HAPPY HALOS Ten reasons the Anaheim Angels winning the the American League pennant Is the best thing to happen to baseball in 2002:
David Eckstein. The American League is top heavy with superstar shortstops, from Alex Rodriguez to Derek Jeter, from Nomar Garciaparra to Miguel Tejada. But while this foursome of future Hall of Famers recount their big numbers from the season just past, itll be the 57 Eckstein -- outweighed by several opposing batboys -- who takes the stage for the Fall Classic. I cant guarantee much regarding next weeks World Series, but Ill assure you of this: the gritty-as-you-want-to-be Eckstein will be hit by a pitch to spark an Angel rally.
The World Series will be played outside, on grass. Pardon me for dismissing the feel-good Twins story, but they play in a garage, with a roof the precise color of a baseball. Hail the Angels for vanquishing this misbegotten franchise. As for Minnesotas throng of hanky waving supporters, where were you in 1996, or 1997, or 1998 . . . .
Homegrown talent. Free agency is the way of the world in major league baseball. The Yankees buy Roger Clemens . . . win a title. The Diamondbacks buy Randy Johnson . . . win a title. The three best players in Anaheim -- Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, and Troy Glaus -- have worn but
a single uniform in their major league careers. The closest thing to national attention this trio has received, however, is Salmons 1993 Rookie of the Year award. Add Darin Erstad, Troy Percival, and Eckstein to the mix, and you have an old fashioned, farm-raised big-league outfit.
Best uniform colors in all of baseball.
The Singin Cowboy. Much has been made about the spirits of Jack Buck and Darryl Kile fueling the St. Louis Cardinals pennant push this season. Dont doubt that the Angels have a little Gene Autry in their hearts as well. The longtime Angels owner, who died in 1998, was the anti-Steinbrenner, as popular among Anaheim role players as with his stars. And he loved his baseball club almost as much as his famous steed . . . Champion.
Historical salve. In their last two trips to the ALCS, the Angels blew two-game leads (against Milwaukee in 1982, Boston in 86), needing but a single victory each time to reach the World Series. They are one of the two oldest franchises never to have played a World Series game. Come Saturday night, that distinction belongs solely to the Texas Rangers.
Comps for Mickey and Minnie. With Disneyland merely a few mouse-steps away, a rally monkey is not the only four-ligged critter youll see prancing around Edison Stadium.
Adam Kennedy. The most famous former Memphis Redbird in the world today, Kennedy became only the sixth player in baseball history to drill three home runs in a single postseason game as the Angels clinched the pennant Sunday afternoon. Its beginning to look like the trade that sent Jim Edmonds to the Cardinals is that rarest of modern deals, one that significantly improves both clubs.
Yankee killers. Lets be realistic, the team that conquers Jeter, Giambi, and Bernie Baseball belongs in the Fall Classic. Wild card or not, Anaheim is the best team in the American League today.
Francisco Rodriguez. Anaheims flame-throwing setup man came out of nowhere (read: Triple-A Salt Lake) just last month and has lit a Southern California fire that calls to mind 1981 and Fernando Valenzuela. The kid is 20-years-old, looks 14, and has a fastball that moves like a Mexican bouncing bean. And in this season when all of baseball continues to mourn Darryl Kiles tragic passing, theres much to be said for a World Series star who happens to be an Angel with 57 on his back.