Monday, June 10, 2013

By Rob Goldman, Historical Writer - 

When the Angels launched an aggressive build-from-within policy in the early Nineties, they placed themselves—at long last—on a winning course that forever transformed the franchise. The sea change actually began around the time Buzzie Bavasi retired in 1984, and Mike Port took over as general manager. It was Port who took on the Herculean task of rebuilding the club by phasing out the aging, past-their-prime veterans and easing the organization’s young, hungry prospects into major roles with the team. 

“Every year Mike was letting go of a significant player,” recalls Buzzie’s son, Bill Bavasi, who was a minor-league administer at the time. “Whether it was releasing Brian Downing, Doug DeCinces, or Rod Carew, he had a real tough, tough period here. But that was the very beginning.” 

 While Mike Port initiated the policy, Whitey Herzog took it to the next level. Hired by the Autrys in 1992 to “fix the problem” with the team, Herzog saw immediately that the most prudent way to accomplish that task was by concentrating on the talent the Angels already possessed.

One of Herzog’s best moves was promoting Bob Fontaine from director of scouting to director of player personnel and scouting. It was Fontaine’s keen eye for talent that was responsible for the acquisition and nurturing of many of the players who would become key cogs in the Angels’ world championship run. Among the players scouted and signed during Fontaine’s 20-year tenure were Tim Salmon, Gary DiSarcina, Jim Edmonds, Troy Percival, Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus, Jarrod Washburn, Benji Molina, and Darin Erstad.

“Those of us in the organization were left with the understanding that Whitey was brought in because ownership really didn’t have faith in our scouting or player development,” says Bavasi. “After a year looking at the minor league system with Fontaine, Herzog came away with the opinion that the way we were going to fix this thing is to do nothing. Whitey had the guts and the stature to come in and say, ‘Here’s how I’m gonna fix it: I’m just gonna leave it alone. Were just not trading these kids!’”

“Whitey came in and, almost like the Pope, blessed our prospects and said, ‘These guys can play,’” says Joe Maddon, who was a minor-league instructor at time. “I don’t know what Whitey’s master plan was. All I know is that we had a really good thing going in the minor leagues that was not being recognized and, Whitey came in and recognized it.” 

According to Joe Maddon and Bavasi, it was Herzog who ultimately set the Angels on a course that would one day make them one of the elite franchises in baseball.  For years the front office had been routinely dealing away their young players to the highest bidders and signing free agents and acquiring players well past their prime. Herzog believed strongly in sticking with the youngsters. His policy of building from remained a cornerstone of the club’s philosophy for years.

Although Jackie Autry and Herzog never quite saw eye to eye—particularly when it came to his insistence on working from his home in St. Louis, and Whitey’s habit of “forgetting” to return Gene’s phone calls—Jackie gamely went along with the program.

At first she had called Herzog’s actions detrimental to the club and a major disappointment to her husband. But with the franchise going bankrupt, she eventually recognized Herzog’s baseball acumen and supported his measures wholeheartedly.

To Be Continued.....

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