By Rob Goldman, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer -
Although the Angels struggled throughout the 1990s, beneath the surface they were building a strong foundation. That became evident in 1996. The club finished in fourth place that year, 19 1/2 games out of first place. However, the young players—Salmon, Anderson, Edmonds, Erstad, and Percival—were forming a striking core. The following year—under new skipper Terry Collins—they improved to second in the division, with Erstad stepping into the everyday role at first base and 24-year-old Jason Dickson leading the staff with 13 wins. The Halos finished in second again in 1998, but this time were just three games out. Management added a wrinkle to the youth movement by signing 34-year-old Cecil Fielder to play first. But to counter the addition of a veteran, the 21-year-old Glaus began to be eased into action.
The forward progress was interrupted in 1999, as the team took a huge step backward, finishing in last place, 25 games behind division-champion Texas. Free agent Mo Vaughn was signed to a huge contract—one that would eventually prove to be a bust. Despite falling in the visitors dugout and spraining his knee on opening night and missing several games, he proved to add a significant punch to the middle of the batting order. He led the team with 33 home runs and 108 RBI, and Glaus won the third base job and contributed 29 home runs. But injuries struck Salmon and Edmonds, and the pitching staff failed to make up for the offense’s struggles. Chuck Finley, in his last season with the Angels, won 12 games to lead the rotation, but the remainder of the starters were less than impressive.
In the off-season, Bill Bavasi stepped down, and Bill Stoneman, former general manager of the Montreal Expos, came aboard.
“To his credit Bill did not blow the team up,” says Joe Maddon. “He came in and evaluated first before he started to do certain things, which was very impressive. He recognized the talent we had, built around it, and stayed the course of building from within established by Herzog and Bavasi.”
Stoneman’s first move was firing Terry Collins and bringing in Mike Scioscia, a former Dodger catcher and protégé of Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. According to Maddon, Scioscia was the “the final brick” in the foundation.
“The manager is the most crucial position in an organization,” says Maddon. “He can bring a stability and consistency to an organization that others cannot. Over the years we were subject to so many changeovers as far as managers went, and the philosophy was constantly changing. We were constantly telling players what we said last year is not really how we want to do it this year. One of the reasons the Angels are still successful is that Scioscia has remained in the skipper’s chair. When you have that same guy in that seat for a period of time, you have some stability.”
In 2000, Stoneman addressed gaps in the rotation and infield with a key trade that sent Jim Edmonds to the Cardinals for second-base prospect Adam Kennedy and starting pitcher Kent Bottenfield. Stoneman agreed to leave the rest of the core of the team unchanged, and in doing so ensured a chemistry and cohesiveness to develop that would eventually enable the Angels to come together in spectacular fashion.