As Angels fans, we have more time on our hands than usual with no baseball for the foreseeable future. Why not take a trip down memory lane and reflect on all of the postseason appearances in Angels franchise history?
Today marks the first in of a 10-part series documenting every Angels playoff appearance. I’ll go chronologically, going from the first playoff appearance all the way to their most recent appearance. To kick off this list, we look back on an incredible Angels team that rallied behind an unforgettable mantra.
The 1979 season is synonymous with the “Yes We Can” slogan that became a rallying cry for Angels fans.
In the franchise’s 19th year of existence, they made their long-awaited playoff debut. The decade’s final year was the anti-thesis to what had been a grueling decade. After winning 86 games in 1970, the club finished below .500 in the next seven seasons. Dominant pitching (Tanana and Ryan and 2 Days of Cryin’) was frequently offset by subpar hitting. Things began to turn around in 1978, when the club won 87 games and missed the playoffs by five games. 1979 brought even better results.
On September 25th, 1979, the Angels clinched the American League Western division. For the first time, the club would have a taste of postseason baseball. Fittingly, the long-tenured Frank Tanana induced the division-clinching ground-ball, which was fielded by future Hall of Famers Rod Carew. Perhaps more fitting was the fact that the Angels’ opponent was the Kansas City Royals. Those same Royals won the division in the three previous seasons.
The 1979 Angels squad was littered with familiar faces and future Hall of Famers, especially on the offensive side of things. An offense led by Brian Downing, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor and Rod Carew led the majors in runs scored (866). They finished first on OBP (.351), second in wRC+ (113), third in slugging (.429), and fifth in home runs (164). Eight Angels position players finished with 3+ win seasons and above-average batting lines. Ironically, it was not Grich (5.6 fWAR) nor Downing (5 fWAR) who took home AL MVP honors but rather Baylor (3.6). With an absurd 258 plate appearances with RISP (the 2019 leader had 214), Baylor took full advantage with a .330/.395/.586 line. Baylor’s 139 RBI still remain the highest by an Angel in any season.
On the pitching side of things, the Angels were less impressive but adequate. By pure run prevention, they were below-average (105 ERA-). The underlying stats said they were better but not by a ton (98 FIP-). In his last year with the Angels, Nolan Ryan was superb with 5.1 fWAR and a 87 ERA-. Dave Frost (3.8 fWAR) was the only other Angels pitcher to cross the 3-win threshold. Still, this group was decent enough to support an offense that crushed its way to the playoffs. Helping overlook this roster was former Angel great Jim Fregosi in his second year as Angels manager. Buzzie Bavasi, in his third year as general manager, helped construct his first of two division-winning rosters (1982) with the Angels.
The Angels first visit to the playoffs was an unsuccessful one as they ran into the juggernaut Baltimore Orioles. A star-studded roster led by future Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver took down the Angels in four games in the ALCS. Still, it was impossible to not view this season as a success given the history of the franchise.
Angels fans were witnesses to the franchise’s first playoff year and showed up in full force to support their team. The 2.5 million fans that flocked to Angel Stadium were the fourth most in baseball behind the Yankees, Dodgers and Phillies. Fully-fledged behind the “Yes We Can” mantra, the Angels had their first taste of success and were just entering their first stretch of success in franchise history.