There's nothing heavenly about Angels' behavior

On Baseball

August 15, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It isn't easy to be an Anaheim Angel these days. What was once considered a bright, promising young baseball team has deteriorated into a caldron of internal turmoil.

The team was supposed to give the Texas Rangers a big run for the American League West title this year, but has dropped like a rock to the bottom of the division standings -- replaced in the wild-card race by the under-funded Oakland Athletics.

The only thing worse than the club's performance -- which includes a 4-22 slump heading into this weekend -- has been the way the players have reacted to it. They could have taken the high road, pointed to the debilitating string of early season injuries and asked the fans to be patient until next year. Instead, they have lined up to take potshots at the manager, the front office and, worst of all, each other.

There was the famous midseason mutiny, when high-profile first baseman Mo Vaughn and several other veterans carried general manager Bill Bavasi a list of complaints about manager Terry Collins.

Then outfielder Darin Erstad told reporters that the team had gone "soft."

There were other public outbursts, as players tried to make sense of the misfortune that seemed to befall the team at every turn. Potential free agent Chuck Finley questioned the organization's commitment to winning. Vaughn reacted angrily when Bavasi flippantly disregarded his complaints about Collins and signed the manager to a contract extension.

Disneyland may bill itself as "the happiest place on Earth," but the home clubhouse as Disney's ballpark just might be the unhappiest place in baseball -- though nearby Dodger Stadium isn't exactly an amusement park right now, either.

Disney Sports president Tony Tavares finally chimed in last week, blasting the team on a pre-game radio show and then telling reporters that the time had come for everyone in the organization to shoulder a share of the blame for the horrible 1999 season.

"Based on the performance we have put out there in the last 20 games, we have to all apologize to our fan base," Tavares said. `We have not delivered on the product they are all buying."

Tavares gave the obligatory nod to the way the club was devastated by injuries, but that was the only slack he cut the team during a media briefing in which he made it clear that the club is in line for a major personnel shake-up if there is not a marked turnabout during the final two months of the season.

"I'm not making apologies for our injuries," he said. "I just don't like the way we've responded to adversity. The only reason to be vocal now is to hope that everyone in the organization gets the message: We all have to share the responsibility for what happened. That's been my biggest disappointment -- that we're not all willing to share the blame.

"That speaks to character. The one thing we have to look at now is the character makeup of the entire organization."

Tavares said that changes would be made soon after the end of the regular season, but did not specify who might stay and who might go.

"If we have a time line, we want to see how the balance of the season works out," he said. "But if we do something, it will be shortly thereafter. We can't let it linger.

"This core group of players have been together a long time here, and it still hasn't happened. Something is not being provided by the managerial side, the front office side or the players' side. We have to find out what that is."

The situation in Anaheim is so unsettled there have been reports that Disney might try to sell the club, perhaps to streamline the entertainment giant and shore up the company's sagging stock value. But that seems unlikely so soon after the company paid a total of $130 million for the franchise and another $88 million to renovate Edison Field.

New managerial candidate

The dismissal of Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil Garner only adds another potential candidate to replace Orioles manager Ray Miller at the end of the season.

Garner did not have success during his tenure with the Brewers, but he was handicapped by the financial limitations of one of baseball's smallest-revenue teams.

Garner and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa are known to be favorites of Orioles owner Peter Angelos. La Russa has made it clear that he hopes to remain in St. Louis, but Garner figures to be available.

Angelos has not given any firm indication that he will replace Miller at the end of the season, but it seems likely that the club will undergo another set of big changes during the off-season.

If a change is made, look for the Orioles to go with a tough-guy manager such as Garner or former Oriole Don Baylor, but both also figure to be candidates in Anaheim if the Angels decide to make a change after all.

Confident in Arizona

The sudden collapse of the San Francisco Giants has left the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks feeling as if the scales (pun intended) may have tipped in their favor for good.

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