Wednesday, April 4, 2018

An Angelic Season 1962

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who was the young pitcher for the Angels in 1962 at 19 years old, who would stake his claim as a major league outfielder starting a few years later, when he starred for the Twins in the 1970's?  

Wilbur Wood came over from the Pirates to the White Sox in 1967 in the Juan Pizarro trade, and after initially serving in the relief corps, became a starter who eventually would make history by starting both games of a double header. His knuckleball, teamed with that of Hoyt Wilhelm, gave both their own catchers fits as well as opposing hitters.

It usually takes years for an expansion team in major league baseball to reach the .500 mark, let alone have a winning season. When what looks like an ordinary run of the mill expansion team achieves a winning mark in only it's second season, it's reason to celebrate. Bring on the 1962 Los Angeles Angels. Not only did they finish with a winning record, they finished in third place in the American League (86-76) and spent almost a week, midway through the season, on top of the heep.
How did a team with only 137 Home Runs (7th in the AL) and a team Batting Average of .250 (6th out of 10 teams) end up in third place? Pitching. The team finished with an ERA of 3.70 (2nd in AL), second in inning pitched, first in Saves with 47 and amazingly gave up only 118 Home Runs to the opposition, which was the best in the AL. That was an accomplishment, considering they faced teams like the Yankees (199 HR) and Tigers (209 HR) who had major clubbers.

On July 4th, the Angels took a double-header from lowly Washington and were a half game up in the American League, sitting in first place. They were 45-34. They followed this happiness up by dropping three straight to the Red Sox and fell from first to third, 2.5 games back and never recovered. The club still toyed with moving up and got within a game but it wasn't to be.
Carried by newly found ace Dean Chance (14-10) and helped along by the playboy pitcher Bo Belinsky (10-11), and starters Ken McBride (11-5), Eli Grba, Don Lee and Ted Bowsfield, it was the bullpen which chose to shine. Actually it was "from the bullpen," because manager Bill Rigney chose the unusual route of using his starters to close out games often. 
                                                                       (AP Wire Photo)
For instance, yes the club led the league in Saves with 47. Of those 47 Saves, 13 were by guys who were normally in the rotation. This included 8 from Chance. The rest of the Saves were really done by committee. In, all 11 different pitchers were credited with a Save with the most registered by Tom Morgan with 9. Aside from the 8 from Chance, aging Ryne Duren also had 8. Of course the well traveled Duren lost 9 of 11 decisions on the season too.

It wasn't that the team couldn't hit; it could. It just did not hit home runs and only two starters batted at least .280. Billy Moran hit .282 and Lee Thomas batted .290. The pair cranked 43 homers between them. Add in the 37 Leon "Daddy Wags" Wagner hit and you get 80 of the teams 137. Felix Torres with 11 was the only other player in double figures.

A key to this team as well was they put the ball in play, rarely striking out and they got their share of walks finishing fourth in the AL. Albie Pearson led them with 95 free passes. They also grounded into 110 double plays which was not good. 

The team seemed to be on the rise. A young Jim Fregosi was getting ready to take over at Shortstop, Chance was on the verge of becoming a 20 game winner and Tom Satriano, Freddy Newman and Ed Kirkpatrick would be around for most of the decade.
The winning was not to be sustained. The team was aging quickly with 13 players, 30 years old or more. The following seasons would see the departure of outfielder Chuck Tanner, Duren, Art Fowler (39) and Eddie Yost. The following year the club dropped to 70-91, falling into 9th place. In 1964 they returned to winning (82-80) and moving up to fifth place.

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