After 10 years, Salmon enjoys a postseason of his content

October 09, 2002|By Laura Vecsey

MINNEAPOLIS - After sending the not-so-mighty New York Yankees packing, Tim Salmon and the Anaheim Angels in four sweet games vaporized so much bad karma. It was only natural to wonder if last night's 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series was a big letdown.

Salmon did not hesitate: "Nope."

There was not much the Angels could do against Twins starter Joe Mays, who Salmon said was unhittable because of location, location, location.

"Once in a while, you run into a guy having a night like that," Salmon said. "After my second at-bat, when I had to just flick my bat to put the ball in play, that's when I realized what kind of night it might be. We'll come out [tonight] and not look back."

In the cramped, old visitors clubhouse of the Metrodome, Salmon still wore the look of a contented and relaxed man. Maybe that's because new, soothing light has been shed on his startling baseball statistic, one in which this lifelong Angel was the answer to a current trivia question.

With 10 years of service with the Angels, Salmon led all active major-league players in regular-season games played (1,388) without a postseason appearance.

Now, it no longer says "without a postseason appearance" next to his name.

"Everybody labeled us the team that couldn't get it done. To get through all that is a tremendous triumph for the whole organization," Salmon said.

"For me, personally, being the guy with the most years here, it's a nice relief. I talk with Troy [Percival, the closer with seven years in Anaheim] and we say how nice it is to put to rest some of those old demons or ghosts from the past."

You see, in this October of surprise appearances by underdogs and upstarts, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds is not the only veteran whose every home run and victory releases him from the purgatory of his futile past.

Salmon, the 34-year-old outfielder, is the Angel who has worn the halo longer than any other of his current teammates. As the franchise leader in home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits, Salmon has been around long enough to know that the Angels' famed halo has more often felt like a crown of thorns.

He was the one guy for whom the Angels' new, scrappy, driven-to-succeed mind-set under manager Mike Scioscia could have faced perilous odds. How do you overcome a decade of travail? How do you see AL West titles evaporate and not suffer permanent damage to your confidence?

How do you watch teammates like J.T. Snow, Jim Edmonds and Chuck Finley move on to new clubs that make it to October and not think maybe you, too, should try on a new uniform to see if it makes the difference?

"After 10 years, you do look at your career and you start to think, `Wow, how many more years have you got? Maybe I should move on, too,' " he said.

All kinds of changes were needed. Salmon wasn't the only one who felt it. Why else did the Disney-owned Angels shelve those animated-wing jerseys this season in favor of more traditional garb?

And along with the altered look of a serious contender, the Angels' coaches thought they had it mentally licked, too. In staking out the psychological terrain necessary to thwart 15 seasons without a playoff appearance and blast away the black cloud of having never won a World Series, the rallying cry was simple.

It wasn't you guys.

The playoff busts in 1982 and 1986? Long ago.

The so-called jinxes that in 1998 made former pitcher Finley contemplate performing a spirit-cleansing ritual at their ballpark? A thing of the past.

And the painful memory of Angels pitcher Donnie Moore, who was one pitch from delivering the Angels to the 1986 World Series but faltered and, three years later, shot and wounded his wife before killing himself? That wasn't baseball. That was a terrible aberration of human tragedy.

And that 11-game lead in the AL West that the 1995 Angels surrendered to the Seattle Mariners, a collapse compared to the worst in baseball? Forget about it.

"These guys had that look in their eye - `It's not going to happen again,'" said Anaheim hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. "And I told them, `You guys weren't there. You guys weren't part of that. You're making your own history right now.' "

But the coaching staff's credo did not exactly ring true for Salmon. He was there in 1995, when the Angels were embarrassed day after day and when it was revealed that as early as August, someone had written their magic number in the clubhouse. The magic never came, just a nightmare flop.

"I do remember '95," Salmon said. "We had some veteran guys on that team and they were in shock. I was younger, I didn't know. But looking back at it, that was a great opportunity we lost. To tell you the truth, some of those memories I just buried."

Now, though, Salmon is wearing the expression of a man freed from his baseball past. He was loose during the Angels' AL Division Series win over the Yankees, clubbing two homers and declaring himself eager to make the most of each cut.

And now, instead of internalizing more embarrassment, regret or frustration, Salmon and the Angels are the recipients of far more encouraging words.

"People say, `You're turning the page. You're rewriting history for our organization. This is Day One. All that other stuff is gone,' " Salmon said. "It really feels like that."

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