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We Miss You, "Valdy!"


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By Glen McKee, Senior AngelsWin.com Nostalgistican - 

Almost a week ago, there was magic on the field at Angels Stadium as the only three Angels to be honored as MVP were on the field together.  Mike Trout was the newest member of the exclusive club, joining current hitting coach Don Baylor, all-time awesome dude Vladimir Guerrero and nobody else.  (Trout is a safe bet to become the only Angel to get the award more than once.) (No whammy!)

I started rooting for the Angels way back in 1979 and that was a great time for a young boy to jump on the Halo bandwagon.  Baylor had a monster season and capped it with his MVP award.  The Angels were suddenly relevant and there was a lot of reason for optimism (something the late 80s through the entire 90s would cure).  They even had Rod Carew, who I loved because I hit like him, or so I kidded myself. (Not much pop but I got on base.) 

After 1979 the Angels had mixed luck dipping their toes in the free-agent market; most of the mix was bad.  They made a habit of signing just-past-their-prime big names and watching their performance tail off while paying them way too much to do it.  That trend continued until before the 2003 season, when the Angels surprised everybody (their loyal fans most of all) by signing Vladimir Guerrero to a five-year, $70 million deal.  I know that in 2015 that doesn’t sound like much but it was huge back then.  It was a big contract and the Angels had a history of being burned on those in the past, but Vlad finally broke that streak.  Boy, did he break it.  

There are no words to adequately describe how surprised and overjoyed I was at that signing.  It was amazing.  At the time Vlad was one of the most exciting players to watch.  Every at bat, hell, every pitch was something you had to see.  Even if the pitch bounced before hitting the plate, Vlad could still take a hack at it and knock it out of the park.  He was a unique hitter, and he had the personality to complement his talent.  Vlad was always smiling and looked like he was always having fun.  He was so damn easy to root for.  Truly, the Angels had never had a player like him before, and it was shocking that he wound up on the Angels.  Every team that had the financial resources wanted him, and before he signed with the Angels he was expected, almost guaranteed, to go the Yankees. 

Nobody expected him to sign with the Angels.  I didn’t even think there was a chance he’d end up here.

A bit of personal history here, to further explain how great this signing was to me: the Montreal Expos were my #2 team after the Angels.  I was living in San Diego and I wished the Padres well as they were the local team, but I liked the Expos more.  They were a fun and exciting team, and they continually produced good players that went on to greatness on other, more popular teams.  The Expos were shafted hard by the baseball strike in 1994 that prematurely ended a season in which they were the consensus best team and had a very good chance of winning the World Series.  That was the kind of luck the Expos had, and I found it easy to root for them, since I was already rooting for a team that had an excess of bad luck.  Plus, they had one of my favorite logos:

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It was a horrible logo, for sure, but a bit clever and it represented their outsider status.  It’s the logo that will be on Vlad’s hat when he goes into the Hall of Fame.  (We dare not hope that it could ever be an Angels hat.)  I still like it, and Vlad always reminds me of the logo.

Back on topic.  Vlad signed with the Angels and I was ecstatic.  Again, it is difficult to find words to express what that signing meant.  A few years prior the Angels had finally won a World Series championship, and the team was showing signs of being good for a while, but it was still missing something.  Vlad was that something.

He rewarded the Angels by having a great season with them in the first year of his contract, a feat that hasn’t been duplicated since.  We’re talking MVP-great here: 124 runs, 39 HR, .337/.391/.538/.989.  To put that in perspective, Mike Trout’s MVP numbers were 115 runs, 36 HR, .287/.377/.561/.939 and Don Baylor’s MVP year was 120, 36, .296/.371/.530/.901.  Vlad’s MVP season was arguably the best season ever posted by an Angel (although Trout’s first two years, in which he should have won at least one MVP award, are certainly close).  

Vlad also had a cannon for an arm in right field.  It wasn’t unusual to see him making a close play or an out of somebody trying to tag up from second and go to third.  His only liability was as a baserunner, and while Trout has received the spirit of Vlad’s hitting, it seems like the rest of the Angels have inherited Vlad’s recklessness on the bases.
  
There were many great moments for Vlad on the Angels, but the one that sticks out in my mind was in the first round of the 2009 AL division playoffs.  October 11, 2009.  A Sunday, and the game was in the wretched Fenway Park.  The Angels were up two games and looking for a sweep but it didn’t look like it was going to happen.  Top of the 9th inning and the Angels were down 6-4 and facing Jonathan Papplebon, in his prime, at home.  AngelsWin.com was hosting a party to watch the game at a local (and now defunct) sports bar and the atmosphere was resigned.  Not much of a chance against Papplebon, and the Red Sox had a history of owning the Angels in the post season.  Everybody was trying not to think about 1986 but not succeeding. 

Papplebon was one strike away from ending the game several times, but Erick Aybar got a single, Chone Figgins got a full-count walk, and Bobby Abreu (he was a blast, too) doubled to drive in a run. Torii Hunter was up next and was intentionally walked.  As feared as he was in the regular season, Vlad was bad in the post-season.  The bad feelings intensified.  Honestly, nobody wanted to see Vlad in that situation.  The crowd in the bar was silent. 

The silence didn’t last long.  Vlad blooped the first pitch for a single and Figgins and Abreu scored, giving the Angels a lead that would lead to the sweep.  My memory is spotty about a lot of things, but I believe that until the day I die I’ll still remember what it was like to be in that bar with all those Angels fans when Vlad ended the Angels misery against the Red Sox.  It was incredible.  People were hollering and hugging, champagne bottle corks were popped; it’s not an exaggeration to say it was euphoric.  There was absolutely no doubt after that single that the Angels would win the game.  

The Red Sox were beat down; it’s safe to say they felt the way the Angels did in the divisional playoffs of 1986.  Anguish was laid to rest and while it was as always a team effort, it was Vladimir Guerrero who waved the magic wand to make it happen.  

It was also the last moment that Vlad would have on the Angels, as his contract expired that year and he moved on to the Texas Rangers.  It was a sad parting but not unexpected, as he was showing some slight decline and his free-swinging style didn’t seem to be a safe bet to avoid more regression.  He had two more decent years, in 2010 with the Rangers and 2011 with the Orioles.  The 2011 season was his last in the majors.   On March 31, 2014 Vladimir Guerrero signed a one-day contract with the Angels and officially retired.  

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing: it lets you remember the good and gloss over the bad.  Nostalgia will always let me see Vlad getting that game-clinching playoff single and never remind me of his playoffs performances before that.  Nostalgia will always give me Vlad’s smile and his ability to hit any pitch.  Nostalgia keeps Vlad in the memory of all Angels fans.  I miss Vlad.  He was a great and inimitable player.
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Valdy (as people so often misspelled it on this board) was my kids' first baseball super hero.  As much as I enjoyed watching him as a player, he will always mean more to me for being that player that made my kids fall in love with the game. 

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Great post. Vlad is still my favorite....i know trout is the man, and unlike vlad trout isnt just arguable, hes THE best player in baseball.

But i still dont geek out on trout as much as vlad. Maybe because i just have comed to expect trout to do everything right or something. But vlad was so freaking badass because he was so unorthodox. Zero plate discipline, violent swing that should have led to more Ks, poor baserunning, never hitting the cutoff man, etc. But he always got it done.

Hes go a bad wrap for the postseason, but he was clutch as hell in the regular year. Seemed like he always hit a big home run in the late innings to put us ahead, and you almost always knew it was coming.

Still posses me off we let him walk. I know it was smart financially, but if anyone ever earned a overpaid last year here, it was him.

(And it sucks because trout will end up having 27 retired...which he'll earn, but vlad did too)

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Please tell me Vladdy is going into the HOF as an Angel.

 

 

You know, if he does ... he would be the first guy in the HOF wearing an Angels lid.  If that happened, then what does the team do?  They have to retire his number, right!

 

"Ummm, yeah ... Mike?  This is really awkward, but ..."

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More Vlad love from the AW.com archives:

 

#15 - Oct. 11, 2009: Vlad Finishes Some Business

 

By Geoff Bilau - AngelsWin.com Senior Editor

 

It was a moment almost exactly 23 years in the making and the principle players couldn't have been dreamed up any better:

Angels and Red Sox. Fenway Park and October. Vladimir Guerrero and Jonathan Papelbon.

 

So much history between the two teams, almost all of it favoring Boston. Recently it was the ALDS sweeps in 2004 and 2007 and the gut-wrenching walk-off hits in those series and again in 2008. All of those, of course, were merely aftershocks to the debacle that was the 1986 ALCS, specifically Game 5 on Oct. 12, 1986.

 

Anybody with more than a passing interest in Angels baseball understands that what happened in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS wasn't just a clutch hit off a dominant closer. It was the hit many fans had wanted to see for more than two decades — dare I say it was the hit they needed to see.

 

Though the Angels had already jumped out to a commanding 2-0 series lead on the strength of dominant pitching performances by John Lackey and Jered Weaver in Games 1 and 2 in Anaheim, no Angels fan took a series victory for granted. How could they after all that had happened in the past?

 

And when the Red Sox, back home in their comfy bandbox, roughed up Scott Kazmir and took a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning of Game 3, Angels fans were already fast forwarding to Game 5 and Josh Beckett.

 

Red Sox reliever Billy Wagner, however, allowed the Angels to mount a threat in the eighth, forcing Boston manager Terry Francona to summon Papelbon for a four-out save. In 26 postseason innings, the Red Sox closer had not allowed a single run. But with runners on second and third, Juan Rivera drove Papelbon's first pitch to right field, drawing the Angels to within one, 5-4.

 

All hope seemed to die moments later, however, when pinch runner Reggie Willits was picked off first base to end the inning and the Red Sox added an insurance run in the bottom half of the inning.

 

Papelbon made quick work of Maicer Izturis and pinch hitter Gary Matthews Jr. to start the ninth and Game 4 seemed assured. But Erick Aybar, 2008 ALDS goat, lined an 0-2 Papelbon offering into center field to keep the Angels alive. Chone Figgins, in the midst of a horrible series (0-12) worked a seven-pitch walk.

 

When Bobby Abreu slapped a 1-2 pitch over left fielder Jason Bay's head, the Fenway crowd grew so quiet the sound of the ball slamming into the Green Monster echoed throughout the stadium. Aybar scored, the Angels trailed, 6-5, and Game 1 hero Torii Hunter was due up.

Francona elected to walk Hunter and load the bases for Guerrero. The face of the Angels franchise for much of the most successful period in team history was no longer the same "Super Vlad," injuries and age sapping much of his power and presence. A likely free agent at season's end, there was every indication this might be Guerrero's last hurrah with the Angels.

 

To nobody's surprise, Guerrero swung at Papelbon's first pitch, a knee-high 95 mph fastball, and served into into center field, where it dropped in front of a fast-charging Jacoby Ellsbury. Figgins and Abreu scored, giving the Angels a 7-6 lead, and Guerrero stood safe at first base with the biggest hit of his postseason career.

 

Papelbon walked off the Fenway Park mound to a chorus of boos.

 

A few minutes later, Brian Fuentes retired Boston in order in the bottom of the ninth and the Angels completed an unbelievable series sweep of the Red Sox.

 

Though they would succumb to the eventual World Champion Yankees, 4-2, in the ALCS (though not before providing two more memorable victories), there was undoubtedly a sense that the Angels had indeed completed some "unfinished business," thanks in huge part to the ninth inning heroics the man who may one day become the first player enshrined in the Hall of Fame as an Angel.

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When Vlad made solid contact, it sounded different than most other hitters at the ballpark. The only other Angel I remember making that sound on contact was Dave Winfield. I don't hear it even from Trout or Pujols. Must be those wrists and incredible bat speed.

 

And up close, in person, Vlad was quite a physical specimen to behold. Shaped like a tall, well muscled wedge with extremely broad shoulders. Not your basic baseball player physique. Just a stud.

 

My favorite in person Vlad memory was when I was sitting 11 rows behind the Red Sox on-deck circle surrounded by seriously unhappy Boston fans back in 2004 when Vlad went 4-4 with 2 HRs and 9 RBI against them (no rmunkee doinkers that day).

 

These days I sell those seats for Red Sox games instead of sitting there trying not to get into fights with their fans.

 

Go Valdy!

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Here's another one I wrote about Vlad that I remember fondly:

 

 

By Geoff Bilau - Angelswin.com Senior Editor

To paraphrase LL Cool J, don't call it a comeback; he's been here for years.

An Angels fan base that has grown increasingly more fickle in recent years, however, seemed to need a reminder that Vladimir Guerrero is still, in fact, their daddy.

Whether due to the more frequent stints on the disabled list, the emergence of younger stars (Kendry Morales) and newer, more exciting faces (Bobby Abreu) or early emotional preparations for what could be Guerrero's final season at the Big A, Angels fans have most definitely distanced themselves from the man who arrived on their doorstep six years ago selling a brand of baseball dominance many had never before witnessed in person.

His freakish hitting skills and sheer jubilation at playing the game of baseball were at once captivating and infectious. You may not have watched every pitch of the game, but you certainly stopped whatever you were doing to watch Guerrero's at-bats.

Already a four-time All-Star during his first seven seasons in the baseball purgatory that was known as Montreal, Guerrero in 2004 unveiled his star into the bright Southern California sun, where all of baseball could finally see it. He led the Angels to their first Western Division title in 18 years and was rewarded with the American League MVP award.

 

Subsequent seasons brought more division titles, more All-Star appearances, more hardware ... more happy Angels fans.

But then came May 2008. Guerrero was suddenly human, enduring a dreadful slump the likes of which Angels fans had never seen from "Super Vlad." He batted just .219 for the month and for the first time since he arrived in Anaheim was not elected to play in the All-Star Game. Guerrero suddenly looked old. Early critics said his bat had slowed down, that he was unable or unwilling to make adjustments; every third strike on a pitch a foot outside in the dirt further evidence of their claims.

Further compounding matters was a balky knee that made his already awkward running appear almost painful and limited the number of innings that he could play in the field. Was Guerrero's star burning out that quickly, his body doing to him what so many opposing pitchers could not?

Guerrero's second half of 2008, however, seemed to answer that question with a resounding no, as he came storming back with a .330 average and 41 RBI in 56 games.

Last November, Guerrero finally opted to have surgery to clean out scar tissue and debris in the right knee that had bothered him the previous few seasons. He vowed to be stronger and more durable back on two strong legs for 2009.

"I'm looking forward to it," Guerrero told the Los Angeles Times in February. "Everything feels so good, everything is clean now, but I don't want to predict any numbers for stolen bases or say how I'm going to run in the outfield. I prefer to wait."

 

Guerrero worked hard and was fit enough to return for Opening Day. It was a brief return, though, as a torn pectoral muscle limited him to one extra base hit through eight games and soon forced him back to the disabled list. When he returned in late May, his struggles came back, as well. He went 26 games without a home run and only four doubles. Meanwhile, Torii Hunter and Chone Figgins were carrying an offense that seemed to be dragging Guerrero along with it. Whispers about the end of his career returned — and grew louder with each game.

As the calendar turned to July, however, Guerrero started to find his groove once more, homering in consecutive games for the first time all season on July 4-5. He even felt good enough to make his first appearance back in the outfield. Two days later, he was back on the DL, this time after tweaking a muscle behind his left knee while fielding a ball in right field.

During the month Guerrero was sidelined (along with Hunter), the Angels offense exploded, averaging better than seven runs per game. Powered by Figgins, Abreu, Morales, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis, the Angels lineup became so potent, many wondered if it even still had room for an aging, seemingly broken down former MVP. And when Mike Scioscia inserted Guerrero back in the clean up spot upon his return, the move was called everything from "unwise" to "ridiculous."

Which brings us back to our mislabeled "comeback." In the seven games since his return, Guerrero has batted .357 and clubbed four home runs, including No. 400 of his career, the eventual game-winner on Monday night.

 

And as the 37,388 fans at the Big A demanded — and received — a curtain call, it appeared that all was right again in Anaheim. Vlad was back. Angels fans not only remembered why they missed him, but perhaps realized for the first time that they really did miss him.

Just don't call it a comeback. It's more like "The Way We Were."

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<p>Trout may be the better player but vlad was definitely the more exciting. Trout is the picture of patience and wait for your pitch, vlad was like tarzan at the plate swinging wildly and usually hitting the ball incredibly hard. Vlad also had a rocket arm, that wasn't always the most accurate and sometimes produced some hilarious results, but he still gunned down piles of runners in his career. He also ran the bases like a demon and was always looking to take the extra.base.</p>

<p> </p>

<p> </p>

<p>dude was a lightning rod and you just had no idea what was coming next.</p>

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When the Expos came into being they had that unique tri-colored cap that was later copied or stylized by a lot of other clubs. I agree with you about 1994 being a Waterloo of sorts for the Expos. Montreal appeared to be the best team in the game that season, only to have the year wiped out by a strike. Many have presumed that a playoff run by Les Expos, and possibly even a World Series appearance, would have created enough momentum for the team to get the new ballpark that they needed, and MLB would still have a team in Montreal.

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More Vlad love from the AW.com archives:

 

#15 - Oct. 11, 2009: Vlad Finishes Some Business

 

By Geoff Bilau - AngelsWin.com Senior Editor

 

 

LTH with the shameless self promotion!   

 

 

On a serious note, I miss your writing.  I know you're busy with the kids and being the world's greatest father (yes, seeing all of your Facebook updates sometimes makes me feel like a slacker), but I hope you'll write for us again one day. 

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He should have been offered a contract. Texas got him for one year. Why couldn't we. The FO preferred Matsui and decided to give the money to Abreau who had one good season for the halos.

Great post. Vlad is still my favorite....i know trout is the man, and unlike vlad trout isnt just arguable, hes THE best player in baseball.

But i still dont geek out on trout as much as vlad. Maybe because i just have comed to expect trout to do everything right or something. But vlad was so freaking badass because he was so unorthodox. Zero plate discipline, violent swing that should have led to more Ks, poor baserunning, never hitting the cutoff man, etc. But he always got it done.

Hes go a bad wrap for the postseason, but he was clutch as hell in the regular year. Seemed like he always hit a big home run in the late innings to put us ahead, and you almost always knew it was coming.

Still posses me off we let him walk. I know it was smart financially, but if anyone ever earned a overpaid last year here, it was him.

(And it sucks because trout will end up having 27 retired...which he'll earn, but vlad did too)

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Valdy was one of my favorites. Hit the absolute crap out of the ball.

Wish we could have gotten a ring with him.

Gosh and in that video Troy Glaus was still on the team! *SWOOON*

That 2004 team should have been a juggernaut.

Eck, erstad, vlad, GA, glaus, guillen, salmon, molina, ak.. that was nuts.

Unfortunately, we lost glaus and fish that year, and GA had the arthitus set in.

.....salmon....batting 7th....what could have been

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He should have been offered a contract. Texas got him for one year. Why couldn't we. The FO preferred Matsui and decided to give the money to Abreau who had one good season for the halos.

Actually , vlad wanted 2 years (and got it), and we got matsui for 1. But i agree, i would have gladly taken the twilight vlad years over probably a smarter matsui contract.

I remember how many on here started turning on vlad his last year or so here, because he was 'done'...when he was still like a .280/25 home run guy

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