California Angels – Decade Record: 781-831, 1 post-season appearance, 0 pennants
The Angels were a middle-of-the-pack baseball team during the 1970s. They never won more than 88 games and only lost more than 90 once, when they dropped 94 contests in 1975.
In 1970 the team showed promise, finishing at 86-76. But as was the case in 1969, they finished in third place in the American League West behind the powerful, more established Minnesota Twins and the youthful, up and coming Oakland A’s. Clyde Wright enjoyed a 22-12, 2.83 career year, first baseman Jim Spencer won a Gold Glove, and left fielder Alex Johnson won the batting crown with a .329 mark. The bottom soon fell out the next season; by mid-year Johnson had been suspended for poor hustle and never played another game in an Angels uniform. Wright slumped to 16-17. Andy Messersmith enjoyed a fine year at 20-12, but overall the club won only 76 games, 25 1/2 out of first. Despite the club trading for Nolan Ryan in the off-season, and bringing up 19 year-old lefty flamethrower Frank Tanana in 1973, the Angels would suffer through 7 straight losing years. After 1970, the AL West was dominated first by Oakland who won consecutive crowns from ’71-’75, and then by Kansas City, who took the crown from ’76-’78.
Even in the losing ’71-’77 seasons California enjoyed more than their share of notable individual achievements. In 1973, center fielder Ken Berry won a Gold Glove Award, one of only three Angels to win the honor all decade. Ryan improved from 10-14 with 137 strikeouts for the Mets in 1971 to 19-16 and 329 strikeouts with California in 1972, and he fanned over 300 batters in 4 of his first 5 seasons as an Angel, including a record 383 in 1973. Ryan led the American League in strikeouts in 7 of 8 years, and the one time he did not, 1975, teammate Frank Tanana led the circuit with 269. ’73 and ’74 were the only times in Ryan’s storied career that he topped 20 wins; in ’73 Bill Singer also won 20. For the decade, Ryan has to be considered the team’s ace with a 138-121 record, 3.07 ERA, 2,416 strikeouts, 4 no-hitters, 40 shutouts, and 156 complete games in 288 starts over 8 seasons. But Tanana was 1B, with an impressive 91-66 mark, 2.93 ERA, 1,120 strikeouts, 24 shutouts and 85 complete games in 187 starts over 7 seasons.
Despite all this pitching talent, the Angels were offensively challenged for much of the decade. From 1970-78, the only Angel to lead the league in any major offensive category was outfielder Mickey Rivers, who led the AL in triples in 1974 (11) and 1975 (13), and with 70 stolen bases in 1975.
By 1978 Brian Downing had emerged as an All-Star caliber catcher, and California had acquired veteran position players who knew how to win: 2B Bobby Grich from Baltimore, outfielders Don Baylor and Joe Rudi from Oakland, and center fielder Rick Miller from Boston, who immediately won his first Gold Glove. The club responded with an 87-75 record, only 2 games back of Kansas City. In 1979 the Angels added 2 ex-Twins: 7-time batting champ Rod Carew to play first base and outfielder ‘Disco’ Dan Ford. California finished the decade with its first AL West title behind the offense. The club turned out the first 3 100 RBI men in franchise history – Ford (.290-21-101), Grich (.294, 30-101), and league MVP Don Baylor (.295 with 36 homers and a league leading 139 RBI and 120 runs scored). In the ALCS, California was stopped in 4 games by Baltimore. But as the decade closed, Angels fans finally had a team worth cheering about.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: