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  • Writer's pictureRyan Hardison

The Inescapable Dread of Being a Los Angeles Angels Fan

Why are you an Angels fan?

Like seriously ... why?

To be honest, it's a completely fair question and I've been hearing it for years.

I mean, why would anyone in their right mind willingly root for a baseball team that's accustomed to agonizing 4th place finishes when there's a much more successful franchise perched atop Chavez Ravine just across the 5 freeway? You'd have to be a little unhinged or fiercely loyal to stick with a team that constantly puts you through hell. Luckily for the Los Angeles Angels, I am both.

Looking from the outside in, it seems nearly impossible for a team with Mike Trout, possibly the greatest baseball player ever, Shohei Ohtani, the 21st-century successor to Babe Ruth and Anthony Rendon, a perennial all-star third baseman, to achieve such meager results. But I can assure you, this stretch of bad luck has been brewing for decades and is so astounding that supernatural interference seems like the best explanation. Seriously.

The story goes that Angel Stadium was built directly above an indigenous burial ground, resulting in a curse placed on everyone who ever dons an Angels uniform. Rumors of a jinx afflicting the Angels have existed since the 1970s, preceding the team's first playoff appearance (1979) and the Hollywood classic "Angels in the Outfield," a film inspired by their struggles. Baseball has always had a notable relationship with superstition, so, unsurprisingly, the existence of a curse has been thoroughly investigated by the Angels' media relations department. It's also unsurprising that the team has brought in professional witches to break the curse on two occasions. To my knowledge, their advice didn't do much.

Now I know that there's not an actual curse punishing the Angels or the other miserable clubs around the league, and it'd be ridiculous to believe this unsubstantiated rumor. However, the team's history seems beyond the normal dosing of bad luck. A long record of bizarre injuries, weird accidents, and untimely deaths haunt the franchise and have only fueled the legend more. No freak injury sums up this bizarre phenomenon like the one experienced by Kendrys Morales, and I had the great displeasure of attending the game where it occurred.

It was May 29, 2010, and the Sunday afternoon faceoff between the Angels and the Seattle Mariners went to extra innings tied 1-1. With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning, Morales launched the first pitch he saw beyond the center-field wall. This walk-off grand slam sent the crowd into a frenzy and closed out an emphatic Angels victory. This was a storybook ending, one that every adolescent baseball fan envisions in their backyard time and time again. Morales happily rounded the bases and prepared for a celebratory mobbing at home plate, a long-standing tradition that occurs after every walk-off home run. He gleefully threw down his helmet, leaped into the air, and tumbled immediately upon touching home plate.

From the stands, it looked like he just casually slipped and fell. A clumsy mistake that could happen to anyone ecstatic to win a game in front of their home fans. With a growing circle of players, coaches, and trainers gathering around his body, most of the stadium couldn't gather what had happened. Many fans anxiously waited up to an hour for any sign of movement from the field. We passed the time murmuring amongst ourselves, feverishly attempting to check the Angels radio broadcast for more details, and praying that the medical presence was just a precaution. Eventually, our greatest fears proved realistic and Morales was lifted out of the pile with a fractured left leg.

Morales was the team's best slugger at the time of his injury and primed for the best year of his career. This single moment would completely rob him of the next two seasons. When he collapsed, the entire stadium shifted from a glorious reception to silent shock in a matter of seconds. The enthusiasm had been exhaustively sucked out of the ballpark and replaced with the thought of "why does this keep happening?" Angel fans of all ages could recall Nick Adenhart's death in a car accident a year prior and wonder when things began to get so unlucky. Those who'd been around for a couple of decades could remember the Angels' inexplicable late-season collapse in 1995 that cost them a playoff run and notice a familiar, sinister pattern. Anyone who'd been a fan longer than that could trace the bad voodoo back to the Angels' inaugural season in 1961.

Since 1961, eight Angels players have died during their career, the most recent being Tyler Skaggs in 2019, who died of asphyxia after a drug overdose. Major League Baseball has existed for over 150 years, and the Angels are still a relatively young team, yet no other team has more than 6 deaths. Still, this grim statistic doesn't include players like Morales or Garrett Richards, who tore his patellar tendon after stepping awkwardly on first base during a Cy-Young-worthy season. It doesn't even begin to touch the 1992 bus crash in New Jersey that injured 13 Angels personnel, including infielder Bobby Rose, who received a black eye, a sprained ankle, and a six-inch gash in his forehead. Nor does it cover the extensive list of signings who not only failed to pan out in an Angels uniform but put together the worst numbers of their career.

The Angels are accustomed to tragedy on and off the field. Anyone who's watched a handful of their games and not just the spectacular SportsCenter highlights that come from the team's stars can tell you how miserable the reality of it is. After a while, you learn to maintain low expectations but it's hard to never get your hopes up. When things are clicking, the Angels are goofy, loveable underdogs and one of the most fun teams to watch. It's a joy rooting for scrappy players like middle infielders David Fletcher and José Iglesias, as well as future stars like first baseman Jared Walsh. There'll even be times where everything is running on all cylinders, and that's when they decide to fall apart.

There's no such thing as safety when it comes to the Angels, and wins rarely come easy. The cloudy atmosphere of adversity that follows the team from year to year automatically lowers expectations of fans who are so fearful of an impending collapse that many of the victories can't be enjoyed. I find myself resigned to the fact that every single lead is at risk and a 1-run difference in the 9th inning will bring about a heart attack reaction once the lead is inevitably blown. Players who are performing well are bound to have their accomplishments cut short and it's become foolish to think otherwise.

The Angels' mediocrity is a boogieman that reveals itself differently each season. 2021 has brought about shoddy defense, blown leads galore, and a lack of clutch gene to the fold. There are many people to point at for these woes, but much of the blame can be shifted to the team's aloof owner Arte Moreno. Moreno bought the team from the Walt Disney Company in 2003, a year after their lone World Series title. Following that successful postseason, the Angels had their best period since the mid-80s with four division titles and multiple American League Championship Series appearances in five years.

In the twelve years since, the Angels have one playoff appearance and increasingly fewer bright spots. Moreno is usually too busy worshiping Donald Trump or strategically changing the team's location trademark to increase revenue, rather than being the hands-on owner the team needs. When he does take action, it results in overspending on big-name free agents to bolster the lineup and creating bloated contract crises (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson — just to name a few). His ineptitude makes the team's heydays feel like a century ago and invites reminiscence of the butt-ugly Disney paperclip jersey era.

Moreno's plans are always repetitive and inherently insane, but he's yet to learn his lesson. He's created a failed infrastructure, elevated by stars and useful utility players but scraped together with guys who are far past their prime or have no business being on a major league roster. Moreno's interference, as well as the free-wheeling style of former general manager Jerry Dipoto, turned the team's farm system into an irreversible dumpster fire. A pair of recent GM's have attempted to remedy the problem, but no significant improvements have come to fruition. In essence, most of Moreno's moves are like putting duct tape on a bullet wound and they're nowhere near getting the job done.

Within the Angels' sixty-year history, the great seasons are easy to pick out because there are not that many of them. That being said, talks of a curse seemed to disappear in 2002, when the team finally got their hands on a World Series trophy. That resilient team entered the playoffs with 99 wins, a number that relegated them to the AL Wild Card due to the original Oakland Athletics "Moneyball" team finishing with 103. After impressive series victories against the Yankees and Twins, the Angels took the San Francisco Giants to seven games in one of the best World Series ever. The Angles narrowly avoided elimination in Game 6 with a tremendous five-run comeback and was a win that fully encapsulated the underdog spirit of the 2002 team. With a 4-1 win in Game 7, the Angels were finally cemented in history for a positive reason. Led by Angels legends Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, and Darin Erstad, the Angels' first championship couldn't have happened to a more deserving incarnation. It was a win for Gene Autry, country superstar and the Angels' original owner who had died in 1998, and a massive victory for long-suffering Angels fans who had few moments to celebrate in the team's history.

With inspiring squads like this, it's no wonder how they managed to lure in a lot of fans, including me. Spurred on by my Angel fan father, the 2007 team was my initial introduction to America's national pastime. I have fond childhood memories of Vladimir Guerrero scooping pitches out of the dirt and turning them into extra-base hits. Jered Weaver's progression into a dominant ace pitcher and the crown jewel of a once-decent farm system. Francisco Rodriguez locking up any and every save opportunity with ferocity and excitement. They were good times, and as my first sports obsession, I didn't realize at the time that I was signing a lifetime contract into fandom. I also didn't know that the 2009 ALCS would be the closest they'd come to a World Series win for at least a decade (and counting). Or that they'd only garner a single playoff appearance after 2009. I became spoiled by this period of success and had no idea of the heartbreak that awaited me.

Every preseason, the Angels are the popular dark horse pick to sneak into the playoffs and make a title run, and it never comes to fruition. Buying some quality pitching and thereby shoring up the team's most glaring problem seems like an ideal start. Moreno is too stubborn to let the team sacrifice a couple of bad seasons to rebuild the franchise. Instead, he seems resigned to spending *just* enough money so the Angels stay out of last place but not enough to catapult them to worthy contenders. As a fan, it's expected, but it doesn't make it any less infuriating. Let's see how it's worked out in 2021.

At the time of this article's publication, the Angels are 20-27 and sitting in last place in the American League West. They've lost 9 of their last 13 games, Trout has just begun a long stint on the Injured List that's expected to last 6-8 weeks and it seems like the entire team has decided to slump at the same time. Saying the Angels are in panic mode right now would be a brutal understatement.

Pitching continues to be a prevalent issue. Angels pitchers have allowed the second-most runs in the league and nobody has inserted themself as the ace of the starting rotation. Minimal efforts have been made, and they have not succeeded. In the offseason, Jose Quintana, an All-star pitcher with a 3.81 career ERA was brought to help improve the rotation. Naturally, Quintana has a 7.92 ERA with the Halos, which is currently the highest among pitchers with at least 25 innings pitched. (For all the non-baseball fans, any ERA above 5.00 is pretty egregious.) Reliever Hunter Strickland was brought in last week from the Tampa Bay Rays to be a stable force in the team's floundering bullpen. As I am typing this, Strickland just allowed a mammoth solo home run to Aramis Garcia of the Oakland Athletics, pushing his ERA above 7.00 as a member of the Angels so far. So that's going nicely.

Outside of pitching, the team is massively underperforming. Rendon has struggled to make an impact at the plate, Iglesias has the second-most errors in the league and last year's ace Dylan Bundy has been a shell of his 2020 self. It's scary to picture what miserable lows the Angels would reach without Walsh, Trout, or Ohtani. But for now, they're hanging on for dear life.

Life as an Angels fan is a lifestyle where the circumstances are too hilarious to be fully angry. The more you learn to laugh at it, the less you'll want to yell, and I don't expect it to change anytime soon. You are guaranteed an unpredictable season, mind-bending chaos, and a spot around the .500 mark. Nothing more, possibly much less. I love them, I hate them and I'm going to stick with them forever. They can't get rid of me that easily.

#baseball #LosAngelesAngels #MLB #baseballcurse #AmericanLeagueWest

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