The 1982 California Angels Go All-In And Win The AL West

The 1982 California Angels did a lot of wheeling and dealing to get ready for the season. After winning the AL West in 1979, the team fell off the radar the next two years. Owner Gene Autry was hungry to get to his first World Series, so his front office went all-in, and it paid off with another division title.

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California acquired 34-year-old catcher Bob Boone, a key component of the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies, who had won the World Series. They traded for Tim Foli, the shortstop who started for the Pittsburgh Pirates when they won it all in 1979. The Angels swung another deal for Doug DeCinces, a third baseman who helped the Baltimore Orioles win the American League pennant in ’79. California was not only adding veterans, they were adding winning veterans.

And no one was more associated with winning in October than Reggie Jackson. After five years with the New York Yankees and helping them win three pennants and two World Series—including being a Series hero in 1977—Reggie was on the free agent market prior to the 1982 season. California won the bidding war and brought Jackson west.

These new acquisitions joined a talented everyday lineup. Rod Carew was now 36-years-old at first base, but the best pure contact hitter of his generation could still produce, and he hit .319 in 1982. Brian Downing hit 28 home runs, playing left field and batting leadoff. Fred Lynn had a big year in centerfield, with a .374 on-base percentage/.517 slugging percentage. Bobby Grich was a good hitting second baseman, at .371/.449. And Don Baylor, the DH hit 24 home runs and drove in 98 runs.

It added up to the second-best offense in the American League. And though the pitching staff didn’t have a clear ace, they also finished second in the AL. Geoff Zahn won 18 game with a 3.73 ERA. Ken Forsch won 13 games, and along with Zahn he logged over 200 innings.

Manager Gene Mauch did a good job piecing together the rest of the rotation. He got 16 starts from Bruce Kison, another veteran of the ’79 Pirates, and Kison won 10 games. Steve Renko, a 37-year-old vet, finished 11-6, albeit with a 4.44 ERA. On the other end of the age spectrum, 21-year-old Mike Witt worked 179 innings and went 8-6 at a 3.51 ERA.

The bullpen was lacking in depth, with Andy Hassler and Luis Sanchez having good years, but no real closer ever emerging. Dave Goltz, a former starter, was respectable in middle relief. The staff as a whole was probably an arm short, and the aggressive front office made one more move—at the end of August, they added Tommy John to the rotation. John, who pitched for both the Dodgers and Yankees in their pennant runs over the previous six season, made seven starts for the Angels down the stretch and went 4-2.

California started 10-3 and led by as many as 2 ½ games in April. A stretch of games against the powers of the AL East, including the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles, produced an 8-8 record and by the time Memorial Day arrived, the Angels were 29-16. They were a half-game back of the Chicago White Sox. The Kansas City Royals, the AL West’s consistent power at this time, were five back, and the Oakland A’s, who had won the division in 1981 were 7 ½ out.

The beginning of June was not kind to Mauch’s team, and they lost seven in a row, although it only cost them a game and a half in the standings. California then won 14 of 20 to again take a three-game lead. The beginning of July was another problem though—eight straight losses, before they righted the ship to sweep the Yankees three straight just prior to the All-Star break.

California went into the break at 49-37, up a game on the Royals, two on the White Sox and four on the surprising Seattle Mariners. Oakland had collapsed. The Angels came quickly out of the gate in the second half and got ahead by as many as four games. Then they lost four of five, and through August and leading up to Labor Day, they fluctuated from up two games to down two games in the AL West race.

The race had essentially narrowed to the Angels and Royals. Chicago was still lurking in early September, at 5 ½ back, while Seattle disappeared. The Angels won eight of thirteen and the White Sox finally faded. California hosted Kansas City on for a three-game set to open the season’s penultimate week, and the race was dead even.

Zahn took the ball on Monday and went toe-to-toe with reliable Kansas City lefty Larry Gura. Zahn worked eight innings, gave up just two runs and Foli hit a big home run in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. The Angels won 3-2.

One night later it was Forsch and Royal workhorse Dennis Leonard battling. Carew delivered four hits, but the game was still tied 1-1 in the ninth. Kansas City went to their closer, Dan Quisenberry. Three straight singles, off the bats of Boone, Grich and pinch-hitter Daryl Sconiers won the game 2-1.

Wednesday’s finale saw both teams get the bats going. DeCinces homered twice and drove in four runs. Downing had three hits, including his own home run. Carew slapped two more hits. The 8-5 win completed the sweep and gave California a three-game lead with a week and a half left.

The lead was at two games going into the final weekend. California was hosting Texas, while Kansas City was at home against Oakland. Zahn threw a complete-game shutout on Friday night, to clinch a tie and, at worst a Monday playoff game. The Royals also won to keep the race alive.

On Saturday, the Angels trailed 4-3 in the fifth. Goltz came on out of the bullpen and worked 4.1 quality innings. Lynn hit a two-run shot, and with the come-from-behind 6-4 win, California was again the champions of the AL West.

California went on to face Milwaukee in the 1982 ALCS. The Angels won the first two games at home, of what was then a best-of-five round and it appeared that Autry’s long-sought World Series trip was finally at hand. Alas, it was not to be. The Angels lost three straight in Milwaukee, including a gut-wrenching Game 5.

The Angels drifted off the map for the next couple seasons, before returning to contention in 1985, losing a close AL West race to the eventual World Series champion Royals. California won the West in 1986 and again got to within one game of the World Series with three chances to clinch. They found a way to lose this ALCS, to the Boston Red Sox, in even more agonizing fashion than the one of 1982. Not until 2002, did the Angels finally reach the World Series and win it.