Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I Love The 80s : 1981 California Angels

Just a quick refresher - this is a series of posts on a 1980's Frankenset. Each page features a different team, with 9 of my personal favorite cards from that year's team. You might find players repeated, you'll definitely see brands repeated, but hopefully you'll agree that there are some interesting selections from the 1980s!

Shifting gears from North of the Border to Sunny California, here are the cards of the 1981 California Angels. The Angels finished 6th in the AL West in 1980, and did not fare much better in 1981. They managed to grind out a winning record pre-strike, but the second half saw the Halos fade with a record ten games below .500.  
 Rod Carew led the offense, with contributions from DH Jason Thompson and Bobby Grich. The rotation in 1980 was led by Frank Tanana the 26 year old lefty ace. The following year saw the rotation undergoing a near complete overhaul as Tanana left the team that drafted him for the Boston Red Sox as the main prize in the Fred Lynn trade. The Halos had to depend on 20 year old phenom Mike Witt and 34 year old crafty veteran Ken Forsch. Andy Hassler was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise shaky bullpen.
The Cards:
Fleer #283 Freddie Patek - The 3-time All-Star closed out his career with the Angels in 1980 and 81. He played about half the 1980 season as the Angels primary shortstop, splitting time with the even older Bert Campaneris. A key member of the Royals playoff teams in the late 70s, he just missed the 1980 Royals' World Series appearance.

Topps #639 Carney Lansford - Moving from California to Boston in the same off-season as Tanana, Lansford may have proved the argument that a player's home park can make a guy look completely different. Carew didn't seem to struggle in any venue, but Lansford hit .261 for the Halos in 1980. Moving east to Fenway (along with another season of maturation as a major league hitter), Lansford tore the cover off the ball and won his first and only batting title in 1981. He did hit for some power with California, coming in second on the team with 15 round trippers in '80. Lansford may be best known for being the glue that held the flashy Oakland A's offense together at the end of the 80s. His 1989 playoffs were tremendous and a main reason why the team steamrolled to their only World Series title.

Drake's Big Hitters #2 Rod Carew - Carew was featured in last week's 1967 Topps Rookie All-Star Team post. In 1980, he hit .331 with a .396 on base percentage. Carew continued his climb up the all-time hitting charts in '81, rapping out 111 hits in the strike shortened campaign.

Donruss #171 Frank Tanana - In 1980, Tanana was a year removed from three straight All-Star appearances, A career record of 91-66 with an ERA of 2.93. As the defacto Ace of the Angels staff, Tanana struggled to win games and to strikeout batters. The arm woes suffered in 1979 seemed to be lingering and he was unable to regain his status as a fireballer in the mold of a left-handed Nolan Ryan. He was able to change his approach later in life and became a fixture in the Tigers rotation in the mid 80s and into the 90s.

 Fleer #268 Rod Carew -  This shot of Carew with the mountains in the background is one of my favorite cards of Carew of all time.

Topps  #263 Brian Downing - Downing is one of those very good major league players that tend to fall out of the conversation when talking about the greatest of all time. Downing wasn't as good a catcher as contemporaries like Bob Boone, or as good a hitter as guys like Reggie or even Don Baylor once Downing shifted to being primarily a DH. But Downing was a very good hitter for a very long time. He had a late start, too - used mostly in a backup or utility role in 1980 and 1981, he started a string of solid offensive seasons throughout the 80s, finishing his career with 2,099 hits, 275 homers, and over 1,000 RBI. Downing also had an exceptional eye at the plate, finishing his career with an OBP of .370 despite regularly hitting in the .250s and .260s.

Fleer # 290 Andy Hassler -  Andy was one of the Angels closers in 1980, finishing with 10 saves. Along with Mark Clear, Hassler anchored the back end of the bullpen, arguably as the better half. The lefty debuted with the Angels way back in 1971 as a 19 year old. He bounced around the league over the decade of the 70s, with stops in Kansas City, New York, Pittsburgh, and Boston before finding his way back to the Halos in 1980. The came over in June after having his contract purchased from the Pirates. Hassler followed up his much anticipated return with a solid 1981 as well.

Fleer Star Stickers #122 Don Baylor - The 1979 MVP had a rough year in 1980. At age 31, he played in just 90 games, and hit just 5 home runs a year removed from 36. Baylor followed that up with a disappointing 1981 as well, and some may have written him off at that point. He would go on to hit another 150 career homers, and became a mercenary of sorts, called in to be the big middle of the order bat on several playoff contenders, including a short stint with the 1987 Minnesota Twins, just in time to hit a home run in the World Series. He played in the World Series in 1986, 1987, and 1988 with three different AL teams. Not a bad way to close out a career!

Donruss #174 Joe Rudi -  Rudi was finishing up a 4 year stint in the California Angels' outfield in 1980. Better known for his thrilling run as the sparkplug in the Oakland offense during their 1970s three-peat, he came to the Angels in 1977 after becoming too costly for the frugal Charlie O. Finley. Along with Campaneris, Carew, and Freddie Patek on the team the 1980 Angels had a wealth of experience to help the young players coming up.

       Any requests for the next 1981 team to cover?


  1. Thumbs up for Frank Tanana! He's the most famous baseball player that shares my b'day. I used to boast about it when I was a kid. Then again, I barely knew who Frank Tanana was other than the old guy on the Tigers.

    1. Yeah, a tale of two pitchers in the 70s and 80s - he's going to come up again when I cover the 1974 Topps All-Star Rookie Team.

  2. Red Sox next? I really like these posts, always an enjoyable read.