- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Bobby Grich wasn't the flashiest hitter of his era. He wasn't always the best fielder on his team. But he did everything well, hitting for power in an era when few second basemen did, fielding his position consistently and providing leadership with his all-out, gritty play.
Grich was a four-time Gold Glove winner, a six-time All-Star and is one of eight members of the Los Angeles Angels Hall of Fame. He also played at a crucial time in the organization's development, bridging the gap between the also-ran years and the perennial contenders the Angels have become today.
We caught up with Grich recently to talk about his era and the development of the Angels franchise.
Q. When you came to the Angels before the 1977 season, they had never been to the playoffs. Did that make you hesitate to sign, especially coming from a winning organization in Baltimore?
A. It was exciting, because with myself, Joe Rudi and Don Baylor coming over at the same time, we thought we were going to make an impact right away and help implement a winning tradition and a more competitive outlook. I think all three of us felt, coming over as a package, we could impact the organization immediately.
Q. Did it appear that that was the organization's strategy, to sign winners?
A. I think Harry Dalton, the GM at the time, had built the Oriole success on players with winning attitudes who were team-oriented. In picking up Joe, Don and myself, that was part of the criteria for those free-agent signings, the fact we fit the mold as team players. I really believe that.
Don had been my roommate in the minor leagues in Baltimore. I loved playing on the same team with Don, and I knew enough about Joe Rudi from playing against him in Oakland. He was a fierce competitor, all about winning as a team. I felt they couldn't have picked two better guys out of the American League to join forces and come to the Angels. I'm sure Harry Dalton wanted to sign us in part because he knew the chemistry would be good.
Q. How important was 1979, the first playoff appearance, in the history of this franchise?
A. It was a monumental year for the Angels organization. Rod Carew had come over that year. It was a monumental season because it showed we had staying power throughout an entire season. They had had spurts before, the Angels had made some good runs, but they'd fallen short until, in 1979, we finally closed the deal and won the Western Division.
Q. People point to a three-game sweep of the New York Yankees in Anaheim just before the All-Star break. Was that a franchise turning point in a way?
A. It was probably the turning point of the season for us. We'd had a good first half, but we were facing a big Eastern power coming in. They had Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson and had been to the World Series the last two seasons. It was really a test for us. We ended up beating their best in three straight, all with either ninth-, 10th- or 11th-inning home runs. That really got the fans to believe in us and we actually believed in ourselves at that point. The momentum carried through the second half.
Q. Did it carry all the way through the 1980s, when the Angels made two more playoff appearances?
A. It carried through all the time I was with the team, six or seven more years. We knew once we did it, we could do it again. There's no doubt in my mind. We won the division. Getting to the World Series was the next goal. We came up short twice. We seemed a little snakebit there. A break or two here or there would have made a big difference. I think we could have done it in '82 if we'd had a little stronger bullpen.
Q. Most people remember that 1982 team as one of the best in franchise history.
What stands out about that team to you?
A. We had a great offense, but people don't realize how good the defense was.
Doug DeCinces at third and Tim Foli at shortstop played incredible all year. Those years I played with Mark Belanger and Brooks Robinson in Baltimore, they were great, but those guys played better that season. We had Fred Lynn in center, Brian Downing setting a record for fewest errors in left and Bob Boone catching. I'm telling you, those guys were special.
Q. You retired after that 1986 collapse in the ALCS. I believe you announced your retirement in the clubhouse following Game 7?
A. I'd had enough. We were in Boston and I was fed up. I'd been injured and missed about 30 games for the second year in a row. I just felt like I'd had enough. I had made up my mind early in the year and I'd almost retired the year before. I just kind of kept it to myself.
Q. Which was more disappointing, '82 or '86?
A. Equally disappointing.
Q. What brought you back into the Angels organization?
A. I was out of baseball for five years and I came back as a roving instructor part-time from 1991 to 1994. I had a blast working with guys like Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad and Jim Edmonds.
Q. Could you see signs that the franchise was headed for a rebirth working with talented young players like that in the minors?
A. It takes more than a few players, of course, but I told Garret when he was 18 years old, in about '91, that he would be in the big leagues in September of '94. I think it was August of '94, so I missed it by about a month.
When I visited the Triple-A team in Portland, I gave a speech about my 1974 season. To that point, I wasn't really a standout player. I made a mental effort right about then to play the game like I was a star player. I got myself in that mode in '74 where, if I went 0-for-4, 'OK, make a spectacular play in the eighth inning and save two runs that way to let your team win a game.' I expressed that to those guys and, a couple years later, Tim Salmon came up to me and said, 'Do you remember that speech you made to us in Portland? That really had an effect on me.' That made me feel good. Sometimes, you can kind of go through the motions as a player.
Q. How much have you worked with the current Angels?
A. They have a great coaching staff throughout the organization. I've worked with some of the middle infielders. I worked with Howie Kendrick when he was having trouble turning double plays his first year in the big leagues. I worked with Adam Kennedy when he was having trouble turning two in '02. I helped him get out of a little slump midway through the season.
Q. Seeing what's happened since 2002, do you feel you guys back in the 1970s and '80s had a part in the modern success?
A. I definitely feel we opened some eyes of other players throughout the big leagues, who then wanted to come join us. They could see the potential there. That's one reason Rod Carew wanted to come over in '79. If we had been flopping around in last place, I don't think he would have come over. I think it's been an organization to be reckoned with since [Mike] Scioscia and his staff came over. It's fun being part of that history of transition, from doormats to being contenders every year.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Bobby Grich helped usher in a new era for the California Angels.