The Angels’ Five Greatest Hitters
Mike Trout (2011-present)
Scouts and coaches often throw outrageous high praise upon talented new kids on the block as if it was spare change. But no such hyperbole was over-exaggerated when applied to Mike Trout, who proved to be the game’s most exciting newcomer since the youthful days of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Barring injury or mid-career recession, Trout could become one of the all-time greats; many believe he’s already earned that status.
Affable and laid-back, almost to a fault—Major League Baseball continues to gnash its teeth over his resistance to being over-marketed—Trout can hit for average and power, swipe bases with ease, patrol the outfield with utter confidence and reach high over any wall to pluck away certain home runs. MVPs over his first two full seasons might have been his had they not coincided with the peak of Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who snared them instead. Trout would not be denied in his third full season, capturing the honor in 2014 with another stellar effort; he won additional MVP metal in 2016 and 2019, finishing runner-up in two other seasons (2015, 2018).
The coming of Trout was no secret. A first-round draft pick in 2009, he immediately tore apart the minors and was named the game’s best prospect a year later. After another sizzling start at the Double-A level in 2011, the Angels couldn’t hold their patience any further and called him straight to the parent team; the 19-year-old Trout was initially overwhelmed and hit just .220 in 40 games, but amid the rough baptism lay moments of brilliance both at the plate and in the field that suggested the seeds of a budding megastar had been planted.
In his first full season in 2012, Trout blossomed full flower. Called up in late April, the New Jersey native staunchly proved there was no going back; in 139 games with the Angels, he hit .326 with 30 home runs, 49 steals and 126 runs—the latter two stats good enough to lead the majors. In the outfield, he was all but flawless, making one spectacular play after another. Even as Cabrera won the MVP with baseball’s first triple-crown performance in 45 years, Trout still managed to secure six first-place votes. Before his 30th birthday, Trout has become the Angels’ all-time home leader.
Angels owner Artie Moreno, already saddled with a huge payroll, was no fool and knew he had to do whatever to keep Trout for the long term. Business was taken care of before 2014 when Trout was signed to a six-year extension backloaded with then-record annual salaries of $34 million from 2018-20; that was extended further in 2019 when Moreno locked in Trout through 2031 for a staggering $427 million—at the time, the largest in North American pro sports history.
Vladimir Guerrero (2004-09)
An exhilarating free swinger who never got cheated on a pitch—and never cheated himself on a swing—Guerrero came to Anaheim in his prime after the Montreal Expos couldn’t afford him anymore and paid quick dividends, hitting .337 with 39 home runs and 126 runs batted in during his initial Angels campaign to grab his first and only MVP award.
The Dominican-born Guerrero would continue to be a brute offensive force with the Angels, with enormous power that slowly began to erode toward the end of his six-year tenure due to increasingly shaky knees—likely the effect of playing eight years on Montreal’s artificial turf. This turned Guerrero into more of a designated hitter as time wore on, as the Angels were intent on preserving his still-potent hitting game. Guerrero is listed as the franchise’s all-time leader in batting average (at .319) and is one of just eight players ever to collect at least 1,000 hits in both leagues; a four-time All-Star as an Angel, he won the popular Home Run Derby competition in 2007 with the help of a 503-foot drive at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
It didn’t matter how far off the plate a pitch was; Guerrero was liable to take a hack at it. With the Angels, he once singled on a pitch that had first bounced in front of home plate. Such wildness led to the perception of Guerrero being prone to strikeouts—but in fact, he never struck out more than 77 times in any one season with the Angels.
Guerrero’s biggest disappointment with the Angels lay in his postseason performance. Los Angeles of Anaheim made the playoffs five times with Guerrero on the roster, but he hit a sterile .286—with just two home runs and 12 RBIs in 112 at-bats. (The Angels’ postseason record with Guerrero was 10-19.)
Tim Salmon (1992-2004, 2006)
A popular local kid from nearby Long Beach, Salmon was lovingly referred to as King Fish, a model of slugging consistency that earned him the mantle as the franchise’s all-time home run leader before Trout surpassed him.
After taking the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1993, Salmon fell into a positive, powerful groove throughout the rest of the 1990s, five times hitting 30-to-34 homers. Salmon never had that MVP season, never led the league in any major offensive department and, most astonishingly, never got named to an All-Star roster; his 299 career home runs are the most by any major leaguer not selected. But he was a constant star at Angel Stadium, not to be toyed with by opposing pitchers.
Salmon’s power began to wane into the 2000s, but after a particularly bad 2001 season won AL Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2002 and slammed four homers during the Angels’ spirited postseason run, hitting .346 against San Francisco at the World Series.
Brian Downing (1978-90)
Another native of the Southland, Downing came to Anaheim by way of Chicago, where he played his first five years with the White Sox and got off to the worst possible start a major leaguer could have when, on the very first play of his very first game in the bigs, he chased down a foul ball and tumbled into the dugout, severely damaging his knee.
Such determination would serve him well in his years with the Angels. A nondescript hitter with the White Sox, Downing tinkered with his batting stance and found himself in 1979, hitting a career-high .326 and making his only All-Star Game appearance. Throughout the 1980s, Downing became a reliable stalwart in the Angels lineup, always good for twenty-something home runs and up to 100 walks. After breaking his ankle while catching in 1980, Downing switched to the outfield and eventually settled into the DH spot, but not before setting a record (since broken) of 244 straight games without committing an error in the outfield.
Garret Anderson (1994-2008)
Yet another local, the Granada Hills-bred Anderson played long enough to wear the uniforms of the California Angels, the Anaheim Angels and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; his longevity aided his standing on the franchise all-time lists, where he’s first in hits (2,368), doubles (489) and RBIs (1,292).
Tall and lean, Anderson consistently produced batting averages between .280 and .310, but those numbers rarely improved once his infrequent collection of walks was added to calculate his on-base percentage; he is, in fact, one of the few players to ever end a season with more home runs (35) than walks (24), when he did it in 2000.
Anderson’s true strength came when runners were on base. He had an absolute knack for knocking in runs; over a four-year period from 2000-03, he brought in at least 116 runs; set an Angel record in 2007 by knocking in 10 in one game; and in the decisive Game Seven of the 2002 World Series against the Giants, his bases-clearing double unlocked an early 1-1 tie, allowing the Angels to never look back on their road to their sole championship.
In his second of three All-Star Game appearances in 2003, Anderson became the unlikely winner of the Homer Run Derby—then had three hits, including a double and a homer, in the game itself to secure MVP honors.
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