Playoff Reflection: The 1982 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 second part in 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. Next up on the list is an absolutely loaded 1982 team that was one win short of making the World Series.

PART 1: The 1979 Season

The 1982 season likely brings juxtaposing feelings for Angels fans. On one hand, the team set a then-franchise record with 93 wins and won their second division title. The club played meaningful baseball all year long, lasting longer than all but two teams in baseball. On the other hand, this was the first year of heartbreak, a common theme for the Angels over the next 15 years.

The ’82 Angels got off to a scorching-hot start, winning 15 of their first 22 games. While the club was engaged in a heated playoff race with the Royals and White sox for much of the year, they were consistently good throughout. The club finished above .500 in all but one month and outscored their opponents by at least 10 runs in every single month. They didn’t clinch until the second-to-last game of the season but that was more reflective of the tight playoff race.

Position Players

Via Sports Illustrated

The ’82 squad was loaded across the board, most notably their position player group. By fWAR (34.1), this was the best group of position players in franchise history. The Angels were first or second in every major offensive category, trailing only the Brewers in many of them (more on them later). What made the offense dangerous was their versatility to beat you in many ways. They were baseball’s premier plate discipline team, ranking first in OBP (.347), third in walk percentage (9.7%), third in batting average (.274) and fifth in strikeout percentage (12%). They bashed the second-most home runs (186), the sixth-most doubles (268) and had the second-best SLG (.433). This was also a superb defensive team, ranking fifth in Total Zone Runs (50) and seventh in Fangraphs’ Defensive Rating (31.3).

When you reflect on the names on this roster, it’s easy to see why this group had so much success. The Angels had seven regulars worth 3+ wins and seven hitters with above-average hitting lines. Doug Decinces, Brian Downing, Fred Lynn, Bobby Grich, Rod Carew, and Reggie Jackson all played at least 138 games, had 3+ wins and a wRC+ of 123 or higher. On defense, the Angels had three elite defenders according to dWAR. Bob Boone was baseball’s second-best defender while Tim Foli (15th) and Doug DeCinces (21st) were both in the top 25.


Associated Press

To supplement the position players, the Angels also boasted a top-10 rotation and bullpen. While their rotation had the league’s fourth-worst strikeout percentage (10.2%), they were top 10 in ERA- (99), FIP- (94) and walk percentage (6.9%). 21-year-old Mike Witt led the starters in both ERA (3.58) and fWAR (3.8) and had solid depth behind him. Geoff Zahn (3.5 fWAR), Ken Forsch (2.4) and Steve Renko (2.1) formed a solid trio behind Witt. Bruce Kison, who both started and pitched in relief, had 1.9 fWAR in the rotation while late-season acquisition Tommy John had a 95 ERA- in seven starts.

The bullpen also provided quality and quantity in the late innings. They finished with the ninth-most innings pitched while finishing ninth in both ERA- (84) and FIP- (90). Luis Sánchez enjoyed his best season in the majors, logging 92.2 innings with a 3.21 ERA and 1.7 fWAR. The depth behind Sanchez included a bevy of above-average run preventers. Andy Hassler (68 ERA-) Dave Goltz (72), Don Aase (85), and swing-man Bruce Kison (86) all threw 36 or more innings with above-average ERAs.

ALCS vs Milwaukee

Via Pinterest

The Angels matched up against the juggernaut Brewers in the ALCS. The Brewers position players racked up 35.9 fWAR, the 33rd-best total by a group of position players since WWII and the highest total in the 1980s. The Brewers were led by future Hall of Famer Robin Yount, who was nearly a 10-win player (9.7 fWAR) and took home MVP honors. Supplementing Yount were two more future Hall of Famers in Paul Molitor (5.6 fWAR) and Ted Simmons (3.3), along with other stars like Cecil Cooper (5.1), Gorman Thomas (4.8), and Ben Oglivie (3.1). This was a legitimately stacked group.

The Angels, however, were up to the task to kick off the series. Game 1 in Anaheim went the Angels’ way, led by Tommy John’s complete game and monster performances from Don Baylor (triple and 5 RBIs) and Fred Lynn (3 hits & 1 HR). The Angels took the second game, too, winning 4-2. Bruce Kison went the distance (2 runs and 8 strikeouts) and Reggie Jackson blasted a home run. With a 2-0 lead in the series, the Angels headed to Milwaukee in very good shape.

That was where the fun ended for the Angels. They lost the next two games, setting up a do-or-die Game 5 in Milwaukee. The Angels led for most of the game before Luis Sánchez coughed up the tying and go-ahead runs in the seventh inning. The Brewers would close out the series two innings later, sending the Angels home in a bitter defeat.

Other Notes

  • 2.8 million fans flocked to the Big A in 1982, second only to their neighbors up north at Dodger Stadium. Given the success of the team, the star players on the team and the recent success in 1979, it was no surprise that so many fans showed up. An additional 128,000 fans showed up to their two playoff games against the Brewers.
  • The Angels had one of the oldest rosters in baseball, making their decline over the next few years less surprising. Their batters were the oldest in baseball (32.4 years old) while their pitchers were the second-oldest (31.8). While the Angels retained much of their 93-win roster, they won just 70 games in the 1983 season.
  • Gene Mauch, who led the Angels to the playoffs in his first full season, was surprisingly replaced by John McNamara following the season. Mauch would return in 1985, a year before he took the Angels back to the playoffs yet again.
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4 years ago

Great memories being brought up here and analyzed. Again Reggie showed why he was a Hall of Famer and special presence. Thank you folks.

Super Member
4 years ago

If anyone wants to relive the Buttercup of 1982, here ya go…

red floyd
4 years ago

The Four MVPs!

4 years ago

I still remember exactly how I felt when Carew grounded out to end the game. Ugh.

4 years ago

Here’s another amazing note from the 1982 ALCS — Angel center fielder Fred Lynn was the ALCS MVP, even though he played for the losing team! He led all regulars with a .611 BA while scoring four runs and driving in five.

The MVP award could even have gone to Lynn’s teammate, Don Baylor, who had 10 RBI in the five game series (nearly driving in half of the Angels’ 23 runs they scored in the series). Or how about Bruce Kison who had a 0.79 WHIP in 14 innings of work?

The whole series came down to a decision that Angel manager Gene Mauch had to make in the seventh inning of Game Five. Here is an excerpt from my book, The First Golden Age of Angel Baseball that spells out what transpired:

“When the Brewers came up to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, the score was still 3-2 in the Angels’ favor, and in just a couple of innings, one team would move on and the other would see their season come to a heartbreaking end.

Sanchez got Don Money to pop up to Carew at first base, and the Brewers were down to their final eight outs.

The next batter, Charlie Moore, hit an infield bloop just beyond the pitcher’s mound. Tim Foli, Bobby Grich, and Rod Carew all rushed to the ball, and it was Grich who made the diving catch. Or so said the first base umpire Al Clark. Home plate umpire Don Denkinger, who had a better view of the play, immediately overturned Clark’s call and proclaimed that Moore was safe since the ball bounced on the ground before Grich got to it.

Jim Gantner then hit a single to put runners on first and second.

The next batter was Paul Molitor, and he fouled out to Brian Downing in left field, so both runners stayed put.

Now the next batter was the man whom everyone expected was going to win that year’s AL MVP Award, Robin Yount. With two outs and the game on the line, the Sanchez and Yount battled for eight pitches, but Yount eventually won the fight when he watched ball four pop into Bob Boone’s mitt.

That loaded the bases with two outs for Cecil Cooper, the man who would win that year’s Silver Slugger Award for first basemen. A trip to the World Series was probably depending on the outcome of this single at bat, and Mauch had a decision to make. He had Andy Hassler warmed up in the bullpen and ready to go. Hassler had held left handed batters that year to a .152 average. Cecil Cooper was left handed.

On the other hand, Sanchez had not pitched poorly, and Hassler had thrown more wild pitches than Sanchez had that season, and with the tying run on third base and a trip to the World Series on the line, a wild pitch would not be an acceptable outcome.

Mauch decided to stay with Sanchez. When the count was 1-1, Sanchez threw a tailing fastball about belt high that Cooper slapped safely into left field. Moore scored the tying run. The ball took one bounce before it landed in Downing’s glove. Gantner was rounding third and heading for home. Downing threw the ball home, but Gantner beat it by two steps, and in that at bat, there was a complete reversal of fortune – the Angels began it with a one-run lead, but now the Brewers led, 4-3. Mauch, knowing that that probably cost him a trip to the World Series, walked to the mound and called for Hassler.

Hassler struck out Ted Simmons to end the inning.”

Super Member
4 years ago

1982 was a punch in the rib cage.

I attended about 25 games post All Star break. The team was never more than 2 games back, or two games ahead of Kansas City the entire stretch. On September 20, KC rolls into town for a three-game series and they’re tied with the Angels for lead in the AL West. The stadium was rocking! The Angels sweep KC and jump to a three game lead with 10 to play. At one of the games, Brian Downing and Fred Lynn crash into the left field fence while Downing makes an incredible catch to end the inning and stop KC in their tracks. This is the same catch they show at the stadium during Calling All Angels. I had a great seat to witness it — front row in the upper deck about halfway down the line.

I was at game 2 of the ALCS, and everyone left the stadium thinking we were finally going to see the World Series in Anaheim. I mean, who coughs up a 2-0 lead in a best of five series? Mauch panicked after Milwaukee wins game 3 and pitches Tommy John on three-days rest. Angels lose and we’re headed to game 5.

Game 5 is one in a series of Buttercups for Angels fans. Top of the 9th, down by a run with runner on 2B and one out. Downing hits a roller to 3B for out number 2. He doesn’t hit it hard enough to advance the runner. Up comes Carew who rips a hard hit ball, but right at Yount. It goes down as a 6-3 out and the Brewers are off to the World Series.

I consoled myself that night by going to see George Thorogood at the Hollywood Palladium. He played so loud I couldn’t hear for two days, which was fine since it prevented me from hearing bullshit from Doyer fans.

4 years ago

Thanks for the memories. The season started when I was a high school senior and the end of the season while a college freshman. Many a night I would have the game on the radio while studying whatever it was I was studying. What a line-up! How you would compare the 2020 line-up to 1982?
1. Rick Burleson SS
2. Fred Lynn CF
3. Rod Carew 1B
4. Reggie Jackson RF
5. Don Baylor DH
6. Doug DeCinces 3B
7. Brian Downing LF
8. Tim Foli DH
9. Bob Boone C

4 years ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

Tim Foli was the easiest out in that lineup, with a 60 OPS+, but he led all of the Major Leagues that year with 26 sacrifice bunts. The only other regular that year with an OPS+ below 105 was Boone, and he was second in all of the Major Leagues that year with 23 sacrifice bunts.