ARLINGTON – This was a big day for one of my early heroes. Andre Dawson was the guy I wanted to be like when I was a kid growing up in Pine Bluff, Ark. My granddad and I would watch games on WGN, and “The Hawk” was killing the ball and making great plays in right field for the Cubs. He ran the bases hard and he had a cannon, I remember that.
Andre had a huge influence on me with the way he played the game, his aggressive, all-out style. You could tell the man loved to play and was a fierce competitor, and that’s how I’ve always tried to be. I even copied his batting stance when I was a kid, before I found my own.
I heard about how great he was in Montreal, and how that artificial turf in the Expos’ park he played in for 10 years messed up his knees. Lyle Spencer, who covers us for MLB.com, has told me how much the Dodgers respected Andre back in the day when he was covering them. He thought The Hawk was the best player in the National League when he was a young center fielder covering ground, throwing guys out and hitting bombs for the Expos.
I can relate to what he went through, now that I’ve moved from the artificial turf in Minnesota to the natural surface, God’s green grass, in Southern California with the Angels. It makes a huge difference over the course of the season. I used to feel so beat up playing on that carpet. I’m really happy for the young Twins like my protégé Denard Span, who won’t have to go through what I did, and what Kirby Puckett went through playing center field on that hard turf.
It tells you a lot about Andre Dawson that he was able to get through that, get to Wrigley Field as a free agent, and show his stuff when he won the NL MVP award in 1987. If anybody had any doubts about him being a Hall of Fame player, that should have taken care of them. He led the league with 49 homers and 137 RBIs. That man could rake.
This is a great day for a great player and a good man. I also want to congratulate the other Hall of Famers who were enshrined today – Whitey Herzog, Doug Harvey, Jon Miller and Bill Madden. It’s the biggest honor in the game, and I’m sure they’re all having the time of their lives in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Whitey Herzog managed the Cardinals when they were my favorite team in the ’80s, with Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, all those burners. Herzog turned out some great teams, and he’s very deserving. I’m sure he’s happy to go in with an umpire like Harvey, an announcer like Miller and a writer like Madden – along with The Hawk, of course.
Time to get ready for the series finale with the Rangers. We’ve got some work today.
NEW YORK – It’s been a long, bumpy ride through the first half for our Angels, and the All-Star Game was an awesome experience in every way. But now it’s strictly baseball. It’s about catching the Rangers, and they’re hotter than a firecracker.
They’ve got the best offensive numbers in Major League Baseball, and they added Cliff Lee to a strong pitching staff. They’ve also got Tommy Hunter, who’s 7-0 after getting sent down. There’s something about T-Hunters. That’s a little joke, you know.
Going to Texas, home for me, after we finish up with the Yankees, we know what we have to do. We have to play well, play consistent baseball. Everybody has to step up, play smart and tough baseball. We’ve got to bunt guys over, hit-and-run. We’ve got to come out of the bullpen throwing strikes, make all the plays.
In the past, we were the team everyone was chasing. Now we’re the ones trying to catch up, so we can’t afford to be making mistakes. Sometimes teams with a lead can get comfortable, but they know they can’t get too comfortable. They know what we’ve done before, and what we’re capable of doing. We’re the team that’s been winning for a long time, that has history. We’re playing well, but they’ve been playing better. We have to change that.
The first half, to sum it up, you have to say it was a bumpy road. In April, we didn’t play the way we were capable of playing. The offense, defense and pitching were all subpar. Then we got to May and June and started playing our style of baseball – great defense, hitting the ball pretty hard, pitching well. It seemed like we didn’t have any flaws.
Then the last week before the All-Star Game, we ran into the hottest team in the game, the White Sox, and they swept us four straight in Chicago. We had those rain delays and then the long flight to Oakland, getting in at 5 a.m. That kind of carried over to Oakland, and we didn’t play well there.
The All-Star break was good for the guys, I think. They were able to go to the beach, relax, not even think about the game. It refreshed the guys. For myself and Jered Weaver, it was a little different. We were involved in all the All-Star Game and all the activities. It was awesome, don’t get me wrong. But it was also a little exhausting.
I had 25 to 30 family members come in, and I was entertaining them, Angel fans, MLB fans and some of the players, too. From 7 a.m. all the way through the way, I was on the move, attending the Fanfest, events, talking to people. It was an amazing experience. The color fed was everywhere I went. It gave me a real sense of how big the Angels are now, how loyal the fan base is. It was a great experience. It was for the fans, and they had a great time. So it was well worth it in every respect.
Now it’s all baseball. It’s time to go to work. I’m excited to get Maicer Izturis back, because he’s one of the best clutch hitters around, .326 in his career with runners in scoring position, and a tremendous all-around player. He’s going to help a lot – he already has, driving in those big runs in our win last night over the Yankees.
With Izzy getting back in it, with Mike Napoli tearing it up and playing good first base, and with Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera and all the other veterans firing on all cylinders, we know we’re capable of playing great baseball. It’s time to go. Let’s do it.
A lot of people around the game aren’t noticing how good our division, the AL West, is this season. If you look at the records, it’s the best of the six divisions – and it’s not even close.
I’m finally back now, playing again, but I’ve had a lot of time lately to watch games and study things, missing five weeks with the adductor strain on my right side. One thing I’ve seen is that our whole division has been playing some great baseball, whether the media recognizes it or not.
Check it out. After Sunday’s games, the AL West’s four teams are a combined 35 games over .500. The next closest is the AL East, 25 games over .500. That’s a 10-game gap.
Our Angels are 26 over, Texas is 17 over, and Seattle is four over. Oakland is 12 under .500.
The only way you can judge a division is how it does outside its own division, since you’re going to end up .500 playing each other. We’ve beaten up on the AL East, and I think that says a lot about how tough our division has been. We’re 21 games over .500 against the East. Boston is 11-20 against the West, and Tampa Bay is 8-17.
To be 35 games above .500 overall, that’s a division winning percentage of .537. Take all of our games outside the division, and our winning percentage is .553.
After the AL East, the next strongest division is the NL West, 12 games over .500. What that tells me is there’s great baseball being played all over the West. Look at Colorado and San Francisco, leading Florida and Atlanta in the Wild Card race, and Texas taking the lead from Boston for the AL Wild Card.
The NL East is nine games under .500, and the two Centrals are way down. The NL Central is 26 games under .500, and the AL Central is 37 games below .500.
The Yankees and Red Sox get most of the national publicity and attention, but if you put their records together, they’re 140-96. The Angels and Rangers combined are 138-95. That’s close to a dead heat.
I remember watching ESPN last year, hearing guys say that the Los Angeles Angels have the best record in baseball, but it’s because they beat up on a weak division. We beat up on everybody last year, not just the West.
To say we benefit from playing in a weak division, that’s just not true – especially this year. Our record in the division is not good. We’re 15-19. But we’re 23-10 against the AL East, 19-12 against the Central and 14-4 in Interleague Play.
The Rangers, look what they’re doing. Those guys can play. Seattle is hanging tough and still playing well, and Oakland’s playing good baseball with all the young players it has.
West Coast teams just get no respect. Why? I guess because everybody’s asleep in the East when we’re doing our thing.
I’m not in the AL Central any more, with the Twins, so I can tell you that the West is a lot better than people think. And I’m not even bringing up the travel factor, how our teams have to spend so much more time in the air and how that can wear on you over a long season.
The West is for real. Don’t sleep on us. And there’s a ton of great young talent coming up in both West divisions, so it should be wild out West for a long time to come.
I’ve banged into some walls lately, but I hit a different kind of wall after we beat the Diamondbacks, 2-1, in Saturday’s game when big Mike Napoli hit that bomb to center field. I came out of the shower, wrapped a towel around my waist and sat there at my locker for, I don’t know, maybe 30 minutes. Didn’t move. Couldn’t move. My legs were killing me.
If anybody came up and talked to me, I don’t even remember. That must be what a marathoner goes through. I was in a different place mentally, just sitting there for the longest time, daydreaming.
The fatigue ran through my whole body, but I felt it most in my legs. Mike Scioscia gave me today off, so I could get ready for the big series in Texas and play this team we need to run away from.
Winning the first two games here in Arizona made it easier for me to take a day. Plus, we’ve got Gary Matthews Jr. to take over in center, and he’s one of the best out there.
I’ve hit walls three or four times recently, and I’ve been feeling it. But I’m getting better. There’s a difference between soreness and hurting. I’m not really hurting. But my legs were definitely sore yesterday.
Our goal right now is to win series. You can’t win them all, I know, but that’s what we’re trying to do. I want to get my time off now and then before the All-Star break, like today, because I plan on playing the whole second half. We’ve got business to take care of, and I want to give it everything I’ve got.
We’re playing well, feeling good now. There’s a nice vibe in the clubhouse. It’s coming together. We’re playing the way we can – great defense, timely hitting, good pitching. We’re running the bases aggressively. Man, Erick Aybar was flying around the bases when he scored on that bunt yesterday. What’s more exciting than that?
I’m seeing speed come back to the game, and it’s great to see. We went through that period from 1997 to 2007, I’d say, where it was all about power. The whole focus was on home runs in the so-called steroid era. Now I can see it changing, with more focus on speed. You even see it on the highlight shows, Carl Crawford stealing six bases in a game, Dexter Fowler getting five. There are some guys coming into the game who can fly, like Fowler, Adam Jones in Baltimore. I love that.
We’ll find out soon how the All-Star Game voting turns out. It would be a great honor to be there in St. Louis, with all the great players. Even if I’m not voted in, I think I have a pretty good shot at making it as a reserve. I’m having a good year, and I honestly think I’m getting better.
What people don’t realize is I was raw when I came into professional baseball. I didn’t even know what a slider was. I was also a late bloomer physically. In some ways, I’m just coming into my own. Having Bobby Abreu here has been big for me. I’m more disciplined at the plate than I’ve ever been, and I can thank Bobby for that. He’s a master up there, and he’s a great guy to play with, because he’s so willing to share his knowledge. He’s also a really funny guy, helping keep things loose.
I live in Texas in the off-season, but I’m going to be Torii unplugged the next few days during our series with the Rangers. I can’t be dealing with all those outside distractions, so I’ll unplug all the phones and turn off the lights and just get my rest.
It’s time for us to take care of our business.