Our preseason look at the Royals’ competitors for the 1977 AL West title continues with 1976’s fourth-place team, the California Angels. Unlike the already-previewed Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins, the Angels actually worked to improve themselves over the winter. Of course, following a 76-86 campaign that was marked by turmoil, they needed to.
California had the worst offense in the American League, scoring just 550 runs, hitting 63 home runs, and compiling a batting line of .235/.306/.318. Every single one of those stats was last in the league. Luckily, the Angels had pretty solid pitching, with a team ERA of 3.36 (fifth in the AL) and led the league in strikeouts with 992. That’s what happens when you have Nolan Ryan and a sensational young Frank Tanana, who at age 22 had already finished in the top four of Cy Young voting twice.
Unlike many owners at the time, Gene Autry seemed unafraid of the newfangled concept of free agency. So in an eight-day span in November, the Angels went on a spending spree to bolster their offense. They signed outfielder/DH Don Baylor and outfielder Joe Rudi away from Oakland, then added second baseman Bobby Grich from Baltimore. The trio had combined for 41 homers in 1976, or roughly two-thirds of the Angels’ team total. The three new arrivals were joining a lineup featuring second baseman Jerry Remy (the Angels planned to move Grich to shortstop), former Royals first baseman Tony Solaita, and outfielder Bobby Bonds, but still had some questions at third base and catcher.
It didn’t take long for the Angels to begin talking about their goals. Manager Sherry told Dick Miller of The Sporting News, “We are as good as the Royals. We are a solid contender that should make a real run for it.” Rudi said, “We’ll have a real shot at winning it.” Tanana added, “This puts us right in the thick of things.” And Ryan chimed in, “We should be right near the top.” And all of that was before Grich had been signed. (All quotes from the December 4, 1976 issue of TSN).
By the way, the estimated outlay for these three contracts, all of them for multiple years, was about $5 million total.
Still, a poll of Baseball Writers Association of America members didn’t quite have the Angels overtaking the Royals. KC received 111 of the 211 first-place votes, with California picking up 78. But the Angels had definitely put themselves in the contention conversation.