After 10 years, Salmon enjoys a postseason of his content

October 09, 2002|By Laura Vecsey

MINNEAPOLIS — Angels" Salmon finally gets payoff in playoffs


Right fielder Tim Salmon (right) played in 1,388 regular-season games with the Angels before reaching the playoffs.

MINNEAPOLIS - Tim Salmon wears the look of a happy man. New, soothing light has been shed on Salmon's startling baseball statistic, one that had this lifelong Angel being the answer to a current trivia question.

With 10 years of service with the Anaheim Angels - an entire career in one uniform - Salmon led all active major-league play ers in regular-season games ( 1,388) played without a post season appearance.

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

"A lot of things were said out there. Everybody labeled us the team that couldn't get it done. To get through all that is a tremendous triumph for the whole organization." said Salmon, whose Angels opened the American League Championship Series last night here against the Minnesota Twins. "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 under dogs and upstarts, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds is not the only veteran ballplayer whose every home run and every victory releases him from the purgatory of his futile past.

Salmon, the 34-year-old right fielder, is the Angel who has worn the halo longer than any other of his current teammates. Percival and Garret Anderson are the only other Angels with more than five years of duty in the franchise formerly known as the Los Angeles Dodgers" little step-brother.

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 division leads evaporate and not suffer permanent damage to your confidence?

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

"Those years start to blend in - '95, '97 and '98 - but 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,' " Salmon 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 with no playoff appearances 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 spirit-cleansing ritual at their ballpark? A thing of the past.

And the painful memory of Angels pitcher Donnie Moore, who was within one pitch of delivering the Angels to the '86 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.

"Even this year [when the Angels were going through a losing streak], we were hearing it again. "Here we go. Are you going to choke again?" said Anaheim hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. "These guys had that look in their eye. It's not going to happen again, 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' slide was compared to the worst chokes in baseball history.

"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 New York 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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