|Thursday, March 6
Angels decide change isn't in their vocabulary
By Rob Neyer
TEMPE, Ari. -- Exactly 98 teams have won a World Series since the American League and the National League faced off for the first time in 1903. Many of those teams were great, and most of the rest were very good. And yet you'd be hard pressed to find many World Series-winning teams that entered the next season having made as few changes over the winter as the 2003 Anaheim Angels have.
In fact, Angels general manager Bill Stoneman hoped to do less this winter than he wound up doing.
"We wanted to be more the same," Stoneman says, while sitting behind his desk, from where he's got a magnificent view of the pristine diamond at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "We tried to sign Orlando Palmeiro, but we just weren't able to get that done. We couldn't agree on a contract in time, and lost the right to talk to him. And so we ended up bringing in Eric Owens."
In addition to Owens, ex-Padre Wil Nieves has a decent shot of making the club as a backup catcher. Otherwise, the Angels roster that we see on Opening Day might be exactly the same as the Angels roster we saw in Game 7 of the World Series. Which is just fine with Stoneman.
"By and large, the core's together," Stoneman says. "The fans have always liked the core ... and of course now that we've been able to win the World Series, they love the core. So it was really our intention to keep them together. We're still a fairly young club, so why shouldn't we keep them together (as long as we can afford to)?"
Why, indeed. The Angels' lineup remains fairly young, with only Tim Salmon past his supposed chronological prime ... and Salmon played great baseball last season when he wasn't on the disabled list. And it's a good thing, too, because the Angels don't have even a single hitter in the minors who's ready for a major-league job. They did have a trio of outstanding hitters in the Class A Midwest League last year, but those guys won't arrive in Anaheim until 2004 at the very earliest (if you simply can't wait to see first baseman Casey Kotchman, catcher Jeff Mathis, and third baseman Dallas McPherson, I recommend that you spend the next two or three months in Rancho Cucamonga).
Three years ago, Stoneman sat behind this same desk during his first spring training as a general manager. Did he have any idea that things would turn out like they have?
"No, I didn't. You're always working towards it. And working with (manager) Mike (Scioscia) is so fine, and you say to yourself, 'Hey, we've got a real chance here.' Because we've got a manager who's really got a good perspective on things, who really communicates well with the players, who really communicates well with me. We try to do the right things here, and we've got an environment where everybody's opinions are heard. And I love it. It's just a great environment."
Before I left Stoneman's office, I asked him, "So how does watching your team win the World Series compare with throwing two no-hitters?"
It's an obvious question and he's heard it a few dozen times during the last four months, so he had an answer at the ready.
"There isn't any comparison. A collective achievement is so much more rewarding than an individual achievement. I mean, a no-hitter is a collective achievement in the sense that there are other guys on the field who might make some great plays, but it still points to the individual. But to be involved in the season we had last year was really special, and I'll bet you that any one of those guys on the field or in the dugout would tell you the same thing. There was something going on here that was really fun to be a part of."
Stoneman was a gracious host and allowed me to go way beyond my scheduled time, but finally I let him get back to worrying about his baseball team. He got up to shake my hand and wish me well ... and that's when I got the surprise of my life. I stand right at six feet tall when I'm wearing shoes, and the man who stepped out from behind his desk -- the man who threw two no-hitters and once struck out 251 hitters in one season -- was two or three inches shorter than me.
And so I was reminded, once again, that there's more than one way to pitch a no-hitter. Or win a World Series.
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, appears here regularly during the season and irregularly in the offseason. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.