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Original Issue

LOS ANGELES ANGELS: A happy mood that needs a harness

The freewheeling Angels were the most delightful surprise in baseball last year. Bubbling with optimism, they head into a season that may produce a less happy form of astonishment

The Angels' prime asset is their frisky, younger-than-spring-time attitude; yet the handling of this heady ingredient will be one of Manager Bill Rigney's (left) most challenging tasks. The team likes to call itself "the loosest club in baseball," but it is possible to get so loose that you fall down. This wouldn't be the first collapse in Chavez Ravine—the other was for a different reason—but overconfidence is a volatile commodity. As Dean Chance noted, "We hit one real low spot last year. It was right after we had gone into first place by beating Washington on July 4." If there was any time during the season when the team should have taken command it was at that moment. "But then Rig had to leave us for a few days because his father died. It wasn't the same without him and we lost three in a row to Boston, of all teams." When the boss came back to exert a little discipline, the Angels beat the Yankees two out of three. As Leon Wagner put it, "Our manager always tells us not to be overconfident. When we played Kansas City and Washington sometimes we'd sort of feel they wouldn't be any competition." It was Wagner, as much as anyone, who infused the Angels with their relaxed and confident personality. "With the Giants in '58 I got used to pressure because we were fighting for a pennant," Daddy Wags explains. "When the Angels brought me up in '61, I found this club under a different pressure of trying to prove they weren't misfits. Then we found we could relax just by talking in the clubhouse, and soon we carried it out on the field. Lots of times, man, we'd be in a tight game and the other team would be all tense and we'd be laughing and keeping loose." All of which causes Bo Belinsky to comment, "Yah, that spirit and that kind of stuff was fine last year. It's good to have a happy-go-lucky attitude, but this year I'd rather have that money attitude."

Rigney respects the confidence of his team. Last year he helped build it and sustain it. This year he will have to harness the happy mood and help his team handle it properly.

Last year the Angels were eighth in the league in slugging, scored only 12 more runs than their opposition and did not possess a .300 batter. But they hit well in the clutch and turned up five players with 60 or more RBIs. The "money hitters"—Lee Thomas (26 HRs, 104 RBIs), Wagner (37 HRs, 107 RBIs), Billy Moran (17 HRs, 74 RBIs) and Albie Pearson (the league leader in runs with 115)—are all left-handed except Moran. This season they will be aided by Ken Hunt, a right-handed-hitting outfielder who led the team in RBIs in 1961 but was sidelined most of 1962 with a shoulder injury.

Two years ago no staff in the league gave up more homers (180), and only one had a worse ERA. Last season no team allowed fewer home runs (118), and only one had a better ERA. Dean Chance (14-10), who as a rookie last year didn't become a starter until the second half of the season, suddenly learned control and finished with the fourth best ERA in the league (2.96). Sinker man Ken McBride is recovered from a cracked rib that kept him out for two months after he had won 10 of his last 11 games. Don Lee, 8-8 with a 3.11 ERA after being obtained from the Twins, is another starter. The only left-handed starting pitcher is Belinsky, dubbed Seabiscuit by Manager Rigney. He has promised not to horse around this year and to attempt to get his varied assortment of pitches closer to the strike zone. Bob Turley, late of the Yankees, impressed Rigney this spring and will be used in spots. Forty-year-old Art Fowler, control specialist Tom Morgan, lefty Jack Spring and possibly Ron Moeller and Dan Osinski make up one of the strongest bullpens in the majors (43 saves in 1962).

Lee Thomas plays first base like a converted outfielder (which he is), and Joe Koppe and Felix Torres have a tendency to wave at ground balls on the left side of the infield. All this contributed to a team total of 175 errors and 104 unearned runs, worst in the league in both cases. Nonetheless, there is hope. Jim Fregosi probably will take over at shortstop. He tends to rush his throws and he could be better going to his left, but he is young (21) and has good instincts. Tom Satriano (22) has good moves and hands as fast as a card sharp's—which may help him nudge Torres off third base. Moran makes up for what he lacks in range by playing the hitters expertly around second base. At 24, Catcher Bob Rodgers is still learning, but he already handles his glove and pitchers with unusual maturity. In the outfield Hunt, Pearson and Wagner are sometimes brilliant, rarely sloppy.