The 1970’s begin for the California Angels with the Bill Rigney era ending and Lefty Phillips taking over as the team’s manager in 1970. He did not last long.
After having only one manager for the whole 1960s decade the California Angels had seven managers in the 1970’s with no manager lasting more than two full seasons until Jim Fregosi came on in the end of the decade and had back-to-back stellar winning seasons in 1978 and 1979 marking the first time the Angels had finished over .500 in two consecutive years. (Fregosi actually succeeded Dave Garcia 45 games into the 1978 season).
The decade was marked by a lot of mediocrity until those final two seasons despite having two of the best pitchers in Angels history in Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana on the team for over half the decade. It wasn’t until the Angels got players like Bobby Grich, Brian Downing, and the leader Don Baylor also know as “Groove” that things started coming together for the Angels.
However, the day that the Angels made one of the biggest trades in franchise history on December 10th, 1971. That was the day the Angels took a big risk trading away the face of the franchise Jim Fregosi, who was a six-time All-Star, to the New York Mets for some young and unproven players.
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In that deal the Angels got Leroy Stanton, who became a steady player for the club for the next four seasons. They also got Don Rose and Francisco Estrada which were never really heard from. However, the key piece of that deal was a young right-handed flame thrower named Nolan Ryan. Ryan had been known to possess some amazing stuff including a close to 100 MPH fastball which was unheard of back in that time period. His problem was major control issues.
Little did anyone know what kind of an impact Ryan would have on this young franchise. So without any further adieu let’s get to the top three fan favorites of the 1970’s.
#3 Frank Tanana –
When Frank Tanana came up in 1973 Nolan Ryan had already established himself as a force to be reckoned with. Tanana only pitched in four games that season, but his numbers were respectable going 2-2 with a 3.08 ERA. Bill Singer who came to the team in the Winter of 1972 along with Frank Robinson for star pitcher Andy Messersmith and third baseman Ken McMullen had a great first season in Anaheim striking out 241 batters and going 20-14. He combined with Nolan Ryan for 624 strikeouts and 41 wins and gave the Angels an impressive one-two punch.
However, this would be short-lived as injuries cut short Singer’s season in 1974 and in stepped Tanana. In his first full season Tanana’s numbers were not super impressive as he went 14-19 with A 3.12 ERA and 180 strikeouts, but he showed tremendous promise.
In 1975 Tanana put it altogether and a star was born. As he went 16-9 with a 2.62 ERA with 269 strikeouts. This helped offset Nolan Ryan’s injury-plagued season that saw him go only 14-12 and strikeout 186 in 198 innings of work.
In !976 both star pitchers put it together in the same season as Ryan went 17-18 with a 3.36 ERA and 341 strikeouts. Tanana had his finest year as an Angel going 19-10 with a 2.43 ERA and 261 strikeouts. In 1977 they both continued to flourish with Ryan winning 19 games and posting a 2.77 ERA with 327 strikeouts. Tanana went 15-9 with a 2.54 ERA and 205 K’s.
The duo continued to show out the next two seasons with both still pitching well the Angels finally got over the .500 mark and in 1979 the Angels led by both Tanana and Ryan the Angels won the AL West and went to the ALCS, but that’s where the marriage ended as Ryan was allowed to walk via-free agency and Tanana was traded in the winter between the 1980 and 1981 season to Boston for Fred Lynn and Steve Renko. He ended up with 102 wins with a 3.08 ERA and he struck out with 1,233 strikeouts which are both good for fifth on the Angels all-time list. He was a fan favorite for sure.
#2 Don Baylor –
Don Baylor had one of the most amazing season in club history in 1979. Baylor hit .296 with 36 homers and 139 RBIs and stole 22 bases. The Angels signed Baylor as a free agent in 1977 and played six seasons until 1982. He was one of many players who made an impact in two different decades for the Angels, but because of 1979’s MVP season I placed Baylor into the 1970’s. He was a part of the Angels first two AL West titles.
Baylor was given the nickname “Groove” and he had a special way of doing things as a team leader. He was a very special player who did more in six years for the franchise to almost any other player not named Trout or Guerrero. Baylor hit .262 with 141 homers and 523 RBIs with 89 stolen bases. Baylor came back in 2014 and 2015 as a hitting coach and was just as popular. Unfortunately Baylor passed away in 2017, but Angel fans will always remember “Groove”.
#1 Nolan Ryan –
You knew this was coming if you were and Angel fan for any length of time. Nolan Ryan is one of the most popular Angels of all time and for good reason. Upon his arrival in Anaheim the Angels had just made a bold move trading away fan favorite and face of the franchise Jim Fregosi. Fortunately Ryan became the new face of the franchise. Nolan Ryan instantly became popular with his close to 100 mph fastballs and his record # of strikeouts.
Ryan threw a total of four of his record no-hitters in Anaheim. In addition Nolan Ryan set the single-season strikeout record with 383 in a season in 1973. Nolan Ryan finished with 138 wins and a 3.08 ERA with 2,416 strikeouts with the Angels from 1972 to 1979.
Ryan helped get the Angels to their first AL West title in 1979. Although the Angels lost to Baltimore three games to one it was a magical season with the moniker “Yes We Can”. Not only was Ryan a fan favorite he was also a favorite of Angels long-time owner Gene Autry. Unfortunately Autry trusted his general manager Buzzie Bavasi to negotiate with Nolan Ryan and his agent. Ryan wanted $1,000,000 and Bavasi said that he could get two 8-7 pitchers to replace Ryan who was 16-14 in 1979.
With that the best pitcher in Angel history and fan favorite left for Houston. Nolan Ryan will always be remembered by Angel fans as the Ryan Express.