The Angels made their debut in 1961 as one of two expansion teams in the AL. This was the first time either league had chosen to expand past each leagues 8 teams. Like most expansion teams, the Angels had their share of struggles. But, in just their second season, the Angels won 86 games and finished over .500 in 1964, 1967 and once again won 86 games in 1970. The seventies did not treat them very well as they had losing seasons from 1971-1977.
New manager Jim Fregosi took over during the 1978 season and the Angels had a winning season. By that time, the organization had put together a solid set of talent. Nolan Ryan, who was traded by the Mets to the Angels in the deal that sent Fregosi to the Mets. Ryan and Frank Tanana had formed a one-two punch that was good for most of the decade. Acquisitions of players like Bobby Grich, Don Baylor and Brian Downing laid the foundation for younger players like Carney Lansford and Willie Aikens. But it was the offseason of 1978, where the team made two very important trades with the Minnesota Twins. First they traded two players to Minnesota for OF Dan Ford. And in February of 1979, they traded four players to the Twins for future Hall of Famer Rod Carew. As the season started, it was the most optimism that had been built up for the organization in its history.
As the season went on, the younger Aikens and Lansford had established themselves as regulars. After the early season trade for SS Bert Campaneris, the Angels had the best set of regular players it had ever put together. Their lineup consisted of Downing C (.326, 12, 75), Lansford 3B (.287, 19, 79), Carew 1B (.318, 3, 44), Baylor LF (.296, 36, 139), Grich 2B (.294, 30, 101), Ford RF (.290, 20, 101), Aikens DH (.280, 21,81), Campaneris SS (.234, 0, 15) and veteran CF Rick Miller (.293, 2, 28). The bench had veterans Joe Rudi and Willie Davis along with Jim Anderson and youngsters Dickie Thon and Rance Mulliniks.
The pitching staff was led by Ryan (16-14, 3.60) and Tanana (7-5, 3.89). Tanana missed some time in 1979 due to injury. Dave Frost (16-10, 3.57), Jim Barr (10-12, 4.20) and Don Aase (9-10, 4.81) rounded out the rotation. Mark Clear (11-5, 3.63, 14 saves) shared the closer role with Dave LaRoche (7-11, 5.57, 10 saves).
Veteran manager Gene Mauch was brought in to run the club in 1981. For the 1982 season, the Angels still had Carew, Downing, Baylor and Grich. Prior to the season, the Angels had purchased veteran catcher Bob Boone from the Phillies. This allowed them to move Downing to the outfield. The team traded for veteran SS Tim Foli and sent Ford to the Orioles for 3B Doug Decinces. They then moved Tanana to the Red Sox for Fred Lynn. The bold move came when they signed future Hall of Fame OF Reggie Jackson to a multiyear contract. The 1982 lineup was certainly superior with Downing LF .281, 18, 84), Carew 1B (.319, 3, 44), Baylor DH (.263, 24, 93), Jackson RF (.275, 39, 101), Decinces 3B (.301, 30, 97), Lynn CF (.299, 21, 86), Grich (.261, 19, 65), Boone C (.256, 7, 58) and Foli (.252, 3, 56). The bench also had proven veterans like Juan Beniquez, Ron Jackson and Rick Burleson.
The pitching staff was without Tanana and Ryan, who left as a free agent to sign with Houston. The Angels were led by veterans Geoff Zaun (18-8, 3.73) and Ken Forsch (13-11, 3.87), who were both in their second seasons with the club. RHP Steve Renko (11-6, 4.44) was acquired along with Lynn in the Tanana deal. The team was depending a lot on 21 year old Mike Witt (8-6, 3.51), who was also in his second season with the club. They signed 41 year old Luis Tiant (2-2, 5.76 in 6 games, 5 starts), but he retired early on in the season. The Angels traded for veteran Tommy John (4-2, 3.86 in his 7 starts with the club) later on in the season from the Yankees.
Doug Corbett was acquired in a trade from the Twins and led the teams in saves with 8. RHP Bruce Kison (10-5, 3.17, 1 save in 33 games, 16 starts) and Luis Sanchez (7-4, 3.21 in 46 games) were their top relievers, but were far for dominant. Aase was still around, but this season pitched in 24 games, all in relief.
Based on the records and postseason results, the 1982 Angels were more successful. The 1982 club went 93-69 under Mauch and lost in 5 games of the ALCS to the AL Champion Brewers. The 1979 version went 88-74 under Fregosi and lost in 4 games to the AL Champion Orioles. The debate I have is with the pitching, both starters and relievers. The 1979 team had a stronger 1-2 in Ryan and Tanana and had a much better bullpen led by Clear. A lineup that adds Reggie, Lynn and Decinces is understandably better. But Baylor and Grich were much better in 1979 than in 1982, as Baylor won the AL MVP and Grich hit 30 HR. Another interesting thing to point out is the fact that Grich and Baylor had played in Baltimore just a couple years before and the Baltimore pitchers may have had an advantage in getting them out in the postseason. I think both teams were good, but it is difficult not to go with the 1982 team, who clearly had the better offense that was able to make up for the make shift pitching staff. Of course, the 1986 team was much better as it included both a solid offense and a very good pitching staff.