Saturday, February 9, 2008

By Victor Varadi - Columnist

When the word went out that was compiling a list of the 50 greatest moments in Angels history, my first thought, sadly enough, was to the tumultuous moments in our team’s history: I thought of how the Angels have always been second-class citizens living in the shadow of Chavez Ravine; or how we have spent most of our history grasping at greatness, yet coming up empty. I did not immediately think about the World Series win in 2002. But that’s the price I have paid for being a fan of this team, an experience I would not trade for anything.

But I quickly reminded myself that we have also had moments that rival those of any team in MLB history. Imagine compiling an All-Star team made up of past and present Angels. Heck, I would line them up against anyone. We would be able to choose a rotation from a pool of guys like Dean Chance, Clyde Wright, Chuck Finley and John Lackey. And who could forget about Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana, a duo known as much for its dominance as it was for the inability of the rest of that staff to get wins? “Tanana and Ryan, and two days of cryin’,” anyone? And what about our offense? It seems almost unfair to only choose a starting nine: Albie Pearson, Don Baylor, Alex Johnson, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Wally Joyner, Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero. I know I didn’t pick by position, but what would be the fun in that? The bottom line is that there was much to think about in comprising a list of 50 great moments and it’s because of all the great players we have been lucky to watch.

I must confess, I have had a peek at the final list and I have gotten chills just thinking about some of these incredible moments. And while some of the Angels baseball aficionados may not find this list filled with too many surprises, the point of this feature is to ultimately wipe the cobwebs from our memories and begin thinking about baseball again. Obviously, many of us were not around for all of these moments, but we have read about them so much that we sometimes imagine them in a manner that suggests we were in the front row!

The name of our team dates back as far as 1892, but this team as we have come to know and love them came into being when it was suggested to Gene Autry that he buy this new franchise.

For the next 50 days, will count down the top-50 moments in Angels history, with No. 1 being revealed on Sunday, March 30 — the eve of opening day. We hope the list brings back great memories, inspires debate and generally reminds Angels fans we have, in fact, had quite a lot to cheer about over the years.

In 1960, Autry purchased the franchise known as the Los Angeles Angels and in 1961 the team took the field for the first time. It seems only fitting that our list start there.

#50 - Dec. 6, 1960: Gene Autry awarded the American League expansion franchise to be known as the Los Angeles Angels.

Looking back, it seems simple enough. Gene Autry was a big baseball fan. He had made plenty of money in show business; he was, after all, known as the “Singin’ Cowboy.”

A friend suggested Autry buy the team after Walter O’Malley, the shrewd businessman and owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers (and owner of the Los Angeles Angels moniker), resisted attempts to purchase the franchise by famed baseball promoter and entrepreneur, Bill Veeck.

Autry proved to be a more suitable owner for a team that would play its first few years under O’Malley’s watchful eye. And when he had enough of being bled dry in rental fees for playing in O’Malley’s stadium (Autry had to purchase the name “Los Angeles Angels” from O’Malley for a reported $300,000), Autry looked to greener pastures, finally settling in Anaheim.

In 1966, the Angels began play at the “Big A” as the California Angels and they led the American League that year in attendance. Things were finally looking up. But the Angels would spend Gene Autry’s long tenure as owner mired in mediocrity and stunning disappointment. The Angels front office often unloaded young and talented players for overpriced veterans in an attempt to finally win one for the aging “cowboy.” He would never live to see his dream of a World Series Championship.

Gene Autry passed away in 1998 and is forever immortalized by way of a bronze statue inside the gates of Angels Stadium.
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