It’s September and there are certain traditions to be observed. The leaves are starting to turn, the kids are sort of … electronically … back to school and the Dodgers are in the playoffs and the Angels are staying home.
For a lot of Halo fans, the only good news to come out of this lost “Ghost Season” of 2020 is that the much-maligned Billy Eppler was fired Sunday after five forgettable losing seasons as general manager in Anaheim.
A lot of the blame for the fact that the Angels haven’t been in the playoffs since before Barack Obama started to go gray has been laid at his feet. During that period the team lost its only successful field manager in Mike Scioscia, made a bad pick with Brad Ausmus, and a potentially good one with Joe Maddon.
Of course, you can’t place all the burden on Eppler. He didn’t work in a vacuum. But you could make a pretty good argument that the heavy emphasis on long-ball free agents has been part of the problem, in which he was a key player.
Generally speaking, the Halos have had trouble with the big-name, big-contract stars they signed. Such moves excite the fans and help pre-season ticket sales, but about half the time, those players have peaked and are ready for a long slow glide into dotage.
Long-time fans will remember the excitement around Mo Vaughn, the former Red Sox star who joined the Angels in 1999. On the first play of the first game of the season, he fell into the dugout chasing a foul ball and badly injured his ankle. He missed much of the season, came back in 2000 and missed the entire 2001 season before being traded to the Mets.
Josh Hamilton was a much ballyhooed free agent acquisition in 2013, despite concerns about his drug and alcohol abuse. He batted a disappointing .250 in his first season with the team. In 2014 – the last year the Angels made the playoffs – he batted 0-for-13 against the Royals, bringing boos from Anaheim fans.
The Halos finally gave him back to the Rangers. His latest appearance in the news? He is facing felony charges of beating his daughter, which could land him in prison for 10 years.
Not all the free agent letdowns have been that dramatic. Albert Pujols is blasting his way into the Hall of Fame, but many of his homers came with no one on base, and after a .285 year in 2012, he spent most of his recent career in the .240s.
We could go on and on, but the sum is simple. Rather than develop and acquire a solid, reliable pitching staff, and a lineup of .280 hitters, the team – under Eppler, and others – went for the flashy rather than the reliable.
The fans, frankly, are complicit in that trend, but there’s plenty of blame to go around on State College Boulevard for another quiet fall in Anaheim.
“Wild World of Sports” is posted on Mondays.