Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Angels; Search for First Base
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TRIVIA QUESTION:   When the California Angels lost first sacker Don Mincher to the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft, 21-year old Jim Spencer became the regular first baseman for the Halo's in the 1969 season. He didn't do it right away. Rather, he had to take over for another slugging first sacker who opened the 1969 season for the Angels Opening Day against Seattle. Who was he?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: Ken McMullen did some slugging of his own during his career with key home runs, but he was no match for the two sluggers he was involved in trades with, who between them belted 968 dingers. For his part McMullen homered 156 times in his career.  In 1964 he went to the Washington Senators in a trade along with Frank Howard (382 HR) and in 1972 he was sent by the Angels to the Dodgers in a deal involving Frank Robinson (586 HR).

In the mid-1960's the Los Angeles Angels were desperately searching for their first baseman of the future. In 1965 they were sort of content to hang on through the season with a pair of 37 year old aging veterans while the search continued. Joe Adcock and Vic Power were at the end of their careers. Both had long track records and good ones, but the Angels were a team hoping to make a move and with developing youngsters and a solid pitching staff the club wanted to improve and develop. All three came with impeccable credentials. All three would fail miserably with time out for a hot streak or two. 

Costen Shockley, one of the cooler names in MLB, was a school boy wonderkid who at 6'2", 200 pounds came to the Angels via a trade with the Phillies. The deal sent playboy Bo Belinksy (a player who had more fun, than wins at the major league level) to Philadelphia for the left handed slugging Shockley.

In the minors Shockley batted .360, .335 and in 1964 smashed 36 minor league home runs. The Phils thought he was ready. He started seven games but hit only .207 with one home run and was shipped back to the minors. At the end of the season he was sent to the AL.

In 1965 he started 30 of the 40 games he played but again failed to hit, batting only .187. He came to the plate 107 times registering 20 hits. The Angels wanted the youngster to go back to the minors for more seasoning and were sticking with Adcock and Power. Shockley refused and instead retired from the game. He went back home to Delaware, worked in construction, coached youth baseball and raised his family. 

His 28 MLB hits included two doubles, three homers and 19 RBI. It wasn't enough to get him to stick in the bigs, but it was enough to get him inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame in 1998. 

Before Shockley the Angels tried a player who was seven years older; Charles Henry Dees. Dees came out of Alabama and was also a left-handed thrower and batter like Shockley. At 6'1" he was much lighter at 173 pounds. He came out of the Negro Leagues were he played in 1957 before signing with San Francisco.
Another stalwart in the minors, he had three .300 plus seasons and led the Texas League in 1962, batting .348 with 23 homers and 115 RBI. A TL All-star he was sold to the Angels. The Giants already had Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda competing for time at first base and there was no room for Dees. 

The Big Club called him up early in the 1963 season and on May 26th in his first at bat he smacked a double off the A's Orlando Pena, picking up an RBI when Billy Moran came around to score. Over the next 20 games it looked like the Angels found their first sacker. He hit .382 and became the starter at first. It didn't last long. He fell into a long slump and by the end of July was back in the minor leagues. He was hitting .281 when they sent him back down.

He was back up again in September and again went on a hot streak. He had six games with at least two hits and four times had three-hit games. He would finish his rookie campaign .307 in just over 200 at bats.

The 1964 season however was a complete turnaround. Starting less than a handful of games and used as a pinch-hitter the first couple of months he had only a pair of hits, batting .077. He was sent on loan to the Houston organization. He ended up back in the Angels system where he had his biggest success and took off again. He hit .377 at El Paso of the TL, and got another chance to return to the big leagues. After 12 games and a .156 BA he was sent back down where his career ended in 1966.

From the time Moose Stubing signed as an 18 year old first baseman back in the mid 1950's, it was clear he could hit. By the time the Angels called him up in 1967, he had slugged 192 minor league homers with a lifetime BA of .283. In 1964 in the friendly confines of the ballpark in El Paso, he slugged 35 homers, drove in 120 and batted .316. The Angels were salivating over the prospects of the 26 year old. By 1967 he was ready, or so it seemed.
The 1967 season was a big one for the Halo's who were in contention right down to the wire. However, by now they had found their slugging first baseman; Don Mincher. You can see Mincher's career in the video below. Mincher would hit 25 homers during the season but they hoped Stubing would provide some insurance down the stretch.

The Moose came to bat five times and struck out four, failing to register a hit. His major league career was over at age 29. At least as a player. Years later he was offered a chance to manage in the Angels system and was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 1982 and won the championship in 1984. In 1988 he got the chance to manage the big club when Cookie Rojas was fired. He managed the final eight games of the season, losing all eight.

Stubing became a scout for the Angels and later the Nationals. He died January 19, 2018. Don Mincher's career is seen in the video below.

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