a no-hitter fifty years ago.

Alan was wise enough to warm up in the bullpen before the first pitch ceremony. His toss was straight and true for a strike.

With him were five teammates who were in the lineup on August 26, 1961. Those present were:

1. Dave Best 2B
3. Jerry Fox LF
4. Dick Simpson CF
5. Vito Porta 3B
8. George Bryson SS
9. Alan Flitcraft P

Ed Thomas and Bob Lucas also attended the reunion but were not in the lineup for the no-hitter. Jack Hiatt played right field that day, but was unable to attend as he was representing the Giants at an event in Spokane, Washington.

The 1961 doubleheader was played on a Saturday night. The Statesville Record & Landmark did not publish on Sunday, so the story about the no-hitter didn’t appear in the paper until Monday, August 28.

Click here to read the newspaper report. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.)

According to sports editor Jerry Josey:

Only three balls were hit to the outfield as Flitcraft hung his gem on Newton-Conover in the opener. The righthander from Bradenton, Fla., received 10-hit backing and errorless support afield from the Owls, with a doubleplay erasing one of the four runners he walked. Flitcraft issued a pair of walks to open the fourth and didn’t allow a runner past second. One walk in the second was eliminated by a George Bryson-Bob Johnson doubleplay and he walked another in the fifth.

“Errorless support afield” was rare in those days, as the Statesville infield was all dirt and strewn with rocks.

Outside of Alan and his teammates, only those of us who research the obscure history of minor league baseball will note the passing of this date. But I suspect that somewhere within Alan Flitcraft still dwells that 19-year old who can forever claim to have thrown the first Angels’ no-hitter.

2001: A Draft Odyssey

Casey and Tom KotchmanCasey Kotchman played for his father Tom with the Provo Angels for about a week before spraining his wrist and missing the rest of the 2001 season.

Baseball analysts recall the 2001 amateur draft as one of the deepest talent pools in recent history. The first two players chosen were Joe Mauer (Twins) and Mark Prior (Cubs). Mark Teixeira (Rangers) went #5 overall.

Drafts are more art than science — remember Colt Griffin? The Royals chose him at #9. All velocity and no control, he played five minor league seasons, never higher than Double-A. In 373 2/3 innings, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 271:278. That’s not a typo.

The Angels had two extra picks in early rounds as compensation for the Rangers signing reliever Mark Petkovsek — a supplemental pick after the 1st round (#33 overall), and the Rangers’ third-round pick.

In a talent-rich year, it was thought this might be the Angels’ best draft ever. In the immediate years that followed, it seemed likely that would be a reality.

Such judgments in retrospect are, of course, strictly subjective. But although none of the players chosen by the Angels in the draft became superstars, many went on to play in the majors.

Who were the major leaguers? By round:

Casey Kotchman 1B (1st)
Jeff Mathis C (1st, supplemental)
Dallas McPherson 3B (2nd)
Steven Shell RHP (3rd, compensation)
Jake Woods LHP (3rd)
Matt Brown 3B (10th)
Ryan Budde C (12th)
Nick Gorneault OF (19th)
Stephen Andrade RHP (32nd)

Two didn’t play in the majors, but are now coaches in the Angels’ minor league system. Catcher Brent Del Chiaro manages Cedar Rapids, and Mike Eylward is their hitting coach.

Sixth rounder Quan Cosby never made it above Low-A, but went on play wide receiver for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.

Kotchman, Mathis and McPherson were considered top prospects, and it would be fair to say none of them achieved expectations.

Casey Kotchman reached the majors in 2004, called up from Double-A Arkansas after Darin Erstad was injured. He was eventually packaged with minor league pitcher Stephen Marek in a trade to the Braves for Teixeira. Casey went on to Boston and Seattle but never achieved his potential. This year at age 28, he’s having a career year with his home town team, the Tampa Bay Rays. In 328 at-bats, his AVG/OBP/SLG are .332/.394/.457.

Jeff Mathis has started 59 of the Angels’ 113 games to date. Manager Mike Scioscia values him for his defense and game-calling. Jeff never manifested in the majors the offense he showed in the lower minors, and many fans question why Scioscia continues to play a catcher whose AVG/OBP/SLG are .181/.226/.259.

Dallas McPherson reached the majors in 2004 but was never healthy. A lower back injury that began in spring training 2003 grew worse over the years, eventually resulting in a series of increasingly invasive surgeries. The Angels granted him free agency after the 2007 season, and since then Dallas has led a nomadic baseball existence. He played briefly for the Marlins in 2008 and was called up earlier this year by the White Sox, where he was 2 for 15. He currently plays third base for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights.

Was it the Angels’ best draft ever?

Probably not. But of the thirty drafted players who signed, nine appeared in the major leagues. And that’s not bad.