Anaheim, Calif. — It is probably only a matter of time before Gene Autry, owner of the California Angels, runs out of money and patience -- like maybe in the 21st century!
Since Autry began signing free agents in 1976, he has spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million in an effort to fly the Angels into a World Series. And that doesn't count the additional millions he has paid to other high-salaried performers after obtaining them in trades with teams that no longer wanted them on their payrolls.
Already this winter The Cowboy has made two outstanding deals of this nature, both with the Boston Red Sox. He has acquired shortstop Rick Burleson, third baseman Butch Hobson, outfielder Fred Lynn, and pitcher Steve Renko -- the key names being All-Stars Lynn and Burleson.
To get them, California gave up third baseman Carney Lansford, pitcher Mark Clear, and outfielder Rick Miller in deal No. 1 and pitchers Frank Tanana and Jim Dorsey and outfielder Joe Rudi in deal No. 2.
Lynn, who signed a four-year contract estimated at between $4 million and $5. 2 million, is one of the most complete ballplayers in the majors. He was both the American League's Rookie of the Year and its Most Valuable Player in 1975, and his lifetime batting average with men on base is .338.
Fred can do all five things that scouts look for in a player -- meaning run well, hit for average, hit with power, play great defense, and drive in runs. And at Anaheim Stadium, where the outfield is more parade grounds than parking lot, Lynn should be able to run down any fly ball that doesn't have an afterburner attached to it.
Early indications are that Manager Jim Fregosi will hit Lynn third after Burleson and seven-time AL batting champion Rod Carew, and in front of designated hitter Don Baylor. Other Angels who have hit 20 or more homers or driven in 100 or more runs at some point in their careers include Bobby Grich, Hobson, Dan Ford, and Jason Thompson. Thompson, however, may be traded for an established pitcher.
Even though Burleson is considered one of the top shortstops in the game, most California fans and several writers were upset when the Angels reluctantly included Lansford and Clear (their best relief pitcher) in the deal.
Carney, who made the Angels two years ago at age 21 and has excelled both offensively and defensively, was a big favorite in Anaheim. That, plus the fact that California still looks like a team without the pitching depth usually associated with a contender, led many to question the deal.
Last year's mound staff, which had an earned-run average of 4.52 and only 22 complete games, would probably have been better off working from bomb-proof shelters.
"The media and the fans are entitled to their opinion," said Fregosi, who agrees with Autry and General Manager Buzzie Bavasi that the trade was both good and necessary. "If people will just withhold judgment until they have seen Rick and Hobson play over a decent length of time, they will like this trade as much as we do.
"Anytime you can get an infielder with Burleson's credentials, regardless of who you have to give up, you've got to do it."
Already this winter the Angels have added two proven pitchers to their regular rotation in Geoff Zahn (from Minnesota) and Bill Travers (from Milwaukee), and while neither is considered a stopper, they had a combined won-lost record of 26-24.
Fighting for the three other openings in the starting rotation will be Dave Frost and Bruce Kison (both coming off surgery), plus Fred Martinez, Chris Knapp , Renko, and, as Cecil B. de Mille liked to say about his epic pictures, a cast of thousands.
Bavasi says that he recognizes the problem, however, and that he will deal for the kind of pitcher who can be counted on to stop any losing streak.