Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 26 – The Angels
Well, folks, this is the 26th of 27 planned installments off my series, Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons. I will complete this series with an analysis of the Houston Astros in my next post.
What I’ve enjoyed most about writing this series over the past six months is how many surprises I’ve come across over the past forty or so years of baseball history.
The players I have profiled in this series represent but a fraction of the players I could have chosen to write about. Virtually every team offered up some astounding one-year wonders, superstars on teams we forgot they ever played for, or solid players who peaked in one fantastic season.
The Angels are no different.
In fact, the entire history of the Angels is full of surprises. Did you know, for example, that the Angels just finished their 50th season as a major league franchise? Back when I was a kid in the ’70’s, they were still considered one of baseball’s newer teams, and had no history to speak of. But now there is plenty to say about this franchise that began play in 1961.
For example: The Angels have made the playoffs nine times in 50 years, slightly more often than, for example, the Mets who have made the playoffs seven times in 49 years.
The Angels are enjoying their most successful era (despite this past season’s 80-82, 3rd place finish.) They have enjoyed a winning record in eight of their last eleven seasons. Moreover, their attendance has topped three million per year now for eight straight years; they regularly rank in 2nd place in A.L. attendance.
Clearly, their affiliation with the Disney empire has been a rousing success.
The Angels, of course, won their one and only World Championship in 2002, defeating the Giants in seven games.
Yet the two Angels players who I have chosen to write about in this post toiled in eras distinctly different from these modern Angels teams.
Let’s begin by going all the way back to 1964, when the expansion Angels were but merely toddlers in the baseball family. The Angels finished a respectable 82-80 in ’64, their second winning season in their first four years.
Every winning team has, at the very least, a nominal ace. Somebody has to win those games, right? But sometimes those someones are really damn good pitchers who win Cy Young awards.
Does the name Dean Chance ring a bell? If it does, you may even be aware that he is one of just two Angels to ever win the Cy Young award. Chance won his in, of course, ’64. Bartolo Colon won his for the Angels in 2005. Maybe someday someone will write a post about Colon’s forgotten ’05 season, but we’re here to examine Chance’s ’64 season.
Chance was a 6’3″, 200 pound right-handed pitcher out of Ohio originally drafted by the Orioles in ’59. But the Angels were able to grab him in the expansion draft going into the ’61 season.
In 1964, at the age of 23, Chance rewarded the Angels foresight with a phenomenal year.
1964 was Dean Chance’s Best Forgotten Baseball Season.
20-9, .690, 1.65 ERA, 35 GS, 278 IP, 15 CG, 11 S.O., 194 hits, 7 HR, 207 K’s, 86 BB, 198 ERA+, 1.006 WHIP, 8.9 WAR.
Yes, a 1.65 ERA in 278 innings pitched. Eleven shutouts. A league-best home run / inning pitched ratio. And the best single-season WAR of any pitcher in Angels history.
He led the A.L. in wins, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, ERA, and ERA+. He was third in strikeouts.
Chance made the All-Star team and, of course, he won the Cy Young award. He was also voted The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year for 1964.
A one-year wonder, right? Well, no. Pitching three years later for Minnesota, Chance posted a 20-14 record and led the league in starts (39) complete games (18), innings pitched (283), posted an ERA of 2.73 and struck out 220 batters.
Chance hurled over 200 innings every year from 1962-68, inclusive, culminating in a career high 292 innings pitched in 1968.
By 1969, at age 28, Chance was a burned-out husk of himself, never again reaching twenty starts per season over his last five years.
Chance retired after the 1971 season with a career record of 128-115 and a highly respectable career ERA of 2.92 accumulated in over 2,100 innings pitched.
If Dean Chance represents the Angles first generation, then Bobby Grich arguably represents the Angels next generation.
Grich broke in with the Baltimore Orioles in 1970, and played for Baltimore for seven years before the Angels signed him as a free agent in 1977 when he was 28-years old.
Bobby Grich’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1979.
At age 30 in ’79, Grich made a strong case that he was the best second baseman in his league. Known previously for his defensive prowess (four Gold Gloves,) his always potent bat delivered his biggest season up to that point.
Grich hit 30 home runs, drove in 101, added 30 doubles, slugged .537, had an OPS of .903, and an OPS+ of 145. He also amassed 287 total bases.
Grich finished 8th in the MVP voting in ’79, and he was named to the All Star Team for one of six times in his career.
A reasonable case can be made that Bobby Grich should be in the Hall of Fame. Grich retired after the 1986 season having played seventeen seasons in the Major Leagues. He slugged 224 career home runs, scored over a thousand runs, and led the A.L. in home runs in the strike-shortened 1981 season with 22.
Grich is a typical player in this series because, like so many other players I have analyzed, his accomplishments were significant enough to drag out of the dusty closet of history, but perhaps not significant enough to warrant permanent canonization in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Now, on to Houston, the final station-stop in this series. I’ll meet you there.
Until next time, Bill