Playoff Reflection: The 1979 Season

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.

Via MLB

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.

Via Ebay

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.

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Simba
Member
1 year ago

Game 1 was an extra inning loss – Palmer and Ryan went toe to toe, then it was up to the bullpens. 10th inning walkoff for the Orioles. The Angels weren’t exactly steamrolled by the “juggernaut”. See DesginerGuy’s comment about game 2 as well.

rspencer
Trusted Member
1 year ago

As I write, Wifey and I are watching (on YouTube) the game played on 7-13-79, Yankees at Angels. I won’t say anything about the events of the game, in case you want to see it and don’t remember what happened (I actually do, vividly), but it’s great to see this generation of players in action. It’s one of the last games that the Big A was in its original place: not long thereafter, it was moved to its present position in preparation for the work needed to turn the stadium into the Bigger A.

I had forgotten just how much I like Keith Jackson, and how good he was at calling a game. And it’s great to hear Shay Torrent at the Angel Hammond Organ once again.

rspencer
Trusted Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

It sure was, Brent. I noticed as the game went on that the Big A was even then disconnected in preparation for its moving, and they had a temporary scoreboard that looked as if it were borrowed from a nearby high school.

And we got to hear Big D call part of the last two innings!

max
Trusted Member
max
1 year ago

I was at the first playoff win in ’79. IIRC they were in all/most of the games, showing they could hang with the Orioles.

Designerguy
Super Member
1 year ago

Game two of the ALCS was a heartbreaker for the Angels. Down 9-1 after three innings, they slowly chipped away. After scoring two in the 9th to make it 9-8, with the bases loaded and two outs, Downing got on top of a fastball and ground out to 3B (DeCinces, of all people). I think he got anxious and tried to do too much with the pitch. He hit .326 that year and I thought he lacked discipline during that AB. Any hit to the outfield is at least one, and probably two runs. If they Angels hold on, it’s 1-1 going back to Anaheim, instead of being down 2-0, with the last three games of the series to be played in Anaheim.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BAL/BAL197910040.shtml

Eric_in_Portland
Super Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Designerguy

but we won the next one to show we did belong in the playoffs. I was thrilled we got that far, unlike 1982 when I was crushed….as we shall see in the next installment.

BoyWithApple
Member
Trusted Member
1 year ago

The breakthrough season the Angels had in 1979 was only made possible because of the advent of free agency. With the Angels struggling to find success for their entire history with only trades and drafts as tools to improve their lot, owner Gene Autry was all in when free agency came around for the 1976/77 off season, and the Angels did extremely well, snagging three of the most highly coveted players in baseball’s first free agent class.

Outfielder Don Baylor was Frank Robinson lite — hitting for power, having a high OBP, and being an aggressive runner on the base paths. Outfielder Joe Rudi was a World Series hero for the Oakland A’s who was an excellent defender and run producer. And then there was Bobby Grich, the infielder who was a decent hitter and an elite defender. The Yankees pursued him doggedly that off season, but luckily for us, Grich had always wanted to play for his hometown Angels.

After these three signings, Angel fans could not wait for the 1977 season to begin. There was a palpable hope that the Angels could really do something special in ’77. Unfortunately, Baylor had a terrible first half slump. The months of May and June were especially bad where he hit a lowly .194 and swatted only three home runs. Bobby Grich hurt his back right before the season moving an air conditioning unit. He was in traction before the season started, but he was on the field on Opening Day. He played in only 52 games before he realized that he couldn’t continue and had surgery for a herniated disc. Joe Rudi did exceptionally well for the Angels in 1977. He was on pace to hit 31 home runs and have 127 RBI that year, but in a June 26th game against the Rangers, he was hit by a pitch and broke his hand and was out for the remainder of the year.

The 1978 season turned out to be the season Angel fans were hoping for. In addition to the three star free agents from the previous season getting a do-over, the Angels added several key pieces for the start of the 1978 campaign. They picked up catcher Brian Downing in a trade with the White Sox. They got center fielder Rick Miller and pitcher Don Aase in a trade with the Red Sox. Miller would win a Gold Glove for the Angels in 1978, and Aase was coming off a terrific rookie season.

The most exciting pick up for the Angels that 1977/78 off season, though, was signing free agent outfielder Lyman Bostock from the Twins. In three seasons with Minnesota, Bostock was a career .318 hitter.

Add to all of this firepower the rise of two young Angel players who also had a positive impact on the 1978 team: first baseman Ron Jackson, who had a 116 OPS+ in 1978, and third baseman Carney Lansford who had a 113 OPS+.

The 1978 season was a thrilling one for Angel fans as this stacked Angel club battled with George Brett’s Kansas City Royals for the pennant, sparking what would become a fierce, nine-year rivalry during the first golden age of Angel baseball.

Sadly, however, the ending of the 1978 season was marked by the horrific murder of Bostock on September 24th with just a couple of weeks left in the season.

During the 1978/79 off season, the Angels pressed on and added “Disco” Dan Ford to take Bostock’s place in right field and the AL MVP of the 1977 season, Rod Carew, to play first base. Throw in two fantastic seasons from youngsters Willie Mays Aikens (1B/DH, 137 OPS+) and Dave Frost (SP, 114 ERA+ in 239.1 IP), and the Angels were off to a season where finally, they would not be denied their first taste of playoff baseball.

BoyWithApple
Member
Trusted Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

You’re welcome! I became an Angel fan in 1977 and was in the seventh grade in 1979, so this era of Angel baseball is dear to me. If you missed it, there was an article on the old site about the three game series in July against the Red Sox that puts the Nolan Ryan game everyone is watching on Youtube in proper context.

rspencer
Trusted Member
1 year ago
Reply to  BoyWithApple

Right, BoyWithApple! That was an epic series that I recall today quite vividly. And speaking of that article, has anyone seen Jeff Mays hereabouts?

Simba
Member
1 year ago
Reply to  BoyWithApple

“Bobby Grich hurt his back right before the season moving an air conditioning unit”

This just killed me – a guy gets a big contract, and can’t hire someone to do that heavy lifting for him.

Kirillov
1 year ago

Love these retrospectives. It’s a great time to dive into the team’s colorful past.