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No Respect
Daniel G. Habib
April 07, 2003
The Angels opened the season as lightly regarded defending champs
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April 07, 2003

No Respect

The Angels opened the season as lightly regarded defending champs

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Team

Players Lost

How Team Fared

1978 Yankees

1 (RHP Mike Torrez)

100-63, first place, won World Series

1980 Pirates

2 (RHP Bruce Kison, 2B Rennie Stennett)

83-79, third place, 8 games out

1984 Orioles

2 (0F Tito Landrum, RHP Tim Stoddard)

85-77, fifth place, 19 games out

2003 Angels

2 (0F Alex 0choa, OF Orlando Palmeiro)

?

Throughout the spring Angels manager Mike Scioscia has invoked this metaphor: Anaheim begins its World Series defense at the bottom rung of the ladder. To the scrappy, small-balling Angels, it's a reminder to maintain the sweatshop work habits that yielded the first championship in franchise history. It also describes Anaheim's standing in preseason prognostications, which almost uniformly tab the As to win the AL West and then battle the Yankees for the pennant. Aside from the gutted 1998 Marlins, the Angels are the least-respected champs in recent memory.

"It keeps things in perspective," leftfielder Garret Anderson says of the snub. "We're probably one of the more nonchalant teams around—we don't require a lot of attention to do well. I think everyone on the team realizes we still have to put the work in, but everyone believes we can [win the Series] again."

Thanks to a $20 million payroll increase, used mostly to cover raises built into multiyear deals and one-year contracts for arbitration-eligible players, Anaheim preserved the status quo, becoming the first champion since the '83 Orioles to bring back their entire starting lineup and pitching rotation. Anaheim lost only backup outfielders Orlando Palmeiro and Alex Ochoa off the postseason roster (chart, below), replacing them with free-agent signee Eric Owens and minor leaguer Julio Ramirez. Also, World Series Game 7 starter and winner John Lackey, who made his major league debut last June, and fireballing reliever Francisco Rodriguez, a September call-up who turned into an October phenom, should be full-season contributors this year. Lackey got off to a dubious start in the 2003 major league opener on Sunday night, allowing five runs and eight hits in five innings in a 6-3 home loss to the Rangers.

Even after scoring 31 runs in a four-game Division Series win over the Yankees, dispatching the Twins in five games to take the LCS and overcoming a three-games-to-two deficit to beat the Giants in the Series, the Angels are plagued by the perception that their title was a product of good timing and sheer luck. That's an inevitable claim against a team that wins by paper-cutting opponents to death: bunting, stealing, using the hit-and-run and deploying one of the league's deepest, most versatile bullpens. Says closer Troy Percival, "We'd like to prove last season wasn't a fluke."

Last week Oakland first baseman Scott Hatteberg told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Watching Anaheim and San Francisco in the World Series drove me nuts, knowing we're better." Replied Percival, "That's just sour grapes. You didn't hear anyone in this clubhouse say anything when [the A's] won 20 in a row [and went on to win the division]. When we get beat, we take it. That's not a very respectful comment. But I'm getting my ring."

Getting a second one this year would be even sweeter.

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