what team is this?: the 1979 california angels - the first angels team to qualify for the postseason.
why this team?: the angels won the american league west for owner gene autry in 1979 with a record of 88-74. although they fell to the baltimore orioles in the alcs 3 games to 1, the team boasted the american league mvp in don baylor and the league leader in strikeouts in nolan ryan.
which players are featured?: only four are included in the set for this team - bobby grich, brian downing, dan ford, and nolan ryan.
why these players?: as the backs of the cards attest, all four of these players had big years in 1979. let's break it down.
bobby grich set career highs in rbi (101) and home runs (30) in 1979, although he might have surpassed that home run total in 1981 had the strike not disrupted the season (he had 22 home runs in 100 games that year to lead the american league). he also hit .294 and returned to the all-star game for the first time since leaving baltimore after the 1976 season. grich hit just .154 in the alcs against his former team with a double and two rbi.
brian downing spent most of 1979 behind the plate - the last season in which he would be primarily used as a catcher. he hit 12 home runs, and more surprisingly hit .326 in 148 games. downing made the all-star team for the only time in his career that year, and is best remembered from that game as being the guy dave parker threw out at the plate in the bottom of the 8th to preserve the 6-6 tie. downing also had one of the most copied batting stances in my neighborhood. in the alcs, he hit .200 with just 3 hits in the 4 games.
dan ford joined the angels via a trade with the twins after the 1978 season. he took over in right field for the late lyman bostock, just as he had replaced bostock in center field for the twins the previous season. in addition to his 21 home runs and 101 rbi mentioned on his card back, ford hit .290 and scored 100 runs for the only time in his career. he also led the league with 13 sacrifice flies. ford hit .294 in the alcs with a couple of home runs and a double while driving in a team high 4 runs.
nolan ryan led the league in strikeouts for the fourth straight year in 1979, and for the seventh time overall. he had 223 k's to go along with 16 wins, 5 shutouts, and a 3.60 era. he didn't throw a no-hitter in 1979, but he did have a one-hitter (the hit came when reggie jackson singled one out in the 9th inning) and two two-hitters. he had a 12-7 record with a sub-3.00 era in late july when he injured his elbow (the same week he was on the cover of sports illustrated) and missed a couple of weeks. he returned to finish the season, but was not the same pitcher he had been prior to the injury, going 4-7 with a 5.47 era in his last 12 starts. ryan started game 1 of the alcs, and held the orioles to one earned run in seven innings, but the angels lost 6-3. it turned out to be the last game ryan pitched for the angels as he opted to sign with the houston astros prior to the 1980 season.
the stadium on the back is...?: anaheim stadium, as it was known in 1979. nicknamed 'the big a', the stadium opened in 1966 and was renovated (disneyfied) in 1998. the photo used is pre-disney - in fact, it may well be from 1979 as it is certainly not more recent than that. the la rams moved in to anaheim stadium in 1980, and as a result, the field was modified to accommodate football games. in doing so, bleachers were added in left field with retractable seats in right, and the big a itself was moved way out into the parking lot.
did upper deck get it right?: don baylor is missing, and that's not right. all he did was lead the league in runs scored (120) and rbi (139) while hitting 39 home runs and playing in all 162 games. he is a well known ttm signer, so it's not like he's a recluse. i think he should have been included, especially since he could have also been included later on in the set with the 1986 red sox and 1987 twins. on the other hand, kudos to upper deck for not going for the checklist filler and featuring the likes of bert campaneris, joe rudi, or merv rettenmund, all of whom had been previously featured in the set and were a part of the 1979 angels, but were no longer everyday players.
grich, downing, ford, and ryan were all good choices for this team, and aside from baylor, maybe rod carew is the only other player that would have made sense. i say that even though i really think it would have been cool to have a willie davis card featuring him as an angel despite he was a minor player on this team, and upper deck was right not to include him. i do find it odd, however, that upper deck did not include the 1979 baltimore orioles in the set. while i am thankful for the angels, i wonder why upper deck ignored the american league champions, especially when it was a franchise that had been in the set previously.
they did a good job with the stadium, as mentioned above, and the photos on the fronts aren't too bad either. we know that nolan ryan's photo comes from 1972 due to the button down jersey and the lowercase 'a', but the other three could be from 1979. the angels switched to pullover jerseys with the 'a' capitalized in 1973. they kept that look through 1988 (although they changed the patch sleeve from the california shape to a circular patch in 1986). disco dan was only with the team from 1979-1981, so his photo is from one of those years. the other two guys joined the angels in 1977 and 1978, respectively, and were there well in to the 1980's so who knows what year the photos are from.
is this team timeless?: when i think of angels teams from this era, i think of the 1982 team first, even though i was a big don baylor fan in 1979. i have to say that, no, i don't think this team is timeless. what do you think?