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CAN HOUSECLEANING SAVE THIS TEAM?

Byline: Joe Haakenson Staff Writer

Many have tried, but none have succeeded.

We're not talking about raising the Titanic, just lifting the Angels to World Series status. Bill Bavasi was the latest to try and his six-year effort ended last Friday when he announced his resignation as general manager.

Before the Angels finished the season at 70-92, 25 games out of first place, manager Terry Collins was already gone. And more uprooting is promised by team president Tony Tavares, who believes wholesale changes might be necessary.

Many of the Angels don't believe it's necessary to break up a core group of players developed by the organization, but Vaughn, after playing the first season of his six-year, $80 million contract, thinks something has to be done.

``The fact of the matter is, if a player is expected to admit his faults, it's something the organization's got do to as well,'' Vaughn said. ``You've got to do what you've got to do to make it right. You've got to realize talent isn't everything. You've got to have character and heart to go along with it. We have plenty of guys with talent who don't know what it takes to win.

Only days before his resignation, Bavasi said a ``housecleaning'' was not necessary. The team, as with any team, needed pitching. It needed to re-sign pitcher Chuck Finley. It needed a second baseman who has speed and can bat leadoff. And it needed an everyday catcher.

But Bavasi also acknowledged that there were too many underachievers. No player is a better example than Darin Erstad, who hit only .253 with 13 homers and 53 RBI in '99 after taking a lifetime batting average of .295 into the season. Some believe Erstad is too intense. When faced with adversity, Erstad was wound so tight he fell deeper and deeper into a slump. He also criticized teammates, calling them ``soft'' in July.

Players bickered and sniped at each other so much that on Sept. 3, Collins, who isn't a quitter, quit. During an emotional news conference, Collins said one final series of events in the preceding days proved to be too much.

What Collins referred to is believed to be this: The Angels and Indians fought after Troy Percival hit David Justice with a pitch in a game the Indians rallied to win, 14-12, on Aug. 31. Vaughn, who was the DH that game and was in the clubhouse during the brawl, never made it onto the field. Percival implied that there were players who didn't back him up, most notably Vaughn.

The following day, a number of players, including DiSarcina, went into Collins' office and demanded that Vaughn be benched for that night's game. If Vaughn wasn't benched, they refused to take the field with him. Collins benched Vaughn, who was furious.

Two days later a tearful Collins resigned.

``This team is not far away,'' Vaughn said. ``This is an environment where we can capitalize if we do the right thing.

Bad moments in a horrible season

1. Feb. 21 Shortstop Gary DiSarcina, coming off a 1998 Angels' MVP season, gets hit by a fungo bat swung by first-base coach George Hendrick, breaking a bone in DiSarcina's forearm. He has surgery and misses 68 games.

2. April 3 Center fielder Jim Edmonds feels a pop in his shoulder while lifting weights two days before opening night. He has surgery two weeks later and doesn't play until August. He plays in only 55 games all season.

3. April 5 First baseman Mo Vaughn falls into the visiting dugout at Edison Field chasing a foul popup in the first inning on opening night. Vaughn goes on the disabled list and is bothered by the ankle all season.

4. May 3 Right fielder Tim Salmon sprains his left wrist trying to make a sliding catch and misses 62 games.

5. Late May Some Angels players express concern over a possible contract extension for manager Terry Collins. General manager Bill Bavasi summons veterans to discuss the matter. The players' concerns are dismissed.

6. July 16-26The Angels lose 11 games in a row, falling from 6-1/2 games out in the AL West to 15-1/2 games out.

7. July 29 Pitcher Omar Olivares and second baseman Randy Velarde, the club's most consistent players this season, are traded to the A's for three minor-leaguers.

8. Sept. 1 Vaughn is benched for one game after several players go to Collins and proclaim, ``It's him or us.''

9.Sept. 3 Collins resigns in an emotional news conference.

10.Oct. 1 Bavasi resigns as GM and is reassigned as a special assistant to team president Tony Tavares.

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BOX: Bad moments in a horrible season (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 5, 1999
Words:787
Previous Article:JOHNNY DEPP PLANS TO TICKLE THE IVORIES AS LIBERACE.
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