And so, as the California Angels make their sentimental journey
towards the American League West title, let's pause a moment to
reflect on a song once sung by their owner, that eminent cowpoke
himself, Gene Autry. He performed it in the 1941 film The Singing
Hill, but it could very well be the theme song for the 1986 Angels
highlight film. In the key of C, if you will. . . .
I'm heading for the Last Round-up
Gonna saddle Old Paint for the last time and ride
So long, old pal, it's time your tears were dried
I'm heading for the Last Round-up
Yep, this could be the Last Roundup for the grizzled Angels, the
final shoot-out for old hands Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Brian
Downing, Doug DeCinces, Doug Corbett and Bob Boone, all of whom are
in the final year of their contracts. For them, the message is clear:
Win or else. ''And even if we do win it, who knows if we'll still be
here?'' says third baseman DeCinces. ''I tend to doubt it.''
But while the Angels ponder their uncertain future, they can revel
in their present. California now has a two-game lead on the
wet-behind-the-ears Texas Rangers and a 9 1/2-game lead on the
defending world champion Kansas City Royals. Last week Team
Methuselah won four of seven games, including three out of four from
the Oakland A's, who were riding a seven-game winning streak.
The Angels' formula for success has been solid pitching +
excellent defense + just enough offense + experience. With such
notable exceptions as rookie first baseman Wally Joyner and shortstop
Dick Schofield, most of the heroes are not much younger than their
In last Monday night's 6-3 victory over Oakland, DeCinces, who'll
turn 36 this month, drove in three runs, two of them with a home run
off Joaquin Andujar. When DeCinces was born, Gene Mauch was an
infielder for the Boston Braves.
On Wednesday afternoon the Angels beat the A's 6-2 as John
Candelaria, age 32, pitched seven strong innings and Jackson, age 40,
singled and scored the game-winning run. Candelaria was born in
Brooklyn the same year Roy Campanella led the Dodgers to 105
victories. Connie Mack still had four years left to manage the
Athletics when Reggie was born near Philadelphia.
Thursday afternoon's 8-5 victory over the A's was another one for
the ages. Downing, 35, and Boone, 38, hit grand slams off Eric Plunk
-- the first time a team has hit two in a game this season and just
the second time the Angels have ever done it. Downing was born two
days after the Yankees swept the Philadelphia ''Whiz Kids'' in the
1950 World Series, and Boone came into this world in '47, the year
29-year-old Ted Williams won the Triple Crown.
In the series opener in Seattle Friday afternoon, Don Sutton, 41,
earned victory No. 305, a 3-2 win over the Mariners. DeCinces hit a
solo homer, and 36-year-old George Hendrick, born the year Autry came
out with the movie Riders in the Sky, had a two-run shot. By now you
should be getting the idea that some of the Angels are old. Sutton,
who has been accused of doctoring a pitch or two, arrived only 11
years after Burleigh Grimes threw the last legal spitter in '34.
''They keep talking about age,'' DeCinces said after Friday's
game. ''But we're talking quality players here, real quality
The numbers indicate that the quality has suffered only a little
with the years. Jackson is hitting .263 and is second in the AL in
on-base percentage at .408. Downing is hitting .270, with 12 homers
and 56 RBIs, and DeCinces has 13 home runs and 57 runs batted in.
Boone, fourth on the alltime list for games caught, is still gunning
down base stealers at a rate of better than 50%. And the redoubtable
Sutton has won 8 of his last 10 decisions. ''The age thing has
been written every year since 1981,'' says Downing. ''People look too
much at age and not the other things that make a winning team. Look
around this room and you see so many guys with very strict training
regimens. Reggie, myself, Rick Burleson, Boone with his martial arts
Enter most postgame locker rooms and the players are feasting.
Enter the Angels' domain, and many are working out with weights or
stretching. After Friday's game at the Kingdome, Boone was seen
wearing a weightlifter's belt and hauling around dumbbells.
But then, the Angels have been carrying around the weight of an
uncertain tomorrow all season. ''There is a very strong feeling this
is probably our last time together as a group, particularly if we
don't win it,'' says Downing. ''And that's a driving force.
Management has come right out in saying they would like to move us
out. But, hey, winning might take care of that.''
Manager Mauch bristles at the notion that this is the Last
Roundup. Well, more than bristles, actually. ''I never give that
issue any consideration,'' he says curtly. ''During spring training,
anyone who mentioned it to me, well, it made me thoroughly disgusted.
That's not the way a player should think.''
Yet it was Mauch himself who held a May meeting in which he told
his veterans that if the Angels did not get ''over the hump'' this
season, many of them would be gone. California general manager Mike
Port says he would like eventually to operate with roughly 90% of his
players coming from within the organization, and he has several
players in the minors ready to step in a la Joyner, who is hitting
.309 with 21 homers and 74 RBIs. ''If you look at your team with your
heart and keep veterans around for the sake of being sentimental,
you're lost,'' says Port. ''It's performance that counts. Performance
''Ninety wins,'' says Mauch, who is still chasing the White Whale,
i.e., his first pennant. ''I want 90 in the worst way. That's all I
think about day after day after day. I don't believe anybody else in
our division can win 90.''
The Angels got off to a slow start, partly due to disabled-list
stints by Candelaria and ace reliever Donnie Moore, 32. They also
had the distractions of Wallyworld, Reggie's 537th homer (to pass
Mickey Mantle) and Sutton's 300th win. But they closed ground on
Texas by beating them six straight times over two weeks in June, and
they took over first place on July 7.
Of course, getting to first place has never been a problem with
the Angels. Staying there into October has been the hitch. ''For four
out of five years, we've been there in September, but we haven't
closed,'' says Jackson. ''The great teams I played on always closed.
. . . The difference this year, though, is the pitching can get us
through those last 30 games.'' Says Downing, ''Our pitching and
defense are the best I've seen in nine years here.'' The Angels
simply do not beat themselves.
Mike Witt and Kirk McCaskill are the 1-2 punch in the starting
rotation, two young pitchers with strikeout and complete game
capabilities. Witt, 11-7, is second in the league in innings, third
in ERA and fifth in strikeouts. McCaskill, or ''Dr. McK,'' is third
in strikeouts and fifth in ERA with a record of 12-7.
Then there's Sutton, who has rebounded from a 2-5 start to a 2.77
ERA in his last 11 games. Candelaria will be a most important man
down the stretch. He underwent surgery April 16 to remove a bone spur
from his left elbow and didn't pitch until July 8. He is 4-1 with a
2.67 ERA since his return. ''I'm trying to get the fear about the
elbow out of the back of my mind,'' he says. Mauch bemoans the lack
of a good fifth starter, but he should be able to finesse that
deficiency. Moore's arm problems appear to be over. He has been
overpowering, with five saves in his last five appearances.
The Angels' defense is the best in the league. They've made 12
fewer errors than the second-best defensive team, the Detroit Tigers.
Joyner, the phenom who refuses to fizzle, is a wizard around first.
Schofield is steady and sometimes spectacular at shortstop, and Gary
Pettis is virtually guaranteed a Gold Glove as long as he prowls
WE'RE SO EXC!TED is the catchy advertising slogan for the club,
but BUSINESS AS USUAL would be more appropriate. ''There isn't the
same camaraderie here that you'll find on teams of 25-year-olds,''
says Grich. ''Even the young guys are quiet. But it's good because
most everyone has been through these races.''
Could Mauch's unfortunate record of 24 years without a pennant
winner finally be coming to a close? ''Yes, we're doing just
fine,'' the skipper said on the phone to Autry on Friday. ''We're not
going to worry about anybody else. We're just taking care of
The Angels might as well sit back and enjoy it. As Autry remembers
from his Hollywood days, all cowboys eventually go riding off into
the sunset. END
PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICHARD MACKSON Reggie barreled around third against the A'son Wednesday.The result? Turn to page 16.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICHARD MACKSON Happy landing: Jackson was safe at the plate with the go-ahead run in the 6-2 victory.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICHARD MACKSON Jose Canseco goes out of his way to break up the DP, but Schofield turns it anyway.