I compiled a Top 100 Angels list for that former blog in 2005. Then a few site contributors helped out and we did one for 2008. After the fiftieth season of Angels baseball a few collaborators on the site and I published a Top 50 Angels book that is still available on Amazon.
In all those lists some players went up and some down, some were overlooked some were gross exaggerations of their place in franchise history. Many have been rectified and of course, as time marches on, some players pass up others while others might stay too long and drop a notch or two. In all those lists, we failed to highlight an Angel of both on-field glory and tragedy. I present to you Minervino Alejandro Rojas, the pride of Remedios, Cuba.
Rojas got out of Cuba while Batista was in charge and bounced around the minors with the Giant and ended up winning over 20 games in the Mexican League in 1965. That caught the interest of the Angels and he was on the team in 19666 at the ripe old rookie age of 32. In 84 innings mostly out of the pen he had 10 saves in 47 games.
1967 was his best year. He appeared in 72 games (finishing 53 of them to lead the league), tossed over 121 innings and had a league leading 27 saves in a year where the Angels hosted the All Star Game and saw the team hang in there thru mid-September in a tight race – remember, this was before divisions. He won the Sporting News “Fireman of the Year Award” after the 1967 season. The award, discontinued in 2010 was renamed “Reliever of the Year Award” in 2000 and the only other Angel to ever receive it was Frankie Rodriguez in 2006.
Here’s the thing though… the SAVES statistic was not refined to what we now know it as until 1969 season. So a lot of this is in hindsight. Relief usage has been an up and down science in baseball over the centuries. In the mid-sixties it was shedding its stigma (the Sporting News began its Fireman award in 1960) because of players like Rojas, guys who really came in and contributed. By the early seventies with Rollie Fingers standing on Hoyt Wilhelm’s shoulders, the role of the closer became a star position.
So if Minnie had been born later to take advantage of this he would have been stuck in Castro’s Cuba. Anyway, after all those innings pitched in ’67 is it no surprise his arm went on the fritz, he sucked in 1968 and retired. Sadly in 1970 he was paralyzed in a car crash that killed two of his daughters. He passed away in March of 2002.
While he wasn’t an Angel at the time of the accident, his teammates felt for him and raised money thru an exhibition game the next year for him and his family. The tragedy was big news for the team, something they had already weathered with the 1965 death of Dick Wantz and would again with the deaths of Mike Miley, Lyman Bostock, Donnie Moore, Nick Adenhart, Tommy Hanson, Luis Valbuena and Tyler Skaggs. His one glorious season helped shape the way all of baseball used the closer role and he held the record for most saves in one season until Moore broke it in 1985. And for that reason he is Number 95 on our countdown.