It's often said in these parts that the "A" on the caps of the California Angels really ought to stand for "alumni."
Alumni of other teams and other baseball incarnations.
The reason, 'tis speculated, that the Angels have never ended up in a World Series, despite the obvious talent that Gene Autry's millions have attracted, is that the best years of great careers have been left behind by the time these illustrious alumni get to laid-back California.
Tonight, in the first game of the American League Championship Series, the Angels clobbered an exhausted-looking collection of Milwaukee Brewers, 8-3, as many of those wealthy veteran alumni of other wars distinguished themselves on a new battlefield.
Most conspicuous to the Big A crowd of 64,406 was former Baltimore Oriole Don Baylor who tied a major-league championship series record by driving in five runs: one with a fly ball, two with a triple that missed being a homer by a foot, and two more with a bases-loaded single.
"It's obvious I don't concentrate well without men on base," said Baylor, who will soon be a free agent. "When there are people on, I'm a completely different hitter. I look for (specific types of) pitches. I stay away from the home-run swing and drive the ball to all fields. I just try to hit it hard." As though to prove the point, Baylor had RBI in this game on balls hit to left, center and right-center.
Baylor's big night was fitting and amusing. Fitting, because he led the league in game-winning RBI (21) this season, and got another one tonight. Amusing, perhaps, because Baylor entered this game with typically excellent Groove statistics -- 24 homers and 93 RBI -- yet found himself only the eighth most productive hitter in both these categories on a night when the field was awash in sluggers whose reputations can dwarf even an ex-MVP like Baylor.
If a Brewers pitcher hadn't yanked up his glove in self-defense to snare yet another Baylor liner, the hard-nosed Angel DH would have had a sixth RBI and held the record alone, surpassing Paul Blair of Baltimore and Bob Robertson of Pittsburgh.
Next to Baylor, the most heroic Angel was a former New York Yankee, Tommy John, who, after tough sledding in the first three innings, retired a dozen in a row along the way to a seven-hit complete game. Just six weeks ago, John was an outcast from George Steinbrenner's home for the hopelessly unhappy.
"Tommy reminded me of Warren Spahn tonight," said Manager Gene Mauch of the Angels, emerging momentarily from what has remained a rather prickly, almost grumpy mood since his team clinched its division. "Once he got used to the atmosphere -- the wind currents, the humidity -- he got tougher than a boot."
John now has a perfect 4-0 record in Championship Series games, as well as a mere seven earned runs in a career 44 innings of AL series play.
"Generally, if I can scramble past the first three innings . . . I can shut 'em down," said John, whose mounting excellence transformed an adrenaline-filled, exciting early-inning battle of base hits into a rather pedestrian late-inning walkaway. "Once you lose some of your strength and don't throw the ball as fast, your sinker has better bite. Actually, I threw a lot of curveballs tonight . . . You have to change your M.O."
Many pitchers would have been rattled at falling behind the Brewers, 3-1, by the third inning, thanks to a two-run, 400-foot homer by Gorman Thomas to left and an infield-out RBI by Cecil Cooper in the third. Not John, a 231-game winner who, alone among top pitchers seems to combine intense competitiveness with a sense of wry detachment.
"You can't let a home run by anybody on that ballclub upset you," he said. "Wipe that from your mind . . . Pitch as though the first two hitters didn't matter."
John was even feeling frisky enough in victory to take gentlemanly shots at two former employers who gave up on him--the Dodgers and Yankees. Asked if he had noticed that both he and former Dodger Don Sutton were in the playoffs while L.A. hadn't made it, John replied: "It just goes to show that the Dodgers had some good pitchers--at one time."
As to the Yankees, who discarded him five weeks ago as too old, too erratic and generally unworthy of their fifth-place rotation, John remarked with asperity: "(Wife) Sally and I have plane tickets at home for October 4th to go from Newark to West Palm Beach (Fla.). Thanks to Buzzy (Bavasi), we have to change that." Translated, this means that the going-nowhere Yankees are all now on vacations while he's winning games on national TV.
While Baylor and John certainly stole this one-sided show in which the Angels took a 5-3 lead in the fourth, other members of the Alumni Association got in their licks. Former Red Sox Fred Lynn hit a 410-foot homer and made two excellent catches in center, former Oriole Doug DeCinces scored two runs and former Yankee Reggie Jackson had an RBI. Don't forget former Oriole Bobby Grich who had a walk, single and double.
The only famous alumni off his form was Rod Carew, the fellow who almost never strikes out but did, three times.
If anyone deserved an assist in this Angels victory, it might be the Baltimore Orioles. Between the loud Angels crowd (the largest in the league's Championship Series history) and the lack of rest since their traumatic weekend in Baltimore, the Brewers seldom seemed to display their usual swaggering style, and, once they fell behind, seemed in a hurry to get back to their hotel rooms.
Manager Harvey Kuenn conceded as much: "Their pitching staff had rest and ours had to battle Baltimore. That was probably the difference. We'll be back tommorrow (at 8:15 p.m. EST) . . . I expect a shootout."
As if the Brewers deserved more bad news than the simple fact that only three of 13 first-game losers in the this series have ever made it to the World Series, it came in the form of the ineffective work of starter Mike Caldwell (six runs in three innings), who was hit just as hard this evening as he was twice by the Orioles in the previous 10 days.
Wednesday's matchup pits California's cool-weather specialist Bruce Kison against Pete Vuckovich, the Brewer worthy who, like Caldwell, has looked arm-weary of late, since Rollie Fingers has not been around for late-inning help.
For the in-their-prime Brewers, the situation is urgent; they must start banging walls with balls or run the risk of banging those walls with their heads all winter. The long-in-the-tooth Angels looked like the fresher, hungrier group in this opener.
With Baylor and John showing the way, the Angel Alumni took the first step toward proving that old wine can be as good as ever, even if it's in new skins.