The end of an error?

Arte Moreno, Mike Trout

Angels owner Arte Moreno and future Hall of Famer Mike Trout were ecstatic when Trout became a wealthy Angel for life. But Moreno’s failure to reconstruct a team his and their greatest player can be proud of will be Moreno’s legacy if he sells the Angels.

For the first time since their team won their only World Series championship thus far, Angel fans have reason to believe there’s light at the end of a painfully long tunnel. Owner Arte Moreno exploring options to sell the franchise must resemble the liberation promise of Dwight Eisenhower telling Allied forces, “You are about to embark on the great crusade”—the night before D-Day.

Just months after Darin Erstad clutched Kenny Lofton’s fly out to center to finish their staggering seven-game 2002 Series conquest, Moreno bought the team from the Disney Corporation. He swelled with pride as the first Mexican-American major league owner. Angel fans swelled likewise over what seemed to be swelling as an era of dominance after what seemed a preceding snakebitten eternity.

It was too good to be true. The team finally shattered a near-forever of extraterrestrial collapses, failures, and tragedies that inspired things from a shortstop driving his bats through a cemetery to purge their evil spirits to a pitcher pondering a sage burning in the clubhouse and a general manager pondering engagement of a priest to exorcise their ballpark.

Now the Angels held the lease to the Promised Land and a new owner with pockets deep enough to rival a team (the Yankees) they beat three out of four in the division series that launched their championship run. Who knew? Two decades later, the Angels are a six-letter synonym for disaster. And Moreno has come to resemble the worst of the man who once owned those division series victims than he or his dwindling allies would ever admit.

From 2003 through 2009, the Angels won the American League West five out of seven tries. The team went from the second-most snakebitten AL franchise to powerhouse in what now seems a blink in time. In thirteen seasons since, the Angels have won the West once but finished the past five of six in fourth place in the five-team division.

Moreno’s Angels have gone from signing and continuing to win with Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, Sr. to drafting the transcendent Mike Trout and signing the transcendent enough Shohei Ohtani . . . and becoming the team their future Hall of Fame center fielder and must-see-television pitcher/designated hitter can be anything but proud of.

With the uber-loyal Trout locked down in a gigabucks deal that makes him an Angel for life, baseball eyes knowing the Angels need a transfusion as drastically as a leukemia patient saw dealing Ohtani at this year’s trade deadline as the donor who’d deliver particularly rich blood.

“The greatest two-way player in baseball history will be eligible for free agency in the fall of 2023,” writes ESPN’s Buster Olney, “so some other teams communicated to the Angels that they would be open to trades—and willing to include their very best prospects . . . Word quickly reached the interested parties that Arte Moreno, the Angels’ owner, wouldn’t sign off on any Ohtani deal. No one was surprised.”

No one who’s watched the Angels in the Moreno era should have been.

Moreno made his fortune as an advertising executive who turned the Outdoor Systems ad operation into an enterprise that fetched billions when Moreno and his partner sold it to Infinity Broadcasting in 1998. His forte was and remains marketing. It didn’t exactly translate to baseball as opposed to Angel Stadium box office success.

Trout himself says he learned of Moreno exploring a team sale the same way the press did Tuesday, when the Angels made their formal announcement. And he hinted that, however grateful he is for Moreno believing in him and making him rich, it’s not exactly enough anymore. Some things matter more than money to competitors.

“I think once you find out who buys it, whenever that is,” Trout told the Orange County Register, “there are definitely conversations we’re going to have to have. Obviously, I want to win.”

Like many owners who ride the wild surf of their teams’ successes in the beginning, Moreno began to believe in his own baseball genius. Unlike many such owners, Moreno behaved as though his role model for baseball ownership was the 1980s version of George Steinbrenner without half the summary executions and humiliations with which that Steinbrenner tortured Yankee fans for a generation.

The 1980s Steinbrenner loved “name guys who put fannies in the seats.” Moreno has been much like that, particularly when it comes to hitters. So much so that he reeled in one after another name hitter but ignored his team’s real pitching needs, which have been somewhere between drastic and desperate for just about the whole of Trout’s career to date.

Fairness requires we acknowledge that not all those deals for all those hitters who ended up hurting far more than helping the club were bad going in. It wasn’t Moreno’s fault that Albert Pujols’s legs and feet reduced him to a barely-serviceable DH after that Hall of Famer-in-waiting’s first Angels season. It wasn’t Moreno’s fault that Josh Hamilton and Anthony Rendon were/would be throttled by injuries.

Nor was it Moreno’s fault that two prize pitchers he signed big enough, C.J. Wilson and Zack Cozart, would be hit hard enough with injuries that 1) Wilson would retire after a couple of good if not spectacular Angel seasons; and, 2) Cozart would pitch well for a third of a season before a) a torn labrum fielding a grounder cost him the rest of that season and b) shoulder and neck surgery would cost him 2019—and his career, after he was traded away.

And it’s certainly not as though Moreno anticipated Trout’s first decade worth of such play as to have him baseball’s fifth-best all-time center fielder at this writing, still, would turn into an injury-plagued second decade beginning. Say what you will about the owner’s clumsiness and hubris, but he’s not exactly the cause of Trout’s and others’ time-robbing injuries. Even Moreno isn’t that kind of jinx.

But it was Moreno’s ugly doing to run Hamilton out of town on the slickest rail he could find, after Hamilton incurred a drinking relapse while watching a Super Bowl, manned up and went right to baseball’s drug policy administration with it, but discovered his Angel bosses had different thoughts about manning up.

It was Moreno’s ugly doing, a couple of years before Trout came into his own, to gut the Angels’ scouting system almost completely. “First,” I wrote over three years ago, “they made international scouting director Clay Daniels the scapegoat for bonus skimming shenanigans by some of his subordinates; then, they pinked overall scouting chief Eddie Bane—one of whose last achievements was urging the Angels to sign a kid named Trout in the first place—as the scapegoat for a series of bad drafts and worse free agency signings and trades.”

Shohei Ohtani, Arte Moreno

The Angel Stadium faithful booed Moreno as he presented Shohei Ohtani his 2021 AL MVP award. Last month, Moreno blocked deals that would have brought serious prospects back for Ohtani (a free agent after next year) and further cemented Moreno’s reputation for putting box office too far above baseball.

It was Moreno’s ridiculous doing to order his then-general manager Tony Reagins—who couldn’t persuade Hall of Famer in waiting Adrian Beltre to sign with the Angels as a free agent—to make a deal for Toronto outfielder/basher Vernon Wells post haste and or else! Then the Angels discovered the hard way that Wells was damaged goods. And the guy they sent the Blue Jays for him, bat-first catcher Mike Napoli, was going on to pitch in big for a pair of World Series teams in Texas and Cleveland and help a Red Sox team win their third Series ring of the century.

It was Moreno’s ridiculous further doing to address the Angels’ dire pitching needs over several years, ignoring quality pitching on the markets in favour of one after another reclamation project that failed in Anaheim but found either revival or retirement elsewhere. Which points to another wounding Moreno flaw. Loving and enriching the name guys putting fannies in the seats is one thing. His budgets otherwise have been tighter than James Brown’s rhythm sections without yielding comparable fruit.

“Like a lot of billionaires before him,” Olney writes, “Moreno seemed to believe he knew more about building a baseball team than the folks he hired. But the strengths that made him an extraordinary success before he bought the Angels became a weakness once he stepped into a sport that has become increasingly competitive.”

Two former Angel GMs (Jerry Dipoto, now with the second-place Mariners; Billy Eppler, now running the National League East-leading Mets) found success enough after they escaped Moreno’s all-thumbs touch. The incumbent, Perry Minasian, likewise hamstrung enough, may or may not survive this season’s disaster.

Olney reminds us that Moreno selling the Angels would be baseball’s biggest sigh of relief since Frank McCourt was forced to sell the Dodgers to the Guggenheim Group and the Wilpon family finally elected to sell the Mets to Steve Cohen. The sigh’s breeze will be felt from sea to shining sea.

The timing may be telling enough. Moreno’s attempt to buy Angel Stadium and its surrounding land from Anaheim collapsed three months ago, after Mayor Harry Sidhu resigned amid an FBI investigation into whether Sidhu shared “privileged and confidential information” with the team while they negotiated with the city. (The FBI didn’t accuse Moreno or the Angels of wrongdoing.)

The Angels are also not off the hook just yet over the accidental overdose death of painkiller-addicted pitcher Tyler Skaggs in 2019. They face two wrongful death lawsuits by Skaggs’s family—one by his parents, the other by his widow—in the wake of former Angels communications director Eric Kay’s conviction in federal court for providing the fentanyl-containing drug that killed the popular lefthander.

It’s worth remembering, too, that only when George Steinbrenner was suspended for his nefarity in digging up dirt on his Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield did the Yankees finally have room to rebuild themselves back to greatness. An end to the Moreno era might well produce likewise for an Angels franchise that’s had only one now-brief spell of greatness even if it has only one World Series trophy to show for it.

“Many executives,” Olney continues, “believe that the Angels have not come close to exploiting the potential of their market. ‘”Because that place might be the best to work in in baseball,’ one official said. ‘The weather is perfect. The conditions are perfect. You can live on the beach. Nobody bothers them. The fans are good’.”

With the best intentions but the worst approaches, Moreno’s Angels ownership made it possible to believe paradise was hell in disguise. By comparison, the freeway traffic chokes that so often stand between the Pacific Ocean and Angel Stadium are walks on the beach.

And now, the end is near for Trout?

Mike Trout

His back may have other ideas soon enough, but Mike Trout insists his career isn’t over until it’s over.

Time was when thinking of the Angels without thinking of Mike Trout was the proverbial non-starter. You knew you were seeing a Hall of Famer in the making the further his career progressed. You also knew concurrently that the Angels’ administrative inability to build a team their and the game’s best all-around player could be proud of made them Hall of Shamers.

Now the shame may be multiplied exponentially. Bedeviled by injuries as it was the last three years, Trout may have been hit at last by the one that puts paid to his career. May.

The official diagnosis has been “a costovertebral dysfunction” in his number five vertebra. He’ll have to alter his entire preparation and perhaps even the way he plays to continue. It’s not unrealistic to picture him becoming a full-time designated hitter soon enough. It’s also not unrealistic to wonder whether he’s been playing through any kind of back issue for long enough, and whether his team knew or dismissed it.

But a potential actual diagnosis may yet prove to be spinal stenosis. The very condition that knocked former Mets third base star David Wright and former Yankees first base bellwether Don Mattingly out of their careers and their Hall of Fame cases. Either way, Trout’s back may yet put paid to his career before its time—and his Hall of Fame case is overwhelming as it is right now.

His optimism is laudable. “I appreciate all the prayer requests,” he cracked when the official diagnosis became public, “but my career isn’t over.” But how soon will he have to walk that back?

The Angels already incurred the indignity of coming out of spring training determined to make real American League West noise, then opening their season 27-17, then collapsing into a fourteen-game losing streak and going 14-27 since they ended that streak. They’ve executed a manager and gone from postseason hopes to the dogs as the proverbial dog days of August knock on the door.

The issue that’s bedeviled them for the whole of Trout’s career to date continues bedeviling them, their inability to develop or build a serviceable pitching staff and their administration’s inability to stop just retooling under the Mud Plan: throw a few tons of it at the wall and hope some of it sticks.

Optimists such as Deadspin‘s Sam Fels would say that just shows at least the Angels, as opposed to the notorious tankers, really were trying. Pessmists would say that just shows there isn’t a truly verifiable brain among the Angels’ administrative brain trust.

But now the fallen Angels, 23.5 games out of first in the AL West and unlikely to make a 2019 Nationals-like turnaround to the postseason at all, never mind the Promised Land, are even willing to listen to 2 August trade-deadline queries involving Shohei Ohtani, their two-way pitching/hitting star. Angel fans cry “Help!” uncertain what the word even means for their team now.

Ohtani isn’t exactly unprepared for life beyond Anaheim, not just because he’s eligible for free agency after the 2023 season. Theoretically, life beyond Anaheim may happen within the next few days. It might even be only slightly beyond Orange County, if the prospects-rich Dodgers as rumoured are “engaging” the Angels in trade talk.

“Regardless of where I’m playing,” he said after yet another Angels loss Thursday, I’m going to give it my all and try to win that ballgame in front of me. I’m with the Angels right now, and I’m very thankful for what they’ve done. I love my team and my teammates. Right now I’m an Angel, and that’s all I can focus on.”

The Angels themselves aren’t yet talking about shutting Trout down for the rest of the season, reportedly. But that may not hold very long. Especially if it’s shown plausibly that he’s been playing with a bothersome back all season long, which may explain a lot about his periodic slumps that lasted a little longer, it seemed, than a typical Trout slump (yes, even Hall of Famers have them) ever did before.

The possibility also exists that Trout may never again be the player he’s been through this season, even if he knows he’s going to have to perform additional self-maintenance for the rest of what career he does have left. That’s just about the last thing long-enough-suffering Angel fans need to know.

They’ve had to grin and bear it while such a larger-than-life baseball talent with the results to back it up was never really supported with a team that could compete at all, never mind at his level. They’re not always comforted by having had the pleasure of seeing a once-in-a-billion player play above and beyond anyone else who ever wore the Angels uniform and treat them like friends at the ballpark while he was at it.

Mike Trout

Your author took this photograph of Mike Trout batting in the first inning of a 2014 game—right before he hit one over the fence.

They swallowed hard when no less than commissioner Rob Manfred accused Trout himself of being the reason he didn’t quite become The Face of the game, saying the Show couldn’t “market” him because he wouldn’t market himself. Trout isn’t big on self-promotion and, when he isn’t at the ballpark, prefers to let what he’s done at the park speak for itself. The very idea. Being a man over a brand.

Not to mention being a Hall of Famer in waiting. Trout could retire this minute and he’d go into the Hall of Fame in a walk in a few years. (The Hall’s minimum career longevity requirement is ten seasons; Trout has twelve including this year. And the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about greatness, not mere longevity. It’s not supposed to be a platinum watch.)

Baseball-Reference, using The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe’s JAWS calculators for Hall worthiness, ranks Trout the number five center fielder in baseball history. He has 8.3 more career wins above replacement-level (WAR) than the average Hall of Fame center fielder already. His seven-year-peak 65.1 WAR is 20.4 above the seven-year peak of the average Hall center fielder.

And, according to my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric—total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances—Mike Trout is the number one rank among those Hall of Fame center fielders who played in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era by far and 92 points ahead of the average for those center fielders . . .

Center Field PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Mike Trout 5986 2884 904 115 52 91 .680
Mickey Mantle 9907 4511 1733 148 47 13 .651
Willie Mays 12496 6066 1464 214 91 44 .631
Ken Griffey, Jr. 11304 5271 1312 246 102 81 .620
Duke Snider 8237 3865 971 154 54* 21 .615
Larry Doby 6299 2621 871 60 39* 38 .576
Andre Dawson 10769 4787 589 143 118 111 .534
Kirby Puckett 7831 3453 450 85 58 56 .524
Richie Ashburn 9736 3196 1198 40 30* 43 .463
HOF AVG .588

About the most forward Trout has ever let himself become was that fine afternoon six years ago when he hired a skywriting team to propose to the woman who became his wife. Unless it was the days when he put the entire Angel organisation on his back, after pitcher Tyler Skaggs’s tragic death in Texas, including the team’s first home game after, when he launched a 13-0, combined-no-hitter blowout with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first and–as the Angels batted around and then some—finished that seven-run frame’s scoring with a still-one-out, two-run double.

You’d love to think Trout is right when he says his career isn’t over yet. You’d also love to think he didn’t waste and won’t continue wasting such a glittering career on behalf of an organisation that couldn’t build a top-to-bottom competitive team around and alongside him.

But if his career does end too soon, he won’t lack for a certain breed of distinguished company. Luke (Ol’ Aches and Pains) Appling, Ernie Banks, Jim Bunning, Rick Ferrell, Harry Heilmann, Ferguson Jenkins, George Kell, Ralph Kiner, Ted Lyons, Minnie Miñoso, Ron Santo, and George Sisler are those who can tell you how it feels to reach Cooperstown without reaching the postseason. Dick Allen may join their ranks if the newly-configured Classic Baseball Era Committee (covering pre-1980 players) finally elects him, albeit posthumously a la Miñoso.

It wasn’t their fault that their teams couldn’t and didn’t build competitive groups they could be proud of, either. Mike Trout’s issue has never been his ability or the performance papers to back it. His issue has been that his Angels teams couldn’t put eight more Trouts into the lineup and didn’t find even the minimally competitive ways to augment him while he stood baseball on its head.

————————————————————————————————-

* From writing more extensively about Real Batting Average (RBA) last year: The sacrifice fly wasn’t made an official statistic until the 1954 season. Several post-World War II/post-integration/night ball-era Hall of Famers played a third or more of their seasons prior to the rule coming on line. How could I overcome that hole?

I tinkered with a few ideas until I tripped over a best-case scenario. I took those players’ numbers of recorded sacrifice flies and divided them by the number of seasons they played under the rule. Then, I took that result and multiplied it by the number of Show seasons they actually played. The formula is sacrifice flies (SF) divided by sacrifice fly-rule seasons (SRS), multiplied by MLB seasons. Or, if you insist on seeing it in mathematese:

SF / SRS x YRS

Thus I had as best as I could get to the total number of sacrifice flies you could have expected those players to hit all career long. I marked their sacrifice fly numbers with (*).

Another year, ejection, and autographed ball

Jesse Winker

Jesse Winker (27) triggering a bench-clearing brawl after taking a leadoff pitch on the can in the second Sunday . . .

When pondering how to attract and keep today’s youth bound to baseball, I’m pretty sure a bench-clearing brawl depriving a particular young fan from southern California of seeing a favourite player all game long isn’t exactly what we should have had in mind. It’s hard enough being a Reds fan anywhere these days without that.

Last year, a little California girl named Abigail Courtney got to see her first live major league game when her beloved Reds hit town to play the Padres. She really wanted to see her personal favourite, first baseman (and future Hall of Famer) Joey Votto. Except that Votto got tossed from the outset after arguing a nebulous pitch call.

The girl’s heartbreak went viral, enough so that it reached Votto himself. He promptly sent her a ball that he signed, “I am sorry that I didn’t play the entire game. Joey Votto.” The next day, Votto granted Abigail a personal audience when the Reds blew her family to tickets for that game.

Abigail’s Reds rooting includes sticking with players after they move on, as several did when the Reds decided to push the plunger on 2022 before the lockout-threatened season even began. And there the Courtneys were in Angel Stadium Sunday afternoon, where Abigail wanted to see two of her now-former Reds heroes, Mariners left fielder Jesse Winker and infielder Eugenio Suárez.

If the little girl has been taught anything about Hall of Fame catcher/malaproprietor Yogi Berra, don’t be shocked if it includes one of the most fabled Berraisms flashing in neon before her pretty eyes in the second inning: It’s déjà vu all over again.

She either didn’t know or didn’t quite comprehend that there might be a little bad blood between the Angels and the Mariners after the Angels’ future Hall of Famer Mike Trout was almost decapitated in the ninth inning Saturday night. She didn’t know Angels opener Andrew Wantz was going to send a return message or two, zipping one past Julio Rodriguez’s head in the top of the first before drilling Winker on the right butt to open the top of the second.

She certainly didn’t know Winker would slip the umpires trying to restrain him and charge the Angels’ dugout on the third base side of the ballpark, luring the rest of the Mariners to pour over for a rumble against the dugout rail after the Angels—who looked to have been chirping at the Mariners after Winker took it on the cheek—came out to defend themselves.

Nor could she know yet that the umpires’ crew chief Adrian Johnson would tell a pool reporter, “I’m not aware of the incident with Trout from last night. You’re talking about the pitch that went over his head. That was nothing for us to issue warnings today. What happened today was a guy got hit. We had warnings in.”

A week earlier, while the Angels took four of five from the Mariners in Seattle, Angels pitcher (and yet another former Red) Michael Lorenzen reeled in horror after a pitch coned former Angel Justin Upton upside the head. Post-game, Lorenzen thundered over the inconsistent baseballs that pitchers were having numerous issues gripping properly including the ones they couldn’t grip well enough to control.

Abigail Courtney

. . . meant a second broken heart over an early ejection of a current or former Reds favourite for Abigail Courtney in slighty over a year . . .

Maybe for the Mariners the Upton splat meant beware. Maybe they didn’t necessarily accept Lorenzen’s post-game commentary as sincere. Maybe both sides pitching inside and tight this weekend was a little bit of mutual messaging. But just how Johnson could have figured that that didn’t mean buzzing Trout’s tower in the ninth Saturday merited pre-game warnings Sunday escapes.

A pre-game warning would have dispatched Wantz post-haste after he’d zipped Rodriguez’s head. It also would have knocked into the proverbial cocked hat any suspicion that Angels manager Phil Nevin elected to go with an opener just to have him take one or two for the team and send the Mariners messages without costing himself too heavily.

Considering the Angels’ usual wounding flaw of inconsistent-to-insufferable pitching rearing its head yet again this season—and contributing well enough to that fourteen-game losing streak that deflated their earlier-season success—Nevin was playing with matches if that was really his plan.

Abigail Courtney knew none of that going in. All she knew in the moment in the top of the second was that here she was at the ballpark to watch a couple of her favourite former Reds (we presume Votto remains her number one man in Cincinnati) and one of them got a shot in the ass, triggered one of the wildest brawls of the season, if not the wildest, then got thrown out of the game.

So did Winker’s fellow Mariners Rodriguez and J.P. Crawford, not to mention Mariners manager Scott Servais. So were Nevin and Angels Wantz, Raisel Iglesias, and Ryan Tepera. (Iglesias had a message of his own to send after his ejection, throwing a large tub of sunflower seed bags out towars the third base line in protest. Brilliant.)

Winker didn’t exactly go gently into that good not-so-grey afternoon. Before he disappeared into the Mariners clubhouse, he flipped the double bird to a section of the seats behind the dugout.

“The only thing I’m gonna apologize for is flipping the fans off,” the left fielder said after the game. “That’s it . . . They pay their hard-earned money to come and see a game, and they didn’t deserve that, so I apologize to the fans, especially the women and children.”

Lucky for Abigail that her mother is a psychologist by profession. “One of the first things I said was, ‘Honey, everybody’s fighting, but they’re all going to be OK’,” Kristin Courtney told Athletic writer Stephen J. Nesbitt. “‘Nobody’s going to get seriously injured. But Jesse’s not going to be playing anymore today’. So, there were more tears.

Abigail Courtney

. . . and, a second apologetically-autographed baseball to Abigail from a chastened player.

“She has a sensitive heart, and she really cares about baseball,” the lady continued. “She feels for everybody, and I know she was disappointed for herself because she’s been waiting to see Jesse. I kept telling her, ‘I don’t think Eugenio is going to get thrown out. I think he’ll be OK. You can cheer for Eugenio’.”

Concurrently, someone made Winker aware of Abigail’s second such broken heart in a year and eight days. And he did something about it.

When Votto got tossed in San Diego last year, he sent her the ball and made a point of meeting her before the next day’s game. When Winker was made aware Sunday, before the game ended in a 2-1 Angels win, he sent Abigail a ball he signed, “Sorry I was ejected! I hope to see you at another game soon.”

If Votto’s precedent is any indication, it’s a consummation devoutly to be wished. Before his ejection broke Abigail’s heart in San Diego, Votto was in something of a 41-game slump. After redeeming himself with her the following day, he went nuts enough to hit 19 home runs with a .674 slugging percentage over the following 52 games.

Winker could use a little of that kind of mojo. Even more than he could have used the pizza an Arkansas fan named Sofie Dill sent to him in the clubhouse. (When Winker texted her thanks, she texted back, “Thank you for being awesome, Jesse! There’s a ton of people on Twitter who love you right now man.”)

The bad news: Winker has a respectable .353 on-base percentage thus far this season, but he’s slugging 153 points below his career percentage. The next time the Mariners might have a chance to see Abigail will be the Fourth of July, when they visit the Padres on her home turf.

I suspect it’s very safe to say that, while she might appreciate the balls she got from Votto and Winker after their ejections broke her heart, Abigail would much rather watch them play baseball when she gets to the ballpark. Autographed baseballs aren’t half as much fun as baseballs diving for line drive hits or flying for home runs.

Hey, Joe, where you goin’ with your head in your hands?

Joe Maddon

The Angels’ lack of true depth wasn’t Maddon’s fault, but . . .

Let’s see. The Phillies dumped manager Joe Girardi last Friday morning. They went on a prompt five-game winning streak under interim Rob Thomson that began with three straight against the Angels. The Angels went from there to a 1-0 loss against the resurgent (we think) Red Sox and padded their losing streak to twelve.

It meant the Angels becoming the first team in Show history to go from ten games above .500 at 27-17 to a twelve-game losing streak. It also meant manager Joe Maddon, in the final year of a three-year deal, didn’t live long enough to finish the third year beyond which the Angels hadn’t even begun talking extension or new deal.

That’s what two straight sub-.500 season finishes plus the incumbent morass does even to a three-time Manager of the Year. The Angels executed Maddon Tuesday. Third base coach Phil Nevin, formerly a twelve-year corner infielder who spent one season as an Angel before becoming a longtime coach, was handed the job on an interim basis.

“Maddon appeared to have few answers” to the Angels’ sudden twelve-game cratering after such a staggering season’s start, writes The Athletic‘s Andy McCullough.

He praised the effort of his group, though his praise grew fainter in the wake of so many defeats. Maddon never found the footing he held in prior stops in Tampa Bay and Chicago. He was hailed as a pioneer with the Rays and adored for ending a curse with the Cubs. With the Angels, though, he was just another ineffective skipper unable to get a team with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani into the postseason. It wasn’t really his fault; the team lacked pitching depth and has been hurt by injuries. Even so, he wasn’t able to stop the skid, so the team stopped relying on him. It might not make a difference. It still shouldn’t come as a shock.

Once serving long-term as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach with the Angels, Maddon says he’d like to manage again. He won’t lack for those taking a deep look at the Angels and concluding he’s become the sacrificial lamb for a continuing failure above and beyond even still-freshman general manager Perry Minasian. Another Athletic writer, Marc Carig, has isolated the point:

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: what about the owner’s role in all of this? Arte Moreno has spent a ton of money on the big league roster in an effort to make his team a contender. That’s awesome. It’s what all of the owners should be doing. But Moreno has yet to find the right formula for building a winning culture . . . Front office turnover and, now, the firing of manager Joe Maddon shows that Moreno doesn’t seem to be any closer to building a sustainable winner. All managers know that being fired is part of the deal. This remains true even though skippers no longer occupy the same lofty perches that they once did within organizations. In this case, the Angels dismissed a manager with a World Series championship on his résumé in addition to a lengthy history with the organization. But all that experience wasn’t going to negate a dearth of arms and a banged up roster. Those issues could have only been overcome with depth, and that kind of thing falls outside of a modern manager’s purview.

There may also have been an increasing sense that Maddon was prone humanly enough to egregious mistakes but bent over in prayer at once hoping his players would bail him out. He got away with it the day he walked Corey Seager of the Rangers with the bases loaded and the Angels down; his Angels overcame a wider deficit to win at the eleventh hour. He still looked foolish for doing so.

More than all that: Maddon may have written his own execution order before last winter’s owners’ lockout ended, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney: The Angels’ administration had an idea on how to keep Trout healthier, and Maddon—whether inadvertently or carelessly—killed the idea in the proverbial crib.

The Angels wanted to talk Trout into moving from his longtime center field roost to one of the less-demanding corner outfield positions. They planned to talk to him about it once the lockout ended. The idea made sense. Trout’s past three seasons have been injury marred or injury-ended, and though he’s been a better than plus defender in center field (55 defensive runs above his league average) in his twelve-season career, those injuries have taken their toll. He’s also played 124 games in left field during his career and he’s been worth seven defensive run above league average for them.

The bad news, Olney writes: “Maddon changed the trajectory—telling reporters about it before anyone in the organization said anything to Trout. When Trout balked at the suggestion—he learned about it on Twitter, he said—that possibility was scrapped for 2022 out of respect for Trout, a future Hall of Famer.” If Trout heard it from the team first, the story might be different.

Did the Angels—who already declined to talk contract extension with Maddon—decide the manager simply couldn’t be trusted any longer to know how to mind his players’ health? Did they decide he couldn’t be trusted to keep certain key decisions from leaking before they’d had the chance to present them to the affected parties? Did they decide both? Will it mean Maddon may not get another chance to manage again too soon?

The injuries weren’t Maddon’s doing, of course. Neither was the lack of pitching depth, the Angels’ most constant and wounding flaw for just about as long as Trout’s been an Angel. But if the organisation came to see Maddon as even a tiny degree untrustworthy coming into the season, seeing him looking lost for ways to help the team snap that losing streak probably sealed the un-deal.

Nevin was the Yankees’ third base coach until after last fall’s American League wild card game. He took an inferno of heat for sending Aaron Judge on his way home, trying to score a tying run all the way from first on a ball that banged off the top of Boston’s Green Monster. Nevin misjudged a strong throw in to Red Sox cutoff man Xander Bogaerts, who fired a strike home so perfectly the diving Judge was out by two feet.

The Yankees ended up going home for the winter very early. Nevin ended up with a pink slip and a not too slow hiring to do the same job for the Angels. Now’s he’s the manager. Minasian says Nevin will hold the bridge for the rest of the season.

Tuesday night, Nevin watched his new Angels charges take a game to the tenth inning after blowing lead in the seventh inning or later for the sixth time during their now thirteen-game losing streak, a franchise record.

Trout continued coming out of his horrid slump and opened the night’s proceedings with a first-inning, two-run homer, but then had to leave with left groin tightness after he doubled in the third. The morning after, Trout said he felt something like a cramp leaving the batter’s box on the double but “a little achy” when he pulled up to second.

He came out for pinch runner Jo Adell, who came home on Max Stassi’s ground rule double to snap an early three-all tie, then doubled Luis Rengifo home to make it 5-3, Angels in the fifth. But the Red Sox made it 5-4 with a sixth-inning RBI single and tied it with an RBI infield hit—Trevor Story’s grounder bounding off Angel reliever Ryan Tepera’s glove—in the seventh. Making the sixth time in a now thirteen-game losing streak that the Angels let a lead disappear in the seventh or after.

Christian Vásquez sent what proved the winning run home when he drove tenth-inning-opening free cookie-on-second runner Story home with a single through the hole at second, and the Angels had nothing to say in the bottom of the tenth against Red Sox reliever Matt Strahm.

Trout and Shohei Ohtani said the morning after it was up to the players to re-horse themselves. Nevin said after the 6-5 loss that whatever else went wrong for the Angels during the franchise-record losing streak, morale wasn’t part of it. “I’m not worried about morale at all,” the new skipper told reporters. “You saw the effort from everyone. We had good at-bats. I thought there was a lot of great things. It was just a game where we ended up on the wrong side.”

From 27-17 after beating the Rangers on 24 May to 27-30 as of Wednesday morning, the Angels can’t afford to continue staying on the wrong side. It’s helped cost them one skipper this season already.

Bo knew, almost too late

Bo Belinsky

Bo Belinsky delivering during the 1962 rookie no-hitter that accelerated his Hollywood lifestyle.

The easiest supposition to make in the wake of still-rookie lefthander Reid Detmers’s no-hitter this past Tuesday is that the Angels hope he doesn’t go the way of the lefthanded rookie who pitched the franchise’s and southern California’s first major league no-hitter at age 25. They’re separated by a mere sixty years and five days.

The Angels pray Detmers is separated from Bo Belinsky by a lot more than time.

So far, Detmers seems the polar opposite of the fellow who preceded him all those decades ago. He seems grounded well and aware of himself, lacking the taste for the demimonde, the thirst for the high life (in more ways than one), the self-destruction that sank the Angels’ first no-hit pitcher.

“In short, within days after his no-hitter, Belinsky, a former pool hustler from Trenton, N.J., would be heralded as sport’s most original and engaging playboy-athlete,” wrote pitcher-turned-writer Pat Jordan, in a 1972 Sports Illustrated profile

His name would become synonymous with a lifestyle that was cool and slick and dazzling, one that was to be a trademark of those athletes who appeared later in the ’60s—Joe Namath, Ken Harrelson, Derek Sanderson. But, in time, the name Belinsky would mean something else. It would become synonymous with dissipated talent.

Belinsky became an Angel in the first place because the team picked him during the 1961-62 minor league draft; he’d been in the Oriole system for several years, showing on-and-off promise on the mound, before making a splash pitching winter ball in Venezuela, where he developed a nasty screwball to match his riding fastball.

“When Bo was on,” said his Angels catcher Buck Rodgers, “he had that electric kind of stuff.” In more ways than one. A Belinsky biographer, Maury Allen, recorded (in 1973’s Bo: Pitching and Wooing), recorded that the first thing Belinsky said to Rodgers, accepting congratulations for that 5 May 1962 no-hitter, “Hey, look at the blonde with the big tits!”

Belinsky began the game by striking out former longtime Reds second baseman Johnny Temple and future World Series-winning manager Dick Williams in order before getting future Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson to ground out on a ball deflected by Belinsky to Angels second baseman Billy Moran.

He ended it by striking out flaky Orioles outfielder Jackie Brandt, luring catcher Gus Triandos into a ground out to shortstop Joe Koppe, and getting right fielder Dave Nicholson to pop out to third baseman Felix Torres. When the game ended, Belinsky’s ERA stood at a sparkling 1.53 with a respectable 3.47 fielding-independent pitching rate.

Reporter: Bo, when did you start thinking about a no-hitter?

Belinsky: This morning at about five o’clock.

It was nothing compared to the sparkling that became Belinsky’s off-field lifestyle. As girl crazy as the night was long already, Belinsky’s date book now came to include such as Tina Louise, Ann-Margret, Juliet Prowse, Connie Stevens, and Mamie Van Doren, the fifth of whom became his fiancee for a spell. Hollywood embraced the street kid from New Jersey who’d made his way hustling pool before becoming a minor league pitcher.

Belinsky was as quick with a quip as he was with a wink and with bringing his roommate and fellow rookie Angels pitcher Dean Chance, an Ohio farm kid, along for the ride. He even got himself name-checked by then-popular song parodist Allan Sherman, on Sherman’s landmark 1962 album, Allan Sherman’s Mother Presents My Son, the Folk Singer.

The lefthander with the wicked screwball and the personality to match returned the embraces with a curious balance between enthusiasm and alienation. For the rest of 1962, Belinsky cavorted between the bright lights and beds of Hollywood and back-and-forth success on the mound; he finished that season with a 3.56 ERA/4.06 FIP, while the second-year Angels surprised observers by making pennant race noises.

He struggled enough in 1963 to be sent to the Angels’ Triple-A farm in Hawaii, posted a splended 2.53 ERA/3.14 FIP, and returned to finish a dismal major league season. Hawaii, though, proved a Belinsky haven. His engagement to Van Doren ended but he seemed inordinately happy there. His return to the Angels wasn’t successful at first but he seemed to have a new balance.

Dean Chance, Mamie Van Doren, Bo Belinsky

Belinsky (right) and Mamie Van Doren (center) on the town with Belinsky’s Angels teammate and best friend Dean Chance (left). “I’m returning his engagement ring,” Van Doren was quoted as saying after their engagement ended. “I’m afraid if I don’t, he’ll cut my finger off and take it—or worse, make me take over the payments.”

“Belinsky had fashioned a persona as both bon vivant and rapscallion,” Steve Oney would write in Los Angeles in 2005. “He possessed the brio of a Dean Martin, yet he also bore the antiestablishmentarian markings of a Jack Kerouac. In him, the lounge lizard and the free spirit commingled.”

In 1964 he rediscovered his better pitching side, too. He stood with a 2.86 ERA/3.25 FIP after a tough 11 August loss to the Indians . . . and after an interview he had no idea would change his career and his life irrevocably. Frustrated by the loss and the Angels’ faltering, Belinsky at 27 told wire service reporter Charlie Maher he was thinking seriously about leaving the game.

According to most who remembered the story, Maher wrote it up somewhat sympathetically, indicating as best he could that Belinsky’s thoughts were nothing more than out of frustration over a spell of solid pitching gone little-to-no reward. When the Angels landed in Washington after a long cross country flight, Belinsky learned the hard way that he wasn’t the only frustrated one.

Los Angeles Times writer/editor Braven Dyer, who wasn’t exactly a Belinsky admirer as it was, was furious over the Maher story. He demanded Belinsky give him a story about whether he was going to quit. He even went to Belinsky’s room at around 3 a.m., possibly drunk, to pursue it further. The confrontation ended with Dyer on his can after Belinsky flattened him with a punch.

The Angels suspended him at once. Belinsky’s celebrity back in Los Angeles seemed to heighten at first, but then when the offseason came the club traded him to the Phillies for first baseman Costen Shockley and pitcher Rudy May. After Phillies manager Gene Mauch—who actually coveted him—couldn’t convince him to abandon the screwball and lean on his fastball, he exiled Belinsky to the bullpen. Fatal mistake.

Bo Belinsky, Bud Furillo

Belinsky and Los Angeles Times writer Bud Furillo look at the headline announcing his trade to the Phillies after the ill-fated 1964 season.

The ’65 Phillies pen was riddled with the red juice amphetamine variant and Belinsky got hooked. Unadaptable to the regimen of long relief and spot starting as it was, Belinsky was sent back to the minors in early 1966. His career dissipated further (despite some minor league successes, including another no-hitter pitching for Hawaii), but the amphetamine addiction would stay along with his taste for alcohol.

Belinsky’s star dissipated likewise. He married Playboy‘s 1965 Playmate of the Year, Jo Collins but the marriage eventually ended in divorce. His final major league hurrah was a trio of relief appearances for the 1970 Reds after he’d worked hard to make the team out of spring training. Sent back to the minors yet again, Belinsky called it a career.

Two years earlier, turning 30 during a turn with the Astros, Belinsky observed, “It’s no fun knowing that in every home in America your birthday is celebrated as a day of infamy.” Jordan would remember the remark well enough when profiling Belinsky in 1972:

[T]he remark was telling. It was characteristically cute. It seemed to have been delivered more for its effect than its truth by a man more concerned with style than substance. It was tossed off, discarded really, with that ironic smile of disavowal—as if it were nothing but the surplus from a warehouse of such remarks, remarks he must unload whenever he felt the occasion deserved not truth but wit. Yet the annoying suspicion remained that Belinsky felt the remark contained more truth than wit. Whether this feeling was nothing more than the overblown self-pity of a too shallow man or the heightened perception of a too sensitive man was not clear. It was certain only that Belinsky had dissipated a promising career, that people had grown tired of him, and that most of his difficulty could be traced to his personality. He did not have the knack of later athletes—the Namaths, Harrelsons and Sandersons—of cultivating his personality precisely up to, but not beyond, that point at which the public becomes bored with it.

He eventually sobered up for keeps, especially after his second marriage (to lumber/paper products heiress Janie Weyerhaeuser) collapsed, and went to work helping other alcoholics and addicts sober up, including his former Angels teammate, pitcher Eli Grba. “Bo and I had never been that close,” Grba told Oney. “He was too Hollywood. But he came and got me and took me to an AA meeting. I was nervous, but Bo said, ‘Don’t worry, Eli, they’re all drunks just like you and me’.”

After a third failed, brief marriage, and continuing estrangement from the three children (one with Collins, two with Weyerhaeuser) his marriages produced, Belinsky finally ended his wandering ways to match his hard-won sobriety. By the 1990s he’d relocated to Las Vegas, where he worked in public relations for a pair of automotive dealership groups and became a born-again Christian involved deeply with Trinity Life Church.

That might have been the last thing his old Hollywood crowd would have predicted. “Can you imagine?” he said, almost typically, “I had to come to Las Vegas to find Jesus Christ.”

Bo Belinsky

Clean, sober, born-again, and looking a little wiser in Las Vegas.

Belinsky even reconciled to the Angels, appearing at Old-Timers Day events at the team’s invitation, his place in their early history secured at last. In due course, he would say of the Dyer incident that ended his Angels days and his days as a toast of Hollywood, “I screwed myself out of a job with the Angels.”

More than that, a son born out of wedlock in 1963 met and got to know him pleasantly after Belinsky settled in Las Vegas. Don Carroll not only resembles a less-dissipated version of his father but he even named his own son Beau, after the man he finally met and liked and understood.

Too much, too little, too late. Belinsky died at 64 in 2001. Almost a full year before the Angels won their only World Series to date.

“Bo was a one-of-a-kind guy and there won’t be another one like him,” said Dean Chance at a Dodger Stadium memorial he arranged for his old friend, fourteen years before his own death of heart failure. “He was full of cancer, his heart was bad and his hip was hurting him terribly at the end. He had slipped and fallen and it was really tough on him. But he made his peace with the Lord and he is probably better off today than he was last week. He’s not suffering terribly any more.”

“Nobody could ever figure me out,” Belinsky said years after his baseball career dissipated.

I wouldn’t show what was really inside me, inside Bo Belinsky I was just a facade I’d carried along all my life . . . I was born apart. My mother was Jewish, my father Polish Catholic. To Jews I was a Polack. To Poles I was a kike. I was removed—removed from people in my family, people in my school. Even in my youth, I didn’t know where to park myself.

By the time he could and did show enough of his real self, heart failure claimed him after he’d already been battling bladder cancer and diabetes, the net result of a baseball youth that brought him to the stratosphere but crashed him even more profoundly long before. In Las Vegas, Belinsky found a home, a purpose, and salvation at last.