Field of Bad Dreams

Angels owner, broadcasts, and losing streaks make at least one fan ponder her loyalty this season.
Stadium Photograph by Kaleb Tapp

We buckled under another fiery, climate-changing summer. We swooned at the idiocy of once-venerated institutions (looking at you, Supreme Court) and municipal corruption (hello, Anaheim!). We grappled with the supply-chain/labor-shortage/$6-a-gallon gas residue of a pandemic, not to mention Russian aggression and Chinese hissy fits.

Some of us sought escape in the usual place. Sports.

Summer means baseball. For some of us, that means the Angels—the team with the confused communications, clueless management, and mercurial talent that plays in Anaheim but is branded by Los Angeles.

As always on opening day in April, Angels acolytes were as sunny as Pollyanna. By mid-May, the team was playing jaw-droppingly good ball and leading its division, which it hadn’t won since the Ice Bucket Challenge was a thing. Less than a month later, planet Angel had spun off its axis, and our summer salve turned toxic. 

God, it was good while it lasted.

For a while, the Angels were the talk of Major League Baseball. For a while, one player led the league in batting average. Another pitched a no-hitter. MLB’s only two-way player, Shohei Ohtani, hit two home runs in a single game, including a grand slam, four days after striking out 11 batters … with his other arm. (If you don’t know a baseball from a debutante ball, you still might know that Ohtani is the only hitting and pitching MLB player since Babe Ruth, throwing right, batting left.)

For a while, fans forgot that the team’s other star, Mike Trout, had missed more than half the 2021 season with a calf injury—now he was on pace for another boffo home run-hitting season.

The spectacular early-season play of the Angels frequently contrasted with the dysfunction of Bally Sports West, which broadcasts their games on TV. In April, games against the Rangers in Texas were broadcast remotely. The play-by-play announcer was in New Jersey, and the color commentator was in Santa Monica. The feed went from Texas to California to New Jersey to California, and what could possibly go wrong?

The space-time continuum? 

Trout, the $426 million man, was back among the well-healed and waging a bro battle with Ohtani for team home run honors.

California saw home runs land before Jersey found them in the air. Jersey saw a homer when California saw a clear foul ball. Bally soon realized that calling games across the continent was a bad idea, but it committed other boneheaded errors throughout the summer. Games played in the East were rebroadcast during California prime time. Because a baseball game can last from 2 ½ hours to infinity, the replay must be edited deftly. Bally doesn’t do deft. In one Boston game, the Angels were behind one run in the top of the ninth.  When the Angels were down to their last strike, Bally cut to a hamburger commercial, and replay viewers missed the Angels score the tying run. 

You’d have to be truly uncharitable not to forgive the occasional broadcast error—it’s not an easy job. But when the play-by-play announcer gushed over an inside-the-park home run that was really a three-base-error single? When an opposing team’s batter is named Haggerty, and the announcer commented that, to his knowledge, the player wasn’t related to Merle?

On May 10, with the team riding high, fans anticipated a joyous ceremony honoring Ohtani, the 2021 American League MVP, before the game at Angel Stadium. Chosen as emcee was the Angels’ radio announcer, Terry Smith, the Ambien of the airways.

Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Photograph Courtesy of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Smith, who joined the radio team in 2002, read a few sentences … from a note card. He sounded like the monotonal teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” No one else said a word. Anyone? Anyone? Not the team manager, Joe Maddon. Not the team’s other MVP, three-time winner Trout. Not Ohtani. Not owner Arte Moreno, whose affect was that of someone just released from the Botox ward. What should have been a jubilant event for the world’s most exciting athlete playing on a (then) great team was prime time for the concession line.

By June, the Angels had fallen and couldn’t get up. Maddon was fired June 7, and an interim manager appointed. Between the pregame show and the TV broadcast that night, Bally Sports aired a commercial for Indeed.com. It depicted a glum basketball coach in a gym. The voice-over said: “Your team is on a losing streak. It’s time for a change.” 

By the time the Angels tallied their record 14 consecutive losses, the franchise had slipped from first to third place. By mid-June, Real Life America was train-wreck-watching the Jan. 6 Congressional committee hearings, and California was in deep drought. But the fans’ thirst was slaked intermittently, momentarily, courtesy of Trout, with five home runs over four days; and courtesy of Ohtani, with two home runs and a career-best 13 strikeouts in one remarkable game.

On June 22, Moreno regifted fans with another poorly conceived pre-game celebration to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Angels’ sole World Series championship. Radio guy, again, was emcee.

Radio guy, again, read from a note card. Some folks thought he mispronounced the names of some of the World Series players. Two of them spoke—Darin Erstad with a few warm, spontaneous remarks, and Tim Salmon (a current Bally postgame show yakker), who read his “how we spent the season” term paper. Looking on in silence was Mike Scioscia, the manager of that championship team—a guy who’s filled with baseball stories and knows how to tell them. The TV camera captured Moreno briefly, looking imperious from the owner’s suite high above the field.

At a time when fans needed relief from the team’s midseason slump, at a time when Moreno had $245 million to spend on a third baseman who’s injured more often than he plays, we got past-glory PR from Dollar Tree. 

The Angels kept losing and the interim manager was desperately seeking the fight in a wilting club. He found it, sorta, but it cost him a league suspension, and forced the team to appoint an interim interim manager for 10 days.

If you like road rage, you’d like what happened at Angel Stadium in midsummer when the team played the Seattle Mariners. All the benches, all the bullpens, all the broadcast maturity breached their boundaries when an Angels pitcher threw a strike to a Mariners batter’s hip. A melee the likes of which had not been seen on an MLB field in decades delayed the game for 18 minutes and resulted in suspensions for 12 players and coaches.

One Angels pitcher was razor-sharp, tossing a bucket of dugout bubblegum past third base. In his enthusiasm to join the fray, another pitcher fell over the dugout railing, fractured his elbow, and joined the pricey third basemen on the injured list.    

For two days, the Bally broadcast boys gushed about the team’s “brotherhood,” how the mayhem was all about supporting the “family.” If these are Angels family values, I’m a hard pass on Thanksgiving.

In mid-July, our concern about Trout’s durability was renewed when he was injured again, and missed more than a month with costovertebral dysfunction. That’s physiospeak for a weird spinal owie.

When the Dodgers’ longtime radio announcer Vin Scully died in August, the Angels’ broadcast product fell further into stark, depressing relief. No one is or ever will be half the broadcaster—or human being—that was Vin Scully. But baseball doesn’t understand that the standard he set is something to which everyone should aspire. What set Scully apart from the chattering jock masses was his curiosity. He was a huge consumer of information, from the ridiculous to the sublime, and his listeners were better people for it.

Photograph by hersilverhammer

Team Bally is curious only about “exit velo” and “OPS” and “WAR,” the brain-liquefying terms and statistics that render a poetic sport a physics class. These guys think “storytelling” is talking about a player’s favorite stadium food, an announcer’s birthday, and who gets to eat the cake. Scully waxed eloquent about Shakespeare and show tunes, and related them to a beautiful sport whose objective, as George Carlin observed, was “to go home!” 

By September, there were still reasons to watch Angels baseball. Ohtani was killing it on the mound. Trout, the $426 million man, was back among the well-healed and waging a bro battle with Ohtani for team home run honors. On Sept. 10, the Angels beat the
division-leading Houston Astros, Trout set the Angels record for most consecutive games with a home run at six, and was aiming at the MLB record of eight.

Of course, the next day in Houston the mismanagers kept the hottest player on the team sitting on the bench because … he had a scheduled day off. Although Ohtani delivered his 34th homer that day, the Angels got hammered 12-4, by which time most TV viewers had migrated to the NFL, where stupid sports tricks had yet to manifest on the opening Sunday of the football season. 

Trout hit consecutive No. 7 on Sept. 12, but the streak ended there, the team lost three consecutive games, and the mojo again went missing. 

At season’s end, against the noisy rancor of the political campaign season, we watched the playoffs at home from the halo hell of a witlessly constructed, poorly managed, shabbily presented baseball team. It looked to be a grim autumn.

Still, a glimmer of hope—the Angels are for sale!

When does spring training start? 


Ellen Alperstein is an independent writer. She was an editor for the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service and a contributing writer to laobserved.com.