Disney’s baseball ground, now called Angel’s Stadium and then better known as Edison Square, was not the happiest place on Earth. When 2001 became 2002, Walt Disney Co. did not get rid of its baseball team.
A month before the Angels announced their spring training, Tony Tavares, the team’s president, resigned. Disney didn’t bother to replace him. The company decided that the man who ran Disneyland could also drive Angels if he had a few extra minutes.
This man, Paul Pressler, did well. Angels were planning to trade out the pitch with Darin Erstad’s Chicago White Sox, and Pressler closed the deal. Closer Troy Percival had promised not to sign an extension with Angels because he thought the details of the negotiations had leaked to Tavares and the presence of Pressler persuaded him to sign the extension.
In October, Percival Angels scored the final pitch of the final of the first World Cup trip. Fly the ball. Midway. Erstad caught it and Angels was the champion. The Los Angeles Times headline: “Fantasyland!”
For Disney, Angels was the foundation proposed by ESPN West, a potential rival to Fox Sports West’s cable television. When the ESPN West concept collapsed, Disney Angels put it on sale.
The Angels won 99 games this season, a franchise record. Does not matter. On the day the Angels took first place in 16 years, The Times reported that Disney had hired an investment bank to do what the company hadn’t been able to do alone: sell the angels.
Meanwhile, the remaining Angels defeated the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants. Disney manager Michael Eisner showed up at the Angels Clubhouse during the play-off, wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt under a blazer.
At the time, Eisner was one of the most powerful leaders in the world, but he stood uncomfortably alone in the clubhouse. He had paid little attention to angels over the years, so most players had no idea who he was.
The World Series became a celebration of property: not Eisner and Disney, but the founder Gene Autry, the only man with five stars in the Hollywood Hall of Fame. Autry loved baseball so much that he hosted the team at his Spring Springs resort for a spring workout and then watched show games on the shaky ball field. There were no luxury suites. He gladly took the games with him on top of the stool, in an awkwardly narrow tunnel under the grandstands.
Autry had died four years earlier, but his wife, Jackie, had faithfully participated in the play-offs, even offering field player Tim Salmon an Autry cowboy hat. The gap widened with it after the final. In the end, the angels won one for the cowboys.
There were so many indelible pictures in October: Erstad trying to hit; thrower John Lackey becomes the first newcomer to win the 7th World Cup in 93 years; second player Adam Kennedy hits three home runs to level the record for the season set by Babe Ruth; Francisco Rodriguez, 20, fired a flash from his right hand; Barry Bonds hit home so far that TV cameras captured Salmon’s awe-inspiring words, “This is the farthest ball I’ve ever hit.”
For an Angel fan, the brightest memory of this championship season can be distilled in two words: Game 6.
Never before has any team missed so many runs and won in the World Cup relegation. Angels did it: dropped five races and only eight outs left. The most memorable hit: a home run by Scott Spiezio that turns the traveler’s first protagonist into a cult hero and a rock star for at least one night this winter.
Angel’s manager Mike Scioscia said after the game that he could only compare the atmosphere of Anaheim to the most sacred moments in Southern California baseball, with Kirk Gibson’s pinch in the first game of the 1988 World Series at Dodger Stadium.
“This stadium had about as much electricity as ever before,” Scioscia said. “I think tonight went beyond that.”
Angels win the 2002 World Series.
In one hour, the angels turned 5: 0 to 6: 5. It was an hour that changed the course of the franchise. Even if the team owner no longer wanted to have a team, the players wanted to have a team reputation: there were no more farmers and stumblers, no burying hexes and jinxes forever, winners and champions forever.
As Angels celebrates the 20th anniversary of the championship season, this hour is between the team and the history of complete and complete nonsense. The Angels did not win any championship before 2002 and have not won any championship since.
If it weren’t for one hour, Angels would have gone 61 seasons without a championship. No Premier League team has been playing without a ring for so long.
If not for one hour, the team born in 1961 would be against 0 61.
One team. One hour.
The story of this hour, as the players on this team told:
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