Perhaps the disappointment and dismay that come with every dream being dashed could have been tempered if not avoided.
Perhaps the Angels’ two superstars, general manager and owner might have considered that the franchise is cursed. Always has been.
Perhaps Ohtani wouldn’t have been reckless with his arm health, Trout wouldn’t have rushed back from injury, Minasian wouldn’t have held onto Ohtani at the trade deadline and Moreno wouldn’t have reneged on his announcement to sell the team.
Perhaps the front office wouldn’t have felt compelled to toss six players overboard Tuesday, placing on waivers trade deadline acquisition Lucas Giolito, slugger Hunter Renfroe, relievers Reynaldo López, Dominic Leone and Matt Moore, and outfielder Randal Grichuk.
Cursed? That’s a label not to be used lightly, residing somewhere between jinxed and doomed as an explanation of never-ending woe. But in the annals of baseball, it’s familiar.
The Curse of the Bambino plagued the Boston Red Sox for 86 years until a Dave Roberts stolen base in the 2004 American League Championship Series and sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series crushed it like Neil Diamond belting out “Sweet Caroline.”
The Curse of the Billy Goat plagued the Chicago Cubs for 71 years until Joe Maddon — remember him? — led them to a World Series title over the Cleveland Indians in 2016.
Alas, Maddon, for all his smarts and slogans and 30 years of dedication to the franchise, couldn’t escape the Angels’ curse. More on that below.
By rights, any curse spooned atop the Halos should have ceased in 2002 with their only World Series title. They defeated the San Francisco Giants, themselves burdened by the hubris of manager Dusty Baker‘s insistence on employing his 3-year-old son as bat boy.
But the lone championship provided merely a tease of elation. The Angels eventually retreated to mediocrity pocked by misfortune that weighs on their wings to this day. Deep-rooted Orange County fans might say the curse gained new life in 2005 when Moreno changed the team name from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and cemented it by dropping “of Anaheim” in 2016.
Several passages below end with an asterisk. That indicates the prose was borrowed from a brilliant 1999 L.A. Times article by Chris Dufresne about the woebegone and paranormal Angels cleverly headlined “The Hex Files.”
Dufresne, who died in 2020 at age 62 of melanoma, was a renowned wordsmith whose primary focus was college sports, but as a lifelong Orange County resident couldn’t help but employ a playful touch to chronicle the Angels’ calamitous flirtation with the occult.
Dufresne unearthed speculation that over the years has been bolstered or debunked, depending on agenda. Construction began on Angel Stadium in Anaheim in 1964 with Mickey Mouse presiding,* smack-dab in a cornfield that may or may not have been a Native American burial ground.
Jane Newell, the city of Anaheim’s local history curator, couldn’t verify a Native American village, let alone a burial ground, under the stadium when interviewed by Dufresne. Newell remains on the job and still has no definitive information on the subject.
“I do remember directing Chris to the local tribal leader,” she said.
Dufresne learned that the Juaneños tribe lived for 10,000 years in hamlets along the Santa Ana River bed that runs adjacent to what is now Angel Stadium.
Juaneños remaining in Orange County cannot verify whether the stadium was built on sacred ground because laws protecting Juaneño land from developers were not enacted until the 1970s.
“A lot of that stuff was ‘hurry up and bulldoze the area before anybody knows,’ ” Juaneño tribal chief David Belardes told Dufresne. “They could have hit something and kept it very quiet.”
Fast-forward a decade and a sportswriter was called to action. The Angels were in another colossal slump in August 1977, and general manager Harry Dalton said he’d “try anything.”
Pleas to priests, witch doctors and shamans to rid teams of spells have largely been exorcises in futility.* But Dick Miller, Angels beat writer for the L.A. Herald-Examiner, took Dalton’s statement as marching orders and contacted Louise Huebner, head of the Magic Circle — the largest coven of witches in the U.S. — and something of a celebrity after appearing on “The Tonight Show.”
Huebner gave Magic Circle medals to Dalton and Angels owner Gene Autrey with instructions to rub them under a full moon, according to longtime baseball writer and Henry Chadwick Award winner John Holway. Huebner also distributed medals to the players before they faced the New York Yankees on Aug. 3.
Some were skeptical, with slugger Bobby Bonds (Barry’s father) warning, “Don’t touch them. It’s voodoo.” Nevertheless, the Angels won behind Nolan Ryan’s arm and Bonds’ eighth-inning home run, triggering a six-game winning streak that raised them to .500 at 54-54.
Huebner busily spun daily spells and incantations, cracking, “I haven’t been this tired since I flew to Transylvania on an economy broom.”
Bonds, meanwhile, continued to disparage Huebner despite hitting five home runs in the six wins. She tired of the insults, saying, “I’m not Mary Poppins. I don’t have to help anybody. So I put the curse back on.”
The Angels went into a tailspin and finished 14 games under .500. Presumably the Herald-Examiner sold more papers.
Publicity stunts aside, the Angels have endured an inordinate number of freak injuries, inexplicable losing streaks and bizarre occurrences. Here’s a look at some unfortunate franchise history through those bold enough to consider a curse and those humble enough to offer a cap tip to the unexplained.
Left off the list are Angels players who died during their careers, tragedies that shouldn’t be trivialized by conjecture about a curse. They include Tyler Skaggs (2019), Luis Valbuena (2018), Nick Adenhart (2009), Lyman Bostock (1978), Mike Miley (1977), Bruce Heinbechner (1974), Chico Ruiz (1972) and Dick Wantz (1965).
The death by suicide of former Angel Donnie Moore following a dispute with his wife and crash left closer Minnie Rojas paralyzed and killed two children also were left off the list, which primarily centers on on-the-field issues.
1962: Pitcher Art Fowler loses sight in his left eye after being struck by a line drive in batting practice. Outfielder Ken Hunt, who hit 25 homers in the Angels’ inaugural 1961 season, cracks his collarbone while flexing a bat behind his back in the on-deck circle and never plays another full season.
1964: Ace right-hander Ken McBride injures his neck and back in a car accident and goes 4-17 the rest of his career.
1973: Star shortstop Bobby Valentine, playing a rare game in center field, fractures his leg horrifically when his spikes catch in the outfield chain-link fence. He’s never the same.
1979: Pitcher Jim Barr misses the playoffs after breaking his hand during a party celebrating the club’s first division title. The Angels lose the best-of-five ALCS to the Baltimore Orioles in four games.
1982: A 93-win season is wasted when the Angels become the first team to lose a five-game playoff series after winning the first two. Manager Gene Mauch is second-guessed for passing over Ken Forsch as the Game 4 starter and going with Tommy John and Bruce Kison on short rest. Neither is effective and the Milwaukee Brewers win three in a row.
1986: Invaluable rookie first baseman Wally Joyner develops a staph infection in his leg and misses the final three games of the ALCS against Boston after the Angels take a three-games-to-one lead. The Angels lose the series when Mauch again makes questionable pitching decisions.
1992: Trying to come back to the big leagues after pitching in Japan for four years, Matt Keough requires emergency surgery after being hit in the head by a line drive while sitting in the dugout. Coach Deron Johnson, who played 16 seasons in the majors, dies of lung cancer.
1992: Manager Buck Rodgers suffers serious injuries when the team bus careens off the New Jersey Turnpike and slams into a grove of trees. Thirteen Angels players and staffers are injured.
1995: Shortstop Gary DiSarcina tears a ligament in his thumb and the Angels blow an 11-game lead by going 8-27 from Aug. 16 to Sept. 23, then lose a one-game playoff to the Seattle Mariners for the division title.
1997: Star pitcher Chuck Finley opens the season on the disabled after being struck in the eye by a flung bat and is sidelined again when he injures his wrist after slipping while backing up home plate. Finley considers hiring a witch doctor to “burn sage in the clubhouse.” What stops him? “I didn’t want to scare anybody,” Finley says.*
1999: Five minutes into an Angels career after signing a six-year, $80-million free-agent contract, slugger Mo Vaughn tumbles down the dugout steps pursuing a foul popup and misses two weeks. We should be thankful Vaughn didn’t vaporize into thin air, given the Bermuda Triangle eeriness of this dis-harmonic convergence.*
2007: Months after signing a five-year, $50-million contract, outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. allegedly is sent a shipment of HGH, leading to a protracted stalemate with investigators and Moreno, who repeatedly requested that Matthews publicly explain his actions. Matthews never performed well with the Angels, who traded him to the New York Mets in 2010.
2016: Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker has emergency brain surgery after being hit in the head by a line drive in a victory over the Mariners.
2022: The Angels are off to their best start in 18 years when the Anaheim City Council meets to discuss selling Angel Stadium property for $150 million to Moreno, who agrees to turn parking lots into a vibrant neighborhood. But the FBI charges Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu with slipping confidential information to the Angels in the hope of securing a huge campaign contribution from the team. The council kills the deal and the Angels lose 14 games in a row. Maddon is fired and the team finishes 16 games under .500.
2022: Angels communications director Eric Kay is sentenced to 22 years in prison for providing counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl that led to Skaggs’ death.
2023: Third baseman Anthony Rendon is injured again, cementing his status as the Angels’ latest disastrous free-agent signing. He’s played no more than 58 games in any of the four seasons since signing a seven-year, $245-million contract, calling to mind previous boondoggles Josh Hamilton, Vernon Wells and Albert Pujols.
2023: Rather than stockpile the farm system by dealing Ohtani at the trade deadline, Minasian defies steep odds and retains the two-way superstar to make a Hail Mary playoff bid. It backfires spectacularly, with the Angels immediately losing seven games in a row and Ohtani suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
The supernatural does have a flip side. The Angels did win the 2002 World Series with dramatic victories in Games 6 and 7 and posted nine seasons of 89 or more victories with Mike Scioscia at the helm.
In their first game after the Skaggs tragedy, the Angels took the field wearing jerseys with his name and No. 45 on the back. Skaggs’ mother threw out the first pitch and journeyman pitchers Taylor Cole and Félix Peña no-hit the Mariners. “You can’t make this stuff up,” Trout said.
Can a curse be reversed without the help of a celebrity witch?
Perhaps 2024 will be blessedly curse-free. Perhaps the Angels sign Ohtani to a free-agent deal, Trout returns to form and Rendon plays a full season. Perhaps Minasian makes shrewd moves and Moreno opens his coffers without meddling in baseball decisions.
Or perhaps not. As Dufresne put it nearly a quarter century ago, “no truckload of cash covers first and last month’s rent on four decades of hoodoo. . . . With the Angels, it’s always rearranging deck chairs on the you-know-what.”*