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Starting at the Bottom Again

Raking Dirt and Tending Tarpaulins is not generally a recommended career path to running a big league baseball club. Yet here are the Angels being run by a former grounds-keeper, whose four-year, $10-a-night apprenticeship at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium included one comical rain delay. "The tarp hadn't been used in years, and it smelled awful," Bill Bavasi says, "It was basically four boneheads trying to figure out what they were doing."

But Bavasi, who started the job at 17, had connections. His dad, Buzzie, was president of the Padres in between stints as general manager of the Dodgers and then the Angels. Maybe groundskeeping sounded menial, but it was a job in baseball, wasn't it? "It was," says Bill, "a great opportunity to see things up close and learn."

Upon graduating from college in 1980, he took a job with the Angels as a minor league administrator. Four years later, in what was his father's last year before retiring, Bill was promoted to director of minor league operations. After nine years in that role, he became the assistant to general manager Whitey Herzog last September. Four months later Herzog quit, and Bavasi, 36, was elevated to general manager. He has moved into the same office at Anaheim Stadium that used to be his dad's.

"By my sophomore year in college, being around the game so much, I began to think, This is too much fun. I'd like to get a job in baseball," Bavasi says. "But I never really thought about being general manager. Whatever job I had—running the minor leagues, whatever—it was always good enough for me."

True to his background, Bavasi is again working from the ground up. The Angels figure to start six players between 24 and 27 years old, four of whom did not play in the big leagues before April 1992. But they also have veterans such as Chili Davis, Bo Jackson and Dwight Smith to offer experience, not to mention a tall tale or two to keep the youngsters entertained. "These guys tell more stories than Mother Goose," says shortstop Gary DiSarcina. Trouble is, California is again short on pitching beyond Mark Langston and Chuck Finley, who were 32-25 last year while the rest of the staff was 39-66. No matter. Thanks to realignment, the Angels have moved up their estimated time of arrival from 1995 to this year.

"There's been talk of '95, but what's the point of that?" Bavasi says. "We don't think anybody in this division is the '27 Yankees."

Meanwhile Bavasi is operating in his unpretentious and direct manner. When he arrived at spring training and found that the general manager's parking spot was still reserved in Herzog's name, he pulled into another spot. When he set an evening deadline to have all players under contract, he first checked his local media's deadlines to be sure they would have time to file their stories. He recently convinced DiSarcina, rightfielder Tim Salmon and centerfielder Chad Curtis that they should give up at least two years of arbitration eligibility in exchange for the security of long-term contracts, which he figures will save the team money.

"He spent a lot of time talking to us one-on-one," DiSarcina says. "One day he called me up at my apartment and said, 'I live close to you. Do you mind if I come over in 10 minutes?' He's real honest and straightforward."

Says Buzzie Bavasi, "Baseball is a small business. I know Billy will do well. He's got the two requirements for the job: He gets along with people, and he has common sense."

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V.J. LOVERO

To be a hit in California, Bo has to cut down his K's: 106 in 284 at bats in '93.